Part 19 in a series analyzing the Rangers.
This is where you must begin with a Ryan Strome overview: He was acquired from Edmonton on Nov. 16, 2018, in a one-for-one trade for Ryan Spooner.
It was a bait-and-switch deal, that’s what it pretty much turned out to be, when general manager Jeff Gorton was more than able to make amends for perhaps the most incomprehensible decision of his tenure in granting Spooner a two-year, $8 million contract following the 2017-18 season instead of not qualifying the barely interested forward.
Strome has recorded 92 points (36-56) in 133 games with the Blueshirts while emerging this season as Artemi Panarin’s pivot-in-crime. Spooner, meanwhile, well, he put up three points (2-1) in 25 games for the Oilers before being sent to the Canucks, where he registered four points (0-4) in 11 games at the end of 2018-19. This year, Spooner was in the KHL, playing for Dinamo Minsk, where well-placed sources report that he met Rochelle, Rochelle after her long journey from Milan.
Peter Chiarelli already paid with his job as the Oilers’ GM, and the Strome Saga might have had something to do with it. Edmonton acquired Strome from the Islanders in exchange for Jordan Eberle in June 2017. Strome recorded 36 points (14-22) in 100 games for the Oilers and had been demoted to the fourth line immediately preceding his trade to the Rangers. Meanwhile, Eberle has recorded 136 points (60-76) in 217 games for the Islanders and plays on the first line with Mat Barzal.
But back to Broadway, where Panarin and Strome fit the way Panarin and Pierre-Luc Dubois fit in Columbus and Panarin and Artem Anisimov fit in Chicago. That is not to Strome’s detriment, even as the argument against granting the pending restricted free agent an expensive long-term deal tends to focus on the fact that the centerman’s numbers (18-41-59) were inflated because of the identity of the hockey superhero on his left. Well, thank you for the news flash.
Fact is, not everyone has it in his game, or even his makeup, to complement a star, especially one as savvy as Panarin. Strome has proven that he can think the game with Panarin. Not everyone can. He has proven that he is not intimidated by playing with No. 10.
The formation of such a strong partnership allowed David Quinn to split Panarin and Mika Zibanejad so that the Rangers could come at you with two formidable units rather than one power line. That became their team strength.
There are things for Strome, who turns 27 in July, to clean up. There are a few too many shifts where he takes what were described as “walkabouts” when applied to the great Australian tennis champion Evonne Goolagong Cawley. His penchant for taking careless penalties got him benched a few times, even as late as March 1 against the Flyers. His 17 minors at five-on-five were tied for the fifth-most among NHL forwards (per Naturalstattrick.com). What’s worse is that No. 16 somehow managed to draw only three penalties, himself.
The Rangers are going to have to balance Strome’s strengths and weaknesses against the club’s situation in the middle when approaching his restricted free agency this summer. Unless management acquires a no-questions-asked top-six center in a trade in which Tony DeAngelo would presumably be the prime piece going the other way, I’d expect the Blueshirts to keep Strome on a one-year deal, preferably without having to go through an unhelpful arbitration hearing.
Yes, that would put Strome in the position of being one year away from unrestricted free agency, but it would maintain the Panarin equation. The Russian Rockette was on for 700:48 of the Canadian’s 947:22 at full strength, or 74 percent of the time. The pair produced positive possession and shot-share numbers while posting a goals-for percentage of 62.75 percent, on for 48 Rangers goals and 25 for the opposition.
It would give management more time in which to assess Strome’s value and to ruminate over the wisdom of signing him to a long-term deal. In the alternative, he would likely become a prime rental property heading into next year’s deadline.
The friendly and loquacious chap from just outside Toronto has always had the talent. That’s why he was drafted fifth overall by the Islanders in the 2011 entry draft, one slot ahead of where the Senators selected Zibanejad, one slot after the Devils tabbed Adam Larsson.
That draft was the most center-centric one that I can find, with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins going first overall and four straight from fifth through eighth in Strome, Zibanejad, Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg) and Sean Couturier (Philadelphia). J.T. Miller was drafted 15th overall as a center by the Rangers. Philip Danault (Chicago) and Vlad Namestnikov (Tampa Bay) came later in the first round.
It was the most center-centric draft, but you’d probably take the crop of pivots selected in the 2003 super draft. That was the year of Eric Staal, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards and Brian Boyle. You couldn’t go wrong with 2005, either, when Sidney Crosby, Gilbert Brule, Anze Kopitar, Martin Hanzal and Andrew Cogliano were selected.
That is history, of course. So is the magnitude of Spooner for Strome.