The Chicago Blackhawks’ 2021-22 season is officially over, and there were plenty of downs. Their 0-9-2 start to the season set a record for the worst start in franchise history. Their .415 points percentage is the lowest since the 2005-06 season, and they missed the playoffs for the fifth straight season with a record of 28-42-12. Because of all the low points, it’s easy to dwell on who and what went wrong. But the players who paid their dues deserve recognition, and one of them is center Dylan Strome.
I wrote earlier in the season that it would be best for Strome and the Blackhawks to part ways. However, his staying turned out to be the correct choice. Here are some takeaways from his season.
Strome’s Frustrating Start
Strome came into the 2021-22 season with a big chip on his shoulder. He was healthy scratched by then-head coach Jeremy Colliton for four of the last nine games in the 2020-21 season. Going into 2021, he was healthy scratched for the seven out of the first 11 games of the season. When current head coach Derek King took over on Nov. 6, Strome faced a similar fate with being on the outside looking in. In total, he had 13 healthy scratches this season. He had seven points in his first 20 games of the season (three goals, four assists) while primarily playing on the bottom-six averaging 13 minutes a night.
Although there were factors out of his control with the healthy scratches, it didn’t seem like he was taking advantage of the ice time he did get, although it was limited. It was the worst outcome for him going into the season, and it didn’t look like it would improve. He seemed destined to be traded before the new year.
Strome’s Mid-Season Turnaround
The tides didn’t start turning for Strome until after Christmas. He was promoted to the first line alongside Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat in January. The team wasn’t finding sustained success anywhere throughout the four lines, so putting Strome with DeBrincat seemed like a safe bet based on their Erie Otter days in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). It ended up being successful not only for the Blackhawks but for Strome as well. His production started to steadily rise from that point on.
Strome went from seven points in 20 games to 40 points in 46 games in the top-line role while averaging 20 minutes of ice time. His faceoff percentage (FO%) is at 52%, which is a career-high In half of a season. He is third-best on the team in goals (22), fourth-best in assists (26), and fourth-best in points (48). His shooting percentage leads the team at 16.9% and he is third on the team in points-per-game at 0.7. He also recorded two hat tricks, with one being the first of his career.
Strome’s Impact on Team
Strome’s turnaround has had an immense effect on the team. He has provided a domino effect that brings stability on a team with very little of it. With Strome, Kane, and DeBrincat playing together, they all maintained career bests. Strome reached a career-high in goals, Kane tied his career-high in assists (66), and DeBrincat tied his career-high in goals (41).
The Blackhawks desperately needed a first-line center when they traded for him back in 2018, but that didn’t come to fruition until this year. His FO% is second-best on the team behind Jonathan Toews (59%). Before, Strome struggled mightily in the faceoff dot and couldn’t get past 47%. He has seemingly found his footing with his offense and in the dot, which was expected of him when he was drafted third overall by the Arizona Coyotes in 2015.
He has had a positive presence both on and off the ice. Teammates, like DeBrincat, boasted about how well he handled the adversity to start the season. He stated that Strome never brought his problems into the locker room and always kept a positive attitude.
Strome’s demeanor earned him a nomination for the Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy, which is annually awarded to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey. He certainly fits the bill, and the nomination was well-deserved. He battled through inconsistencies, concussion issues last season, head coaches who wrote him off, and is now playing the best hockey of his career.
Strome’s Season Analysis
Strome was able to prove many people wrong this season. Yet, he is no stranger to that. When he was drafted by the Coyotes, he could never find his footing in three seasons there. He played in and out of the lineup in 48 games while only tallying 16 points. He had 51 points in 58 games when he got traded to Chicago. Then, the fall-off came in the 2020-21 season, when he had nine goals, eight assists, and 17 points in 40 games, to now having 48 points in 69 games. To do what he did in half of a season is pretty amazing.
The frustration that came with his game was that he was inconsistent in essential areas, which are faceoffs and scoring. It seemed like he could only produce in one way, which was scoring, and even that was unpredictable. This season, he has shown a more complete game where he is dependable in both areas every game.
Strome has become the player the Blackhawks want, taking important faceoffs when the game gets down to the wire and when a big goal is needed. He proved this season that he can be a first-line center going forward, but there is one worry I have with him. He didn’t highly produce unless he was paired with Kane and DeBrincat. It worked out okay for the club this season because they have those players to help Strome succeed, but he wasn’t as noticeable if he was paired with anyone else. I don’t know if that will be an issue going forward, but at least the Blackhawks know it worked well for them.
Now comes the hard part. Strome is a restricted free agent this summer with a $3.6 million qualifying offer. It’s undetermined whether the Blackhawks will want to take on the qualifying offer and give him an extension because they need cap space for a rebuild. Also, according to Mark Lazerus of The Athletic, the Blackhawks have been trying to trade Strome for a year and a half now. (from ‘Dylan Strome’s future with the Blackhawks is murky, but his future in the NHL is finally secure,’ The AthleticNHL, 04/21/2022)
The Blackhawks can look at it in two ways. If they still want to trade Strome, it’s understandable to think he could garner a solid return with his play this season. For a rebuilding team, that’s enticing. On the other hand, Kane has expressed that he loves playing with him and that keeping Strome is a solution for the rebuild as he has shown he can produce in a top-six role. Both things can be true at once, but it’s a very tough decision that general manager Kyle Davidson will have to make.
At 25 years old, Strome has seemingly re-created a name for himself in the NHL, and I admit that he proved me wrong. I was hard on him and didn’t think he could have the impact that Chicago needed from him. But, he showed that he does have the effect that NHL teams need. I don’t know if he has a future with the Blackhawks, but it has been nice to see him turn the season around the way that he has. He seemed to have the right attitude and took everything in stride, and those players are always easy to root for. And hey, who doesn’t love a comeback story? Now Strome has another one to add to his career.
Just a small town girl with Midwestern charm; combined with a love of dogs, writing, frappuccinos, Chicago-isms, sports, and a whole lot of Blackhawks hockey. Twitter: @brooke_lofo.