Photo: NHL via Getty Images
If you’ve been following us in the days leading up to the NHL’s July 13 free agency opener, you know we were pushing for the Washington Capitals to sign unrestricted free agent center Dylan Strome from the Chicago Blackhawks. It was like throwing a steak in front of a dog.
The Blackhawks had let it be known several days before free agency opened that they would not qualify then-restricted free agent Strome. He was going to hit the open market. And it turns out the Capitals were ready to pounce.
A REFRESHMENT ON REASONING
So why were we pushing for the Capitals to sign Strome? Here’s our original reasoning from July 11, which holds true today as we approach the start of the 2022-23 season.
The Capitals need younger players after being tied for the NHL’s oldest team last season with an average age of 29.8. Some youngsters might juice the veteran core for better results and you can never get enough depth with risk of injury, which comes with an older roster. Strome would help them take a step in the right direction as he is only 25 years old.
Last four productive seasons
Strome set a career high in goals (22) and came within three points of his career high (48) in 69 games last season. He hit 12 goals and 38 points in just 58 games in 2019-20 and plateaued 34 assists and 51 points in 58 in his first full NHL season the previous year.
In three of the last four seasons, Strome has averaged points per game of 0.73, 0.66 and 0.7 (the latter). During the pandemic campaign, his points-per-game rate dropped to 0.43, but that seemed like an anomaly after a rebounding season and with the circumstances of this campaign.
Strome was the third overall pick in 2015, which featured a deep draft class. He showed he could produce during his NHL career, especially last season, and he’s at his peak.
With the potential to play with Anthony Mantha, Conor Sheary and/or TJ Oshie on his wing, Strome would have the tools to produce at a high level.
He had a 48.28% five-on-five percentage for Corsi, a 48.87% expected goals percentage for five-on-five and a 48% scoring chance percentage for five-on-five last season, but he was part of 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 winger Alex DeBrincat and 21-year-old center Kirby Dach, failed to 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 who has consistently averaged 0.65-0.75 points per game. . However, EvolvingHockey expects his next contract to have a cap of around $4.6 million.
Would provide flexibility
Strome played second-line center for most of his Chicago tenure and could add firepower to the Capitals’ second power play unit after setting career highs with five goals and 16 points, respectively. , on the power play (the two who would have ranked fourth for the Capitals) in 2021-22.
While the Capitals’ power play improved over the final streak last season, they still finished 23rd in the NHL with an 18.8% save percentage. 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.
Should Strome be brought in, some pressure would be released on Connor McMichael (which could help his development) and Lars Eller, who turned 33 in May.
REVIEW AND OVERVIEW
The Capitals ended up signing Strome for a little more than we expected (1 year/$3,500,000), but a lot less than Evolving Hockey had anticipated. In the end, and unsurprisingly, the battle to sign Strome was even more competitive than we had originally anticipated. The Capitals would finally ink Strome on Day 2 of free agency. The one-year term is a good choice for both parties, as Strome will establish his value for next summer on his performance this season.
Strome will feel the pressure in the center of the second row, initially replacing the injured Nicklas Backstrom. There’s no way to avoid that. He never really had to deal with heavy pressure in Chicago. How will he handle an intermittent drop or slowdown in play, as is the case for all players? He shouldn’t be compared to Backstrom, but it will happen. It’s inevitable.
New threesome mates
How will Strome set up to center the second row? Strome finished the season skating a high power line with Kane and DeBrincat. Yes, it will improve anyone’s stats, but to his credit he survived and thrived on the front line. Give him game makers and he will make games.
— Talkin’ Hawkey (@Talkin’Hawkey) April 29, 2022
Strome will most likely have Anthony Mantha on the left flank and either TJ Oshie, Connor Sheary or even newly acquired Connor Brown on the right flank early in the season, a line that could be considered to have a little less punch than the line with DeBrincat and Kane. How the second line comes together will be a big priority in the first half of the season.
We even saw Strome center the third line during the season. If Nicklas Backstrom returns or if Connor McMichael outplays Strome centering the second line, how will Strome settle on the third line?
Charged and ready
The performance of the Capitals’ second line will speak volumes about the team’s ultimate success this season. The team have several options to center the second row, but are looking for Dylan Strome to start. What he does in the first two months of the season will be crucial.
By Jon Sorensen