Although we’ve gotten somewhat used to it by now, it’s still crazy to accept that this version of the Chicago Blackhawks are in a playoff spot so far into the 2021 season — especially since they’ve been going at it without any of their top-three centers for almost the entire year (Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach have missed the entire season, while Dylan Strome was placed on the IR for a concussion earlier this month).
Strome, of course, is more likely to return to the Blackhawks lineup before either Dach or Toews, and that’s all well and good. But where does he fit in if/when all three are back on the ice? It’s a difficult question to answer, especially with the trade deadline coming up. But a better series of questions might be: Is Strome available? Is he likely to be moved? And what kind of return could the Blackhawks expect? So let’s talk about that.
The Market and Current Appetite for a Trade
Earlier this week, The Athletic’s Craig Custance and Eric Duhatschek moved Dylan Strome down on their Trade Deadline Big Board from No. 7 to No. 20 (meaning he’s slightly less likely to be traded in the near-term), due – in part – to the non-existent trade market so far, as well as his time off the ice with a concussion.
On that first point – the quiet market conditions – Custance and Duhatschek had this to say:
The Athletic’s first trade board of the season debuted on March 1 and since then, there have been exactly zero trades in the NHL. None. No big blockbusters. No small tweaks. No lateral trades designed to jump-start slumping teams. Nothing. Where have you gone, Jim Rutherford?
The flat-cap era (four more years!) where general managers are being asked to count pennies means trade generation has been a major challenge, even for the most aggressive NHL GMs.
So, yeah, it’s possible that the nature of the trade market, itself, could lead to Strome sticking with Chicago for at least the rest of this season and into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But that’s not to say there’s no chance of a playoff bound team coming to Chicago with an offer for the affordable, top-six forward option prior to the trade deadline (April 12th). After all, Strome has just one year left on his current contract after this season at a $3M AAV cap hit. That’s a moveable piece.
Stan Bowman says they’re willing to take on contracts with their LTIR space. He said they’re not looking for rentals, but could look at pieces that fit their long-term plans. He said trade talks have picked up lately.
— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) March 17, 2021
And if that is the case, will the emergence of new-found center depth in the organization and the expected returns of Dach (soon) and Toews (we’ll see…) force the hand of Stan Bowman? Eh, maybe.
At the Athletic, Dom Luszczyszyn discusses Strome’s current value, pointing out that while the team might want to move on, trading him now would be selling low: “It feels like the Blackhawks are selling low here on a talented young player, but there are flaws in his game that make it easy to see why they would want to move on. He remains a complete defensive liability and that won’t fly when you’re not producing.”
The Roller Coaster Performance
The season started off well enough for Strome, who tallied six points in the first two weeks of the year. But over nine games in February, Strome grabbed just one goal and one assist and had gone without a point in his last six games prior the concussion. And it wasn’t just his (lack of) impact to the February scoresheet that has us worried – Strome’s effectiveness at the faceoff dot started trending down as the season went on, as well.
In the month of January, Strome had a solid 52.2 faceoff win percentage, but in February, that plummeted to just 35.7%. He also saw a significant decrease minutes, going from an average of 17:08 minutes per game January to just 15:51 minutes per game in February. Strome saw less than 15 minutes of ice time in four of his last five games.
The Potential Return
But warts aside, his value proposition to other teams is still pretty clear: Strome, 24, is a young, former top-three draft pick that has shown the ability to be a reliable No. 2 center in the NHL. A look at recent Blackhawks trades could give you an idea where his value is relatively speaking:
• Alex Nylander was acquired from Buffalo in a one-for-one deal for Henri Jokiharju.
• Brendan Perlini was traded to Detroit for prospect Alec Regula.
• Erik Gustafsson was traded to Calgary for a 2020 third-round pick (Wyatt Kaiser).
• Andrew Shaw was acquired from Montreal for three draft picks.
• Nick Schmaltz was traded to Arizona for Strome and Perlini.
It feels like Strome’s value, at this moment, could land the Blackhawks a mixture of a top prospect, top-end draft pick(s), and/or a starter-quality player. The obvious problem with moving players when their value is lower than previously expected is the diminished return (i.e. Erik Gustafsson). It seems much more likely that Strome, if he is dealt at all, would be moved in the summer during the Expansion Draft, NHL Entry Draft, or once free agency opens on July 28th.
In the End …
We don’t know exactly when Strome will return to the lineup for Chicago, but you would hope it could be soon. He has been skating with the team again in recent days, so it’s possible his return is not far off. The Blackhawks have 12 more games between tomorrow and the 2:00 pm CT trade deadline on April 12th. If they want to try to move Strome by then, he’d need to get back on the ice and be the 2018-19 version of himself.
Of course if he did that, the Blackhawks might be convinced to hang on. Such is the life of a GM.
Michael Cerami contributed to this post.