Blackhawks forward Dylan Strome made his frustrations about his nightmarish 2021 season clear at his exit interview Tuesday.
“When you get scratched or you don’t expect to be scratched ... it sucks,” he said. “It pissed me off a lot.”
Strome, 24, missed a month with a concussion and saw his production decline precipitously, finishing with only 17 points in 40 games. The scratches, though, were the biggest source of contention — particularly April 21 against the Predators.
At 6:30 p.m. that night, Strome took warmups on a third line with Dominik Kubalik and Philipp Kurashev. But 30 minutes later, he was listed as a healthy extra.
Coach Jeremy Colliton explained Wednesday that defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk had been a game-time decision. If Kalynuk felt good enough to play (which he ultimately did), he would. But if Kalynuk didn’t, Strome would’ve played instead.
“In that situation, the wrong thing to do is in the morning say [to Strome], ‘Hey, you’re going to be a healthy scratch tonight, but if Kalynuk can’t go, you’ll play, so get ready to play.’ You never like letting a guy know late like that, but I feel like that was best.”
The lack of transparency upset Strome, however.
“I took warmups and didn’t know I was going to be scratched, and then I got scratched,” he said. “That’s never fun. I had no idea that day.”
That memorable night was one of four occasions Strome was scratched in the Hawks’ last 10 games, underlining how far he plummeted down the team’s depth chart. As a result, he enters this highly uncertain offseason low on confidence.
“It’s been a crazy year and I don’t want to say I’m thankful it’s over, but . . .” he said.
He has one contract year left with a $3 million cap hit, but it’s unclear if he’ll spend it with the Hawks. He might be exposed to the Kraken in the expansion draft. He also could be floated on the trade market or included in an acquisition package.
“I’ve been a really good NHL [player], a good point producer and someone that can be relied upon,” Strome said. “Hopefully I can get back to that and they see me as a valuable asset.
“I love [Chicago]. I’ve had my best NHL success here. [I have] great friends here. But at the same time, you don’t really know what’s going to happen, especially with Seattle. I’m prepared for anything.”
If Strome is the biggest question mark this summer among the Hawks’ forward group, then Nikita Zadorov is an equally big question mark among the defensemen.
Zadorov, 26, will be a restricted free agent with a sizable price tag ($3.2 million at minimum, probably more like $4-4.5 million). His contrast of stout defense but poor puck management makes him polarizing, and the Hawks considered offers for him at the trade deadline.
Yet the hulking Russian enters this uncertain offseason with a far more confident mentality than Strome.
“I was actually thinking last night, it was probably the most solid season of my career,” Zadorov said Tuesday. “I was really solid defensively. I improved in that area a lot. Playing against top lines every night . . . averaging around 20 minutes, it’s hard to do in this league, and I did a pretty good job.”
General manager Stan Bowman’s comments Wednesday seemed to support Zadorov’s confidence. Bowman said he has started the contract negotiation process with Zadorov and “a few other guys,” shortly after insisting Zadorov was — after Connor Murphy — “in that top group of two or three” defensemen on the team.
Zadorov disclosed his wrist wasn’t 100% healthy at the start of this season, and he’s anticipating a summer of “getting healed” from the bumps and bruises caused by his physical play all spring.
Like Strome, the healed version of Zadorov might be back come September — or might be somewhere else in North America.