The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks have decided not to give Dylan Strome a qualifying offer, which means he is heading for unrestricted free agent status at the young age of 25. It’s a rare situation for a former third overall pick, who has proven in recent years to be a pretty decent, if at times inconsistent, NHL centerman.
When playing with elite talent in Patrick Kane and Alex Debrincat, Strome was a valuable offensive contributor. When he wasn’t playing with them, it was a little more touch and go. His skating has always been a bit of an issue, but it didn’t seem to be as much of a problem when playing with those two faster players. He’s had a bit of pressure on him as the player drafted behind Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, but still hasn’t been a bad NHLer by any means.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are a young team. Their general manager, Jarmo Kekalainen, is looking to build their next core of players moving forwards. Let’s work our way through some questions to see if the Blue Jackets should take a swing at Strome.
Would Strome Fill a Need in the Blue Jackets’ Roster?
The answer to this is yes. The Blue Jackets are looking for legitimate NHL centers to join their roster. Strome has shown in recent seasons that he is at the very least capable of playing in a legitimate center role at the NHL level, as he saw great improvements in his faceoff percentage, winning 52.8 percent of his draws last season.
At this point, there are only a few legitimate candidates for the Blue Jackets’ top-line center. Boone Jenner owned that spot last year but would arguably be used better in a defensive second-line center role. Jack Roslovic exploded in that role late in the season, but questions about his consistency could hold him out of that spot long term. Cole Sillinger is probably too young to step into that spot in a full-time capacity. It’s hard to argue that Strome wouldn’t be a step up from those options in the interim.
Would Strome Succeed in the Blue Jackets Organization?
This is the big question for Strome and the biggest “maybe” of them all. He succeeded most while being flanked by longtime friend Debrincat and future Hall of Famer Kane. While it is a bit of a dropoff in talent, it’s hard to imagine him not succeeding alongside the likes of Patrik Laine, Jakub Voracek, Gustav Nyquist, and Oliver Bjorkstrand.
Consistency is the only question in this answer. Strome has been a valuable offensive contributor, but he’s also been a non-factor. In his first season in Chicago, he made former general manager Stan Bowman look like a genius, scoring 51 points through his first 59 games. Then he lost a little bit of steam in his next two seasons, scoring 38 points in 58 games in 2019-20 and 17 points in 40 games in 2020-21. Then in a contract year last season, he bounced back on a tire fire of a Blackhawks team, registering his first 20-goal season and totaling 48 points.
Strome’s success would be completely dependent on his consistency. Will he be the player that can touch a point-per-game over long stretches of a season, as we’ve seen, or will he fold under the pressure away from the elite talent of Kane and Debrincat? That’s the gamble.
Does Strome Fit in the Blue Jackets’ Salary Cap Structure?
This one is also murky, as the Blue Jackets’ salary cap situation looks a lot rosier than it is. As of the writing of this piece, they have $16,916,667 in projected cap space, but a huge chunk of that needs to come out for the new contract pending for one Patrik Laine. Estimating his contract comes in at $9.5 million, which leaves approximately $7.42 million to play with.
Then you have to look at the other needs in the roster that have a higher priority, which is really just adding a legitimate top-four defenseman, which will take out another chunk of $3-5 million dollars. That leaves $2.42-4.42 million available to add anything else. I’m not sure if Strome falls in that range or if Kekalainen would even be comfortable going that close to the salary cap.
The bottom line of this piece is, yes, the Blue Jackets should be interested in Strome. The only question is if they will get priced out of the market. For the right price, Strome could be worth a contract from the Blue Jackets on a shorter-term deal. He’s exactly the type of X-factor player that could even take that first-line center role and run with it.
However, all of the pieces that make Strome an exciting player for the Jackets to go after also make him an exciting option for a plethora of other teams. That could create a bidding war in both term and salary, which could push him too far beyond their reach.
Writer covering the Columbus Blue Jackets for THW since August 2021.
Co-host of the Blue Jackets’ focused “Union Junction Podcast” on The Hockey Writers’ podcast network.
Also, a radio personality and reporter currently based on Vancouver Island.