How Dylan Strome Can Help the Blackhawks' Rebuild In Or Out of Chicago

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How Dylan Strome Can Help the Blackhawks’ Rebuild In Or Out of Chicago

Chicago Blackhawks

As the Blackhawks begin their transition into the next generation, the most significant conversations regarding their current free agent class focus on Kirby Dach and Dylan Strome, both of whom are restricted free agents this summer.

While Dach’s future is more intriguing, both because of his failed development and questions about his viability as a center long-term, the case for Strome being part of the bridge to the future — or part of the future — has even more facets to consider.

Strome was the third overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. That was the year Edmonton won the lottery and selected Connor McDavid first and a disappointed Buffalo selected Jack Eichel. The career paths of those two have been different enough for a documentary; the career path of Strome has been a wild ride to say the least.

After scoring seven goals with nine assists in 48 games over parts of three seasons with the Coyotes, they had enough.

The Blackhawks acquired Strome from the Coyotes with Brendan Perlini for Nick Schmaltz in late November of 2018. When he arrived, the Hawks slotted him on a line with his former junior teammate, Alex DeBrincat, and the magic was instant. Strome went off for 17 goals and 51 points in 58 games with Chicago after the deal and fans were already talking about an extension.

That was the season in which Jeremy Colliton replaced Joel Quenneville as Chicago’s head coach — coincidentally 19 days before Strome was acquired.

Strome’s following season was a noticeable step back. He had just 38 points in 58 games and Colliton’s doghouse had a frequent guest.

After the 2019-20 season the Hawks gave Strome a modest two-year deal with a $3 million AAV; the deal was announced on Jan. 3, 2021 because of the COVID delay to start the following year. He remained in Colliton’s doghouse too often and his struggles at the dot were a pain point.

Colliton scratched Strome in seven of Chicago’s first 11 games to start this past season, and his work at the dot continued to frustrate. But the upheaval in the front office led to the removal of Stan Bowman as GM, who took the chance on him in the trade, and Colliton as head coach, the coach who didn’t see eye-to-eye with the former top prospect.

After Derek King took over as head coach, Strome continued to work and started to see improvements in both his offensive output and his performance at the dot. From Jan. 1 of 2022 to the end of the regular season, Strome was terrific skating primarily as the Blackhawks’ top center with DeBrincat and Patrick Kane. He posted 19 goals and 22 assists in 49 games in the new calendar year. Most (pleasantly) surprising, he won 52.6 percent of his faceoffs on those 49 contests.

And now here we are with Strome heading to RFA this summer, an organization in transition and his performance making a case for him to stay — or be a valuable trade chip this summer.

A qualifying offer for Strome would be at $4 million. Back in late-January, Scott Powers at The Athletic wrote that a $4 million commitment “isn’t worth it” for the Blackhawks, who were struggling all over the ice at that point.

He wasn’t moved at the deadline and his play continued to impress. Strome was considered a prime trade piece with upside before his resurgence this season, and he likely raised his value to a team in need of a center.

According to Mark Lazerus, also at The Athletic, it’s unlikely the Blackhawks re-sign Strome. As Lazerus wrote earlier this week:

“The Blackhawks are in the early stages of a rebuild, and while a surging 25-year-old center might seem like a logical piece of that process — or even as a stopgap for the next year or two — the plan seems to be as bad as possible next season and have a chance at the No. 1 draft pick and wunderkind Connor Bedard.”

As we noted after the Blackhawks’ front office met with the media previously, GM Kyle Davidson has expressed an interest in moving back into the first round of the upcoming NHL Draft. With two picks in the second round — potentially three if the Oilers do the Hawks a favor and keep winning — Davidson will have some assets to work with if he wants to make a move up.

And Strome may be one of those assets another team could consider. But which teams might be interested in the 25-year-0ld and have picks that would interest Davidson?

•   Arizona — it’s unlikely the Coyotes would be interested in a reunion with a player once considered a bust in their own organization, but they have seven (7!) picks in the first two rounds of the upcoming draft. The Coyotes own late-first round picks from Carolina and Colorado via trades.

•   Buffalo — the Sabres, who passed on Strome for Eichel back in 2015, also own three picks in this year’s first round. Two of their picks — their own and one from Vegas from, ironically, the Eichel trade — were in the lottery. The third is from the recently eliminated Florida Panthers. Would the Sabres consider Strome a top-six piece worthy of one of those picks?

•   Anaheim — the Ducks own their first-round pick and also possess Boston’s pick in the first this summer. They’re a young team that is losing Ryan Getzlaf to retirement. I’m not saying Strome would replace their captain, but they do have a need at center.

•   Montreal — the Habs will host this summer’s draft and also won the No. 1 overall pick in the lottery. But they also own the Flames’ first-round pick, which will be late in the round with Calgary still playing. They’re desperate for offense and could use a player as… young… as Strome. But they have cap concerns and may need to move salary to make a $4 million deal with Strome fit.

Author: Tab Bamford

Tab is the Lead Blackhawks voice for BN. He is the author of two books about the Blackhawks, most recently "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter at @The1Tab