TAMPA -- When Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman acquired defenseman Braydon Coburn from the Philadelphia Flyers in the early morning hours of the NHL Trade Deadline on March 2, he wasn’t just adding a solid veteran.
He was giving Lightning coach Jon Cooper a prime top pairing on defense.
The addition of Coburn allowed Cooper to play Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman together on his top pair, but the combination lasted four games together before Coburn broke his foot, costing him six weeks of action.
Without Coburn to play with Jason Garrison on the second pair, Cooper preferred to split Hedman from Stralman. But Cooper said he knew what the Lightning had in Coburn right away.
"He did impress in those first four games, and for me he’s done nothing but make our general manager look good in that trade," Cooper said. "He’s kind of rounded out our top four, he’s given us another big-body defender, somebody that sticks up for his teammates."
Since Coburn returned from injury to play in Game 1 of Tampa Bay’s 4-3 Eastern Conference First Round series win against the Detroit Red Wings, Cooper has had the top pairing he envisioned when the trade was made.
"Stralman and [Hedman] played a lot together at the beginning of the year," Cooper said. "But then [Hedman] broke his finger so he was out for a while, and then we had so many injuries we split them up. But we were hoping when we would get to this time of the year we could put those two back together, and we have, and they’ve been doing a great job for us."
Stralman’s impact on Hedman cannot be discounted. The eye test shows that the pairing is formidable, shutting down top competition and contributing to the Lightning’s transition game. The numbers bear that out.
According to stats.hockeyanalysis.com, Hedman had nearly an even split during the regular season at 5-on-5 between playing with Stralman and playing with someone else. When Hedman played with Stralman, the Lightning controlled 59.7 percent of the shot attempts. When Hedman played without Stralman, Tampa Bay controlled 49.1 percent of the shot attempts.
"There's a certain confidence when they’re on the ice," Lightning forward Alex Killorn said. "I think Stralman especially is very underrated offensively, he’s a very good offensive player. He might not get the assist every time, but he does create a ton and gives players like us a lot of room in the offensive zone.
"Hedman’s obviously a guy that does pretty well offensively and he’s known throughout the League for being an offensive guy. But I think a lot of that is due to how Stralman plays. Whether it’s defensively or setting him up offensively, I think he helps out a ton."
Coburn and forward Brian Boyle, who signed with the Lightning as a free agent last summer, said they were amazed at how good a skater Hedman was once they were able to watch him every day.
"Those two together, they read off of each other very well," Boyle said. "They play a lot of minutes for us in a lot of situations. They've been a great pair for us in shutting teams down and creating offense.
"You can talk for hours about what those two do for our team and how well they play."