Blackhawks Should Keep DeBrincat, Strome, Kane Line During Rebuild

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s the mantra Chicago Blackhawks interim head coach Derek King should keep in mind right now amid the success of the team’s first line of Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, and Patrick Kane. In their last four games, the line has combined for seven goals and 15 assists.

Though a postseason berth is pretty much out of reach for the Blackhawks, the team’s top line has been a catalyst and has emerged as a positive in an otherwise down season. Moving forward, the Blackhawks should build around this line as they begin their rebuild.

DeBrincat, Strome & Kane Providing a Spark

It’s no secret DeBrincat and Kane have been the Blackhawks’ two most effective forwards over the last few seasons. Since his rookie campaign in 2017-18, DeBrincat has emerged as Chicago’s top goalscorer while becoming a household name across the NHL. He currently leads the team in goals with 34, good for sixth in the NHL, and is on pace for 74 points — two short of his career-high of 76 in 2018-19.

Kane, 33, has shown no signs of slowing down since he won his third Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2015. In fact, since Chicago last won a playoff round, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, Kane’s arguably played the best hockey of his career. While he’s always been more of an offense-first type presence and less of a two-way forward, his game has slowly become more well-rounded, too.

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Kane and DeBrincat have always had good chemistry together, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that they’ve helped the Blackhawks. They lead the team with 68 and 55 points, respectively. However, what is somewhat surprising is how well Strome has performed with the two as of late, especially in a season in which many thought he’d be out of Chicago sooner rather than later, given he was a major source of trade speculation earlier this year.

From Kirby Dach to now-Detroit Red Wings forward Pius Suter, Strome is one of a handful of centers the Blackhawks have tried with Kane and DeBrincat over the last few seasons. Of those names, though, Strome has arguably delivered the most consistent results. On March 8 against the Anaheim Ducks, Strome produced a hat trick with the two before adding an assist on March 10 against the Boston Bruins and a goal on March 12 in a 6-3 comeback win against the Ottawa Senators. While he and his linemates failed to record a point and capitalize on zero of eight high-danger chances in the Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Bruins on March 15, setbacks like those are bound to happen, and fans shouldn’t panic.

Dylan Strome Chicago Blackhawks
Dylan Strome, Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Overall, Strome is having a solid season with 32 points in 48 games. Though it seems like a forgone conclusion that he’ll never live up to the hype that surrounded him when the Arizona Coyotes drafted him third overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, he’s still an elite offensive talent. He’s also won 286 out of 546 (52.4 percent) of his faceoffs, a noticeable improvement from 47 percent in 2020-21.

As a rebuilding club, fans shouldn’t get too ahead of themselves when watching the Blackhawks’ top-line succeed. However, they’ve become a bright spot and provide the perfect building blocks moving forward.

Creating Consistency for Chicago

At 22-30-9 and seventh in the Central Division, it’s easy to look at the Blackhawks’ current situation and dwell on the negatives. Similarly, while he’s expressed interest in riding out the rebuild, it would be understandable if Kane wanted to go chase a fourth Stanley Cup with a contending club or if a contender expressed interest in adding Strome as middle-six depth.

Ultimately, though, it would be in Chicago’s best interest to hang onto Kane and Strome, as well as DeBrincat, and keep the trio together next season. While it might not be a long-term solution for the club, it would provide a sense of clarity for what could be an otherwise inexperienced forward group.

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A solid, stable first line can set the tone for the team’s depth. As the Blackhawks continue grooming other young forwards, like Dach, Brandon Hagel, and 2020 first-round pick Lukas Reichel, it would be easy to experiment with other combinations knowing they are realistically, give or take, three years away from becoming contenders again. Just because they are rebuilding, though, doesn’t mean consistency shouldn’t be a goal. Keeping this trio together, for now, would help give the team an identity even while working to improve in other areas.

Now, it’s worth noting Strome is a restricted free agent this summer. The 25-year-old has a $3.6 million qualifying offer after this season, and it’s definitely a possibility that the Blackhawks could let him walk come free agency. Moving him before this year’s trade deadline can’t be ruled out either, even if it seems unlikelier now than earlier in the season. With that said, because of his effectiveness with DeBrincat and Kane, the pros of keeping Strome seem to outweigh the cons as Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times described Strome as a “multiplier for star teammates” (from ‘Regardless of trade fate, Dylan Strome can take pride in having proved doubters wrong,’ Chicago Sun-Times, 03/10/22). He also seems to enjoy Chicago and is close with DeBrincat off the ice.

Patrick Kane Chicago Blackhawks
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Unlike DeBrincat and Kane, Strome will likely never be able to drive his own line as a No. 1 center. By the time the Blackhawks eventually become a good team again, it’s possible they will have found their next Jonathan Toews, whether it be through the draft or free agency. For now, however, slotting Strome with DeBrincat and Kane is a good solution, even if it’s not a long-term one. Creating scoring depth is important, but so is sticking with what works, which seems to be the case with the recent success of Chicago’s top line.

Setting the Blackhawks’ Foundation

There are many uncertainties for the Blackhawks heading into 2022-23, let alone the rest of this season. Next season’s roster could look different from this season’s, and it probably will as Chicago tries to find what works and what doesn’t. Though it may seem like a stretch to say the DeBrincat-Strome-Kane line has been the Blackhawks’ best first line since they were contenders, their recent consistency has given them the right to anchor the team’s offense at this point.

Playing with DeBrincat and Kane has elevated Strome’s game by giving him two elite forwards, and it has also helped the aforementioned twosome by giving them a center who fits their style. Finding a successful top line, especially during a rebuild, can be a tough task, but the Blackhawks have an ideal short-term solution with this trio.

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