Photo: NHL via Getty Images
If you followed along with us during the days leading up to the opening of NHL free agency on July 13, you know we were lobbying for the Washington Capitals to sign Chicago Blackhawks unrestricted free agent center Dylan Strome. It was like dangling a steak in front of a dog.
The Blackhawks had made it known several days prior to the opening of free agency that they were not going to qualify the then restricted free agent Strome. He was going to hit the open market. And as it turns out, the Capitals were ready to pounce.
A REFRESH ON REASONING
So why were we lobbying for the Capitals to sign Strome? Here was our initial reasoning from back on July 11, which holds true today as we approach the start of the 2022-23 season.
The Capitals are in need of younger players after they were tied for the oldest team in the NHL last season with an average age of 29.8. Some youth could provide the veteran core with some juice to get better results and you can never have enough depth with the risk of injuries, which comes with having an older roster. Strome would help them take a step in the right direction as he is only 25.
Productive Past Four Seasons
Strome set a career-high in goals (22) and came three points shy of his career-high (48) in 69 games last season. He hit the 12-goal and 38-point mark in just 58 games in 2019-20 and 34-assist and 51-point plateau in 58 during his first full NHL season the year prior.
In three of the past four seasons, Strome has earned points-per-game averages of .73, .66, and .7 (this past one). During the pandemic campaign, his point-per-game rate dipped to .43 but that appeared to be an anomaly after a bounce back season and with the circumstances of that campaign.
Strome was the third overall pick in 2015, which featured a deep draft class. He has shown that he could produce over his NHL career, especially this past season, and is in his prime.
With the potential of playing with Anthony Mantha, Conor Sheary, and/or TJ Oshie on his wing, Strome would have the tools necessary to produce at a high level.
He earned a 48.28% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 48.87% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 48% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage last season but was on a team that finished 27th in the NHL. Strome averaged 2:42 on the power play (fifth among Blackhawks forwards).
Despite a productive season, the fact that the Blackhawks, who just traded star right-wing Alex DeBrincat and 21-year-old center Kirby Dach, did not qualify him will deflate Strome’s value.
The Capitals could get Strome between $2.5-3 million (maybe even less) which is a very reasonable cost for a young center that has averaged between .65-.75 points-per-game consistently. Although, EvolvingHockey projects his next contract to feature around a $4.6 million cap hit.
Would Provide Flexibility
Strome has played second-line center for much of his tenure in Chicago and could add some fire power to the Capitals’ second power-play unit after setting career-highs with five goals and 16 points, respectively, on the man advantage (both of which would have ranked fourth on the Capitals) in 2021-22.
While the Capitals’ power play improved down the stretch last season, it still finished 23rd in the NHL with an 18.8% efficiency. With Backstrom out indefinitely and right-wing Tom Wilson out for at least the first two months of the season, the team could use all the help they can get on the man advantage.
If Strome were to be brought in, some pressure would be taken off of Connor McMichael (which could help his development) and Lars Eller, who turned 33 in May.
REVIEW AND PREVIEW
The Capitals ended up signing Strome for a little more than we expected (1 Year/$3,500,000), but much less than Evolving Hockey had projected. As it turned out, and unsurprisingly, the battle to sign Strome was even more competitive than we originally forecast. The Capitals would finally sign Strome on the second day of free agency. The term of one year is a good fit for both sides, as Strome will see his value for next summer on his performance this season.
Strome will feel the pressure centering the second line, initially filling in for the injured Nicklas Backstrom. There is no way to avoid it. He has never really had to deal with any kind of heavy pressure in Chicago. How will he deal with an intermittent slump or downturn in play, as happens with all players? He shouldn’t be compared to Backstrom, but it will happen. It’s unavoidable.
How will Strome settle in centering the second line? Strome finished the season skating on a high-powered line with Kane and DeBrincat. Yes, that will improve anyone’s stats, but to his credit, he survived and thrived on the top line. Give him play makers and he will make plays.
— Talkin’ Hawkey (@TalkinHawkey) April 29, 2022
Strome will most likely have Anthony Mantha on the left side and either TJ Oshie, Connor Sheary or even the newly acquired Connor Brown on the right side at the start of the season, a line that could be considered as having a little less punch than the line with DeBrincat and Kane. How will the second line come together will be a big focus during the first half of the season.
We could even see Strome centering the third line during the season. If Nicklas Backstrom returns, or Connor McMichael outperforms Strome centering the second line, how will Strome settle in on the third line?
Reloaded And Ready
The performance of the Capital’s second line will have a lot to say about the team’s ultimate success this season. The team has several options to center the second line, but look for Dylan Strome to get the start. How he does in the first two months of the season will be key.
By Jon Sorensen