Dylan Strom has to prove he can hold down the Chicago Blackhawks until help comes.
The deal is as follows: A one-way, two-year deal worth an AAV of $3 million.
And to their credit, the Blackhawks made the deal sound pretty darn good from a PR standpoint, with their President of Hockey Operations, Stan Bowman, declaring during the team’s press release, “We believe Dylan is ready to take the next step in his career and build off the strides he has made in his first two years in Chicago. He has great offensive instincts and brings creativity and skill to our team. We are thrilled he is now signed and able to join us tomorrow for the start of training camp.”
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Only, here’s the thing: The Chicago Blackhawks didn’t make this move with a clear conscience.
Maybe they genuinely did believe that Strom has taken positive steps over his time in Chicago – which, objectively speaking, he has by any measurable margin – and feel that he’s a quality piece for the team moving forward. However, the decision to sign him now is just as much linked to the broken wrist that will rob Kirby Dach of his regular season and Jonathan Toews‘ decision to step away from the game until he is fully healthy.
By signing Strome now, the 23-year-old can join the Blackhawks for camp once he clears protocol and immediately slots into the team’s top-line center role in the lead up to Chicago’s opening night contest against the reigning champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Now make no mistake about it; this was the right move to make for all parties involved. The Blackhawks need Strom now more than ever, and for his trouble, the 23-year-old got two years at a pretty decent AAV for a relatively unproven player. Even if Strom eventually settles into a third-line role once Dach and Toews return to action, the early-season minutes he’ll log at the top of 2021 will surely make his asking price worth it.
But for Strom to really make the most of this opportunity, he needs to make that $3 million AAV look like a bargain.
Even if Chicago is able to land a veteran center to fill out their depth chart, Strom will all but surely average the highest ATOI of his career – maybe even inching into the 19-minute territory that Toews averaged in 2019-20. If Strom can continue to be a plus playmaker and maybe even break 20 goals on the same team for the first time in his career, it’ll go a long way to securing Chicago their 11th playoff berth in 13 seasons.
Remember, Dach’s return becomes increasingly less helpful the further away from the fourth spot the Blackhawks find themselves in down the stretch. To truly have a chance to do damage in an intradivision Central Division playoff picture, Chicago needs to come out the gate strong and at least remain in contention until Toews is able to return – if, of course, he is able to return at all.
Regardless of the conditions that got them there, the two parties are now linked together for the next two seasons. While only time will tell if the 23-year-old will use said years to keep Kirby Dach’s seat warm or as a chance to finally establish himself as one of the league’s brightest young lefthanded playmakers remains to be seen, it’s safe to say Dylan Strome controls his – and the Chicago Blackhawks’ – destiny moving forward.