Dylan Strome gamely participated in Blackhawks practice Wednesday.
For a month now, that’s basically all Strome has done — all he has been allowed to do. A healthy scratch for each of the Hawks’ first four regular-season games, Strome appears permanently stuck in that purgatory.
The Hawks made that very clear when they elected to call up AHL forward Mike Hardman to reshuffle the lineup Tuesday rather than dress Strome. Fellow scratch Adam Gaudette also seems ahead of Strome in the pecking order.
Coach Jeremy Colliton and general manager Stan Bowman have both been pressed hard about why Strome hasn’t played and what he can do to change his fate. Every time, Colliton and Bowman have less-than-deftly avoided the question and changed the subject.
Asked Monday, Colliton led by saying he’s “trying to find the right combination” of forwards, then ironically and inexplicably began talking about Hardman instead of Strome. On Tuesday, Colliton said there’s essentially nothing Strome can do to argue his case.
“What we talk to him [about is]...he’s got to practice hard, prepare to play,” Colliton said. “That’s what he can do. And then the lineup, that’s up to us. [We’ve] got to figure out daily what we think is our best chance to win. That’s it.”
Hardman will miss Thursday’s game against the Canucks due to a head laceration, but Colliton was noncommittal if even Hardman’s absence would give Strome a chance.
The ravine between Strome and Colliton has been widening for a while — ever since Colliton scratched the 24-year-old forward four times late last season and Strome publicly expressed his frustration about it.
This offseason seemed to rejuvenate Strome, though. He learned to juggle to improve his faceoff skills, hoping that’d help him stick at his preferred position of center.
He entered training camp optimistic. He loved the energy of fans’ return in the preseason, calling warmups on Oct. 1 “more exciting than our whole last year.” After scratching him opening night, Colliton said Strome told him, “When I come in, I’m not coming out.”
But that enthusiasm has made no difference. Strome remains squarely outside of the Hawks’ plans.
It’s unquestionably an unfair and untenable situation for Strome himself. The former third overall pick has lots of talent and a lengthy track record of offensive success, with 106 points in 156 career Hawks games. Yet he’s stuck on the fringe of the NHL roster, involuntarily wasting away a crucial season of his prime.
It’s inhibiting the rest of the team, too, to not have one of their better players at their disposal.
Strome’s scratches aren’t the reason for the Hawks’ dreadful 0-3-1 start, but he could’ve helped. The Hawks have been outscored 17-4 at even strength; Strome has averaged 2.29 points per 60 even-strength minutes the last three seasons, fifth-best on the team. At minimum, it’s certainly not like 12 other forwards have been playing too well to take out of the lineup.
This situation is even steadily reducing Strome’s trade value, which makes particularly little sense because trade talks — which could be derailed by injury — are likely the true reason for Strome’s exclusion.
Bowman has been casually shopping Strome since the spring, and there’s no shortage of well-matched suitors. The Ducks have long been interested in him as a young playmaker who could aid their rebuild. The Senators were previously connected to him. The Canadiens, Wild and Rangers need center help and would all make sense; going to the Rangers, for example, would unite him with his older brother, Ryan.
Why Bowman didn’t pull the trigger on a Strome trade this summer is perplexing, considering how not doing so created this current mess. Why Bowman and Colliton want to jettison Strome at all is confusing in its own right.
But why the current mess has been allowed to become this universally damaging is most illogical of all.