ARLINGTON, V.A. — The Washington Capitals got down to business and were working the phones all day on Wednesday, ultimately closing out Day 1 with quite a few signings. However, they were far from done, and in the later hours of the second day of NHL Free Agency, Washington finalized a couple of signings before making a significant one, bringing on board Dylan Strome.
Strome, who went third overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, is coming off a strong season with the Chicago Blackhawks. The 25-year-old dished a career-high 22 goals (third on the team) and added 26 assists (fourth) for 48 points in 69 games with Chicago this past season. However, he didn’t receive a qualifying offer and ultimately hit the market, where the Capitals jumped at the opportunity to welcome him on board with a one-year deal worth $3.5 million.
The 6-3, 200-pound forward is a steal for Washington. He is a solid forward that can play both center and wing and logs top-6 minutes. A strong playmaker with a good shot and a high hockey IQ, Strome has been able to take a step forward and still has a lot of upside. Plus, his two-way play is getting better, as he had 47 takeaways and just 22 giveaways this season and also won 52.3 percent of his draws.
There’s still plenty of upside for Strome, and he can still improve his skating and consistency going forward. And, luckily for him, there’s time to improve that in the District under Peter Laviolette and the staff.
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While the Strome signing is a positive for D.C., it does come with several implications, particularly at the center position.
Though Strome can play any forward position, his ability to win face-offs and playmaking skill makes him an ideal fit down the middle. Still, there isn’t a lot of space to go around, and from the looks of it, it’ll be a fierce competition for ice time this coming season.
Looking at the center situation, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Lars Eller and Nic Dowd made up the four pivots last season. And going into this year, there are quite a few candidates to fill in for Backstrom, including Connor McMichael, Lars Eller, Hendrix Lapierre and now, Strome.
GMBM has said that the Capitals want McMichael to play a bigger role at center going forward. So, if Strome goes to the second line and the Capitals still stand by giving McMichael a bigger role. Then Eller, who is coming off a tough season filled with adversity and inconsistency, could be the odd man out.
Then, of course, there’s more flexibility at center if he slots in on the left wing (he’s a left shot), but that also creates a few complications. Washington just re-signed Marcus Johansson to a one-year deal, and the Capitals are stacked at LW, with Alex Ovechkin, Anthony Mantha and Johansson could make up those spots, with Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Joe Snively and more competing for a full-time job at the NHL level this season. Strome could technically slot in on the second line, with Mantha playing with Eller, and that leaves Johansson as the odd man out.
Meanwhile, one has to ask: with Strome coming in at $3.5 million and Washington well over the cap, when will Nicklas Backstrom return?
The Capitals now have 13 forwards costing $46,363,333 upfront, leaving the team $6,321,666 over the salary cap. Of course, the long-term injured reserve will help. Backstrom (hip resurfacing surgery) and Carl Hagelin (ruptured choroid) are out indefinitely, and their NHL futures hang in the balance — though Washington is adamant that No. 19 will skate at some point in 2022-23. Tom Wilson is also out until at least December as he recovers from ACL surgery.
Still, the team dipped into that LTIR pool with quite a few expensive signings and the trade for Connor Brown. Taking all that into account, Backstrom’s timetable could be playing a big role here. General manager Brian MacLellan didn’t have too much of an update on Backstrom on Wednesday, but with Strome now drawing in, it leads to yet another question regarding the Swede’s comeback.
Ultimately, there are several options the Capitals could go with regarding Strome. But, in the end, it could lead to quite a domino effect one way or another.