(Note: this is the third in a multi-part series. For part I click here
. For part II click here
Of the centers that have been tossed around here as potential gets for the Buffalo Sabres, Chicago’s Dylan Strome might be the most attainable and most affordable in both trade chips and cap-hit. Whereas Anthony Cirelli (TBL) might be the most desirable for Buffalo, he might not be attainable and the cost would be high (but worth it.) The odds of trading for Adam Henrique (ANA) are better, but not without hitches, while his cap-hit ($5.85M) and term (four more years) are potential problems for a player that will be 34 yrs. old at the end of his contract.
When looking at Strome, however, the question regarding the 23 yr. old restricted free agent is whether or not he has enough to be a No. 2 center behind the Sabres Jack Eichel. He was drafted as such with the third-overall pick by the Arizona Coyotes in 2015 but was eventually traded to the Chicago Blackhawks after slugging his way through two-plus seasons in the desert. Strome played 41 games for the 'Yotes after a seven-game "cup of coffee" in 2016 and managed only 16 points (7+9) in his entire 48-game stint with the Desert Dogs. On November 25, 2018 he was traded (along with Brendan Perlini) to Chicago for Nick Schmaltz, a former first round pick himself (2014, 20th-overall.)
Strome seemed to blossom in Chicago while playing along side OHL buddy Alex DeBrincat, who had a breakout season in 2018-19, and he also got some prime minutes alongside future Hall of Famer, Patrick Kane as well. "If you would have asked me last summer," said hockeybuzz Hawks blogger Tyler Cameron in a PM, "if the Blackhawks would resign Dylan Strome when his contract expires in 2020, I would have said absolutely.
"Now I'm not so sure."
Quite a bit, actually, beginning with Kirby Dach who passed Strome on the depth chart. Dach had a solid rookie campaign and an impressive 2020 playoffs while Strome seemed to take a step back. Dach, a 2019 third-overall with pick with size, skating and skill made Strome somewhat of an afterthought in this summer of playoff hockey leading The Athletic's Mark Lazerus and Scott Powers to wonder how Strome fits in to Chicago's plans moving forward.
"After being acquired for Nick Schmaltz and excelling while playing alongside his old friend Alex DeBrincat," they wrote, "Strome appeared on track to be the franchise’s No. 2 center of the future. But with Kirby Dach’s emergence and Strome having a so-so season, it’s less apparent where Strome fits in the Blackhawks’ plans."
Strome is a very interesting young player in that he has a skill package that's worthy of third-overall pick status, but something went slightly awry in his still very young career. Scoring 89 points (29+60) in 116 games for Chicago certainly isn't anything to sneeze at and as Cameron points out, he still has room to grow. However, while pointing out positives like "seeing the ice extremely well, along with his stickhandling and his passing," skating seems to be a major problem for the big (6'3" 200 lb.) center. "His biggest weakness is his skating," said Cameron. "It’s become very evident in the playoffs that he’s just not quick enough to have an impact. He’s a big guy, but doesn’t use his body and he passes up shots a lot."
Which is probably why Cameron, Lazerus and Powers are really leaning towards Strome as more of a third-line center, at least on a good, playoff-worthy team.
As Sabreland heads toward next season with that gaping hole at 2-C, if all else fails, could the Sabres take a bit of a gamble on Strome being their No. 2 center despite a skating flaw that seems to be holding him back?
At the right price, sure. Why not?
The Blackhawks are headed towards an imminent cap-quandary as they're about $7 million below the cap with no starting goalie signed and a big raise on the horizon for winger Dominik Kubalik who had a breakout season and a very impressive playoffs. Having said that, great organizations have a way of making it work and Chicago is one of the best in the league.
Strome is a restricted free agent without arbitration rights giving the Blackhawks a strong upper-hand in off season negotiations. Most in the Windy City believe he'll get a "show-me" deal and the team could, as Lazerus and Powers wrote, qualify him for this season. They do point out that Strome "likely wouldn't be pleased with that" but there's not much he could do about it.
Cameron believes the Hawks could very well trade Strome and thinks Buffalo could be a good fit while looking to shed salary and get back "a younger, less expensive player who has potential." Here's one trade possibility he put forth:
--Strome and center Dylan Sikura (2014, 178th-overall) for Casey Mittelstadt.
Another trade possibility with Buffalo that Cameron offers up has the Blackhawks shedding some salary as well as acquiring goalie to help fill a huge void in the crease:
--Strome, Sikura and left-handed defenseman Olli Maata ($4.08M cap-hit for two more seasons) for goalie Jonas Johansson and winger Tage Thompson.
Have at it boys and girls.