With deadline passed, Blackhawks’ Dylan Strome can relax and await clarity on future
After years of dealing with trade rumors, Strome won’t have to think about those the rest of the season — and can take comfort knowing he’ll hold arbitration rights as an RFA this summer, too.
LOS ANGELES — Blackhawks forward Dylan Strome had an ‘‘inkling,’’ based on his excellent play in recent months, as well as what he had heard, that he wouldn’t be traded at the deadline Monday. He was right.
‘‘[Based on] the way it’s been going, playing well and playing some good minutes . . . I wasn’t too stressed about it,’’ he said Tuesday. ‘‘Obviously, I followed everything and [saw] some big trades. It’s interesting to watch and see what happens. I was comfortable.’’
Not only was Strome not traded, but one of his closest childhood friends and favorite junior-hockey teammates — Taylor Raddysh — came to the Hawks in a deadline deal. It couldn’t have gone better.
And now, after dealing with constant trade rumors ‘‘for a couple of years,’’ Strome finally can relax and enjoy some clarity about his off-ice destiny.
With the deadline passed, he can’t be traded for the rest of this season. And as a pending restricted free agent this summer with arbitration rights — which add more power and leverage to his negotiating position — he’ll know that if the Hawks tender him his qualifying offer of $3.6 million by the deadline July 9, they really intend to re-sign him.
And if they don’t, he’ll know he’ll become an unrestricted free agent July 13, can move on mentally from the Hawks and can find a team that values him more.
Either way, there’s clarity, something he lacked in 2020 as a restricted free agent without arbitration rights. His negotiations dragged on throughout the fall that year before he ultimately signed just before training camp.
‘‘We’ll see what happens,’’ he said. ‘‘Obviously, this is a little different negotiation than last time with arbitration. [It’s] something I’ve never been through before. There’s a set deadline, compared to two years ago — [that] feels like a long time ago. But I think it’s a little easier in that sense. . . . It’s nicer when you have a date and you know I’ve got to get something done by a certain time.’’
A few months ago, it looked as though Strome’s qualifying-offer threshold was going to be an issue. His production had dropped off so steeply that $3.6 million would’ve been an overpay.
Now that won’t be the case. Strome even might get a raise, be it from the Hawks or another team in free agency. His second-period assist in a 4-3 shootout victory Thursday against the Kings gave him 38 points in 52 games this season — and 31 points in 30 games since Jan. 4.
He’s going to exceed his production of 2019-20 — his last contract year — when he tallied 38 points in 58 games, and he’s not far off his 51-points-in-58-games pace of his explosive first season in Chicago.
The question remains whether Strome truly fits in the Hawks’ rebuild. He has shown he only can play center and is only productive when playing next to talented players, so he essentially requires a top-six center spot.
And keeping Strome in a top-six center spot next season means Kirby Dach or Lukas Reichel, arguably the two most important forwards for the Hawks’ future, would be relegated to the wing or the third line. That wouldn’t be ideal.
Not ideal, either, would be letting Strome walk away for nothing after his resurgent winter and spring and after keeping him at the trade deadline.
But for the first time in a long time, that’s a conundrum for another day. Strome finally can push it to the back of his mind and just focus on hockey.
‘‘Winning’s got to be the main thing on all our minds [as we] play these last  games and just have fun,’’ Strome said. ‘‘A lot of these guys are going to be back next year. [We’ve] got to build that team identity, which we’ve been working on.’’