Never fully appreciated with Blackhawks, Dylan Strome excited for ‘new opportunity’ with Capitals

Despite receiving a one-year contract worth $3.5 million from Washington, the great Strome mystery — ‘Why do NHL teams not value him as much as they should?’ — nonetheless remains.

SHARE Never fully appreciated with Blackhawks, Dylan Strome excited for ‘new opportunity’ with Capitals
Dylan Strome’s four-year Chicago tenure officially ended July 14 when he signed with the Washington Capitals.

Dylan Strome’s four-year Chicago tenure officially ended July 14 when he signed with the Washington Capitals.

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Dylan Strome sat around his house, phone by his side, throughout the day on Wednesday, July 13 — his first day ever as an unrestricted free agent. Yet no call came.

Finally on July 14, as he walked down the first fairway of his local Toronto-area golf course, he received the contract offer he ended up accepting: One year at $3.5 million from the Capitals.

“It was a process I never really expected to go through this early,” Strome said this week. “I found out on [the previous] Thursday or Friday that the Blackhawks weren’t going to be giving me a qualifying offer, so your mind quickly switches to what’s going to happen next and where you might end up.

“It was a crazy couple days. Washington reached out a few times. My agent was telling me you’re just at the mercy of when you get a call. I was just sitting by your phone, waiting.”

Strome won’t struggle to make ends meet with that kind of salary. And he’s going to an offensively talented team where he’ll fill a useful role. But the great Strome mystery — ‘Why do NHL teams not value him as much as they should?’ — remains.

Strome has recorded 160 points in 245 games over the past four seasons (with all but six of those points coming with the Hawks). That ranks 114th among NHL forwards. But Strome, who made an average of $3 million annually on his previous two-year contract, has and will not be paid equivalently. The NHL’s 114th-highest paid forward, coincidentally Strome’s new Capitals teammate Tom Wilson, makes $5.2 million.

Even in specifically this year’s free-agent market, the disparity was perplexing. Vincent Trocheck is four years older than Strome (29 vs. 25) and has tallied just six more points (166 vs. 160) in the exact same number of games over the past four seasons. Yet Trocheck received a whopping seven-year contract worth more than $5.6 million annually from the Rangers — way more than Strome got from the Capitals.

Certainly in Chicago, Strome never found the stability his production seemed to justify.

His relationship with ex-coach Jeremy Colliton fell apart last fall, and although he thrived the second half of the season under Derek King, the interim coach was still harder on him than he was on others. Ex-general manager Stan Bowman and new GM Kyle Davidson both tried in vain for more than a year to trade Strome, yet never received much interest from other teams.

Part of the constant Strome under-appreciation from Hawks management stemmed from internal analytics that indicated Strome performed poorly against higher-level competition, per sources. But that never fully explained the situation.

“I felt like I played my way into getting a qualifying offer,” Strome said. “But with the way the Blackhawks are trending and what they’re looking to do in the next coming years, I’m not going to say I was surprised by their decision.”

It’s all water under the bridge now, though, and Strome has plenty of reasons to be optimistic about his fresh start in D.C.

Strome will battle Lars Eller for the Capitals’ second-line center spot (beneath Evgeny Kuznetsov) this coming season, but with Eller aged 33 and a pending unrestricted free agent next summer, Strome is favored to win that battle long-term. He’ll be an RFA again next summer.

With wingers Wilson, Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Anthony Mantha, Connor Brown (acquired from the Senators this summer) and Nicklas Backstrom (when healthy again) all on the Capitals’ roster, Strome will not lack quality linemates.

There’s also the odd coincidence that every Capitals summer addition is a former teammate of his. Henrik Borgstrom and Erik Gustafsson came from the Hawks, Brown played with Strome on the OHL’s Erie Otters in 2013-14 and new goalie Darcy Kuemper played with Strome on the Coyotes in 2017-18.

And hopefully for his sake, Strome’s Capitals tenure will prove far steadier — and far more valued by coaches and management — than his Hawks tenure did.

“I’m excited to join...a team that’s in the playoffs pretty much every year,” he said. “To have that new opportunity and new challenge, it’s something that every player looks forward to. It gives me a real drive for the summer to be at my best going into the season and show them they made a good choice in signing me.”

Offseason updates

  • The Hawks signed Buddy Robinson to a one-year contract this week. Robinson, a 30-year-old winger, tallied six points in 32 games for the Ducks last season. But he will likely spend most of 2022-23 in the AHL, where he has played most of his career.
  • Hawks top goalie prospect Drew Commesso won’t participate in the rescheduled 2022 World Junior Championships next month in Edmonton, citing personal reasons and preparing for his crucial junior season at Boston University.
  • Hawks forward prospect Jake Wise will return for a fifth year of college at Ohio State this season, extending the Hawks’ rights to him until next summer. Wise exploded there last year after a rough stint at BU, and another good season could earn him an NHL contract.
  • Hawks forward Philipp Kurashev and defenseman Caleb Jones currently remain unsigned as restricted free agents. Jones was arbitration-eligible but did not elect to enter the arbitration process. Kurashev is not arbitration-eligible.
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