When Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman traded three decent players late Sunday night it became clear something big was planned for the July 1 start of free agency. Just how big was answered Tuesday, as he signed defenseman Anton Stralman, center Brian Boyle and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov to varying deals.
Teammates with the New York Rangers last year, Stralman’s contract is for five years, $22.5 million while Boyle received $6 million over three years. Then there’s Nabokov, who signed a one-year deal worth $1.55 million.
Not considered a huge scoring threat, Stralman provides a veteran presence who can provide big minutes to the Lightning’s back end. In 81 games with the Rangers last season, he was a plus-9 while averaging just under 20 minutes per game. He can also chip in some assists, evidenced by his 12 helpers during 2013-14′. To be honest the combination of him and Jason Garrison, acquired on draft day from the Vancouver Canucks, will significantly bolster a blueline that’s struggled at keeping opponents from entering the offensive zone.
Boyle, meanwhile, gives the Lightning some much-needed size, physicality and an ability to win crucial faceoffs. Standing at 6′ 7″, 244 pounds he has no problem going into the dirty areas of the ice to make opponents pay. His 154 hits last season ranked second on the Rangers team. The 52.9 percent he put up on faceoffs last season is very impressive as well, which will only help a team that’s had difficulty consistently winning draws in the past.
A late addition to the Lightning’s radar, Nabokov was signed to serve as insurance for starter Ben Bishop. Part of the New York Islanders last season, his 15-14-8 record, 2.74 goals-against average and .905 save percentage in 40 starts were relatively solid for the support he got on a nightly basis. The experience he provides, playoffs or not, could end up being invaluable though. Just look at his 686 career games, 86 of which came in the postseason, for proof.
Looking forward, Yzerman still has $5.7 million left to spend and only three restricted free agents who need to sign in Brett Connolly, Richard Panik and Andrej Sustr. That’s a sign of wise decision-making if you ask me.
Could Tuesday’s signings push the Lightning over the top, or do they still have a little ways to go? Feel free to sound off in the comment section below.