TAMPA — After clearing out salary cap heading into free agency, the Lightning found a way to utilize some of that available space Tuesday to land one of the top defensemen on the market in Anton Stralman while adding some needed size up front with center Brian Boyle.
Tampa Bay also signed veteran goaltender Evgeni Nabokov to a one-year deal to serve as the backup to Ben Bishop after Anders Lindback, who was not issued a qualifying offer, signed with Dallas.
“We were able to address some needs,’’ Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. “We are very pleased to find Evgeni Nabokov, a veteran who has played well the past few years. We get Anton Stralman, who is able to play a lot of minutes, a strong and reliable defender with a good first pass and a real good skater. And he’s a right handed shot, and that was very important to us. We had a hole at center, so we bring in Brian Boyle, who is a big man, a good penalty killer and defender.’’
Stralman, 27, comes off a strong playoff performance helping the New York Rangers reach the Stanley Cup Final averaging just more than 21 minutes per game and signed a five-year contract worth $22.5 million for a salary cap hit of $4.5 million. Boyle, a teammate of Stralman’s with the Rangers signed a three-year contract worth $6 million for a salary cap hit of $2 million per season. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound center has 52 goals, 100 points and 311 penalty minutes in 391 career games while adding nine goals in 58 career playoff games.
Yzerman said he solicited information on Stralman and Boyle with Lightning forward Ryan Callahan, who was captain of the Rangers and played with both players before being dealt to Tampa Bay at the trade deadline in March, .
“We got (Callahan’s) thoughts on them, make sure that what we see of them as players is correct and get the character reference and if they will fit into our locker room,’’ Yzerman said. “So, he was a wealth of information for us.’’
Nabokov, 38, spent the past three seasons with the New York Islanders before spending the previous 10 seasons with San Jose. Nabokov finished 15-14-8 with New York with a 2.74 goals against average and .905 save percentage. Nabokov will make $1.55 million this season.
Yzerman said in addition to serving as the backup to Bishop, Nabokov is able to help mentor the team’s top goaltending prospects, Andrei Vasilevskiy
With the moves on Tuesday, Tampa Bay used $8.05 million of cap space and according to capgeek.com, if the long term injury status of Mattias Ohlund is taken into account, the Lightning have approximately $5.73 million in available cap space, with Richard Panik, Brett Connolly and Andrej Sustr still unsigned as restricted free agents, which means Tampa Bay is in all likelihood done in the free agent market.
Tampa Bay also signed 27-year-old right wing Mike Blunden, who had been with Montreal, to a one-year, two-way contract and re-signed center Mike Angelidis to a one-year, two-way contract. The Lightning were also reportedly a finalist to land Jarome Iginla before opted to sign with Colorado on a three-year contract worth $16.5 million.
Heading into free agency, Yzerman wanted to bring in a top-four caliber defenseman, preferably somebody who shoots right handed. Former Tampa Bay defenseman Dan Boyle was believed to be on the Lightning’s short list and would have been a help on the power play, but chose to go to the New York Rangers on a two-year deal worth $9 million. The Lightning were reportedly also in discussions with Matt Niskanen, also a right-handed shot, who went to Washington on a seven-year deal for $40.25 million.
But picking up Stralman is hardly a consolation prize as fits the mold of what Yzerman said they were looking for and joins the Lightning at a time when he is entering the prime of his career joining a team perceived to be on the rise, and getting the security of a five-year deal played a role in his decision.
“It was pretty simple, I have a family of four kids and we’ve moved around a lot the past seven years in this league,’’ Stralman said. “We were looking for stability and a deal with security. And Tampa was the first team willing to give that, and Tampa is a real exciting group of guys right now. They are taking strides and is going to be a real interesting team to be a part of. I’m really happy and excited to be a part of it.’’
And with the addition of Jason Garrison in a trade with Vancouver last week, Tampa Bay has revamped the top four on the back end with the defensive core as of today that now includes: Victor Hedman, Matt Carle, Radko Gudas, Eric Brewer, Mark Barberio, Andrej Sustr, Garrison and Stralman.
“We think our D is now a little bit bigger, a little more mobile and we are deeper on our blue line now,’’ Yzerman said. “We are pretty happy with the players we got.’’