Ryan Strome was one of the major pieces added last summer considering he was the sole return in a trade for Jordan Eberle, and he’s due for a new contract when the season is finished. Needless to say, it will be very interesting to see how the Oilers handle the situation.
After being traded in a one-for-one deal for Jordan Eberle last summer, Ryan Strome has been under the microscope in his first season as an Oiler whether it’s fair or not. I’ll readily admit that I was critical of the trade then and still am now, but that’s not on Strome. It’s not his fault that he was the only return for Eberle, and that the expectations were sky high before he even had a chance to pull an Oilers jersey over his head. Say what you will about Jordan Eberle, but a guy that consistently scores 25 goals per season leaves some pretty big shoes to fill.
I remember some folks thinking that Strome would be a lock to post career highs for goals and points while playing alongside McDavid, but neither of those things are going to happen. We’re 50 games into the season and Strome has only spent 15:25 on the ice with McDavid and his production is what should have been expected based on his history. As of this morning, Strome is on pace for 33 points which puts him in line with his career average, but what we don’t know is what that level of production will mean at contract time or if it means he’ll be trade bait leading up to the deadline.
We all know the trade was a salary dump, but the Oilers clearly expected him to be a contributor and after rumours circulated that they were unhappy with the trade after the fact, I’m wondering how the coming months will play out. Needless to say, what comes next for Ryan Strome will be increasingly interesting to watch as we inch closer towards the summer.
Looking at his current contract, which is up at the end of this season, Strome will need to be qualified at $3.00 million (hat tip to Pat Olsen for pointing it out) for the Oilers to retain his rights or else he would become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. Since walking away and getting nothing is not going to happen (right? RIGHT?!) I do wonder how much sense it makes to have to pay his qualifying offer? That’s a lot of money for a 30-35 point guy. Again, there’s no way that Chiarelli will allow Strome to walk away for nothing so we need to look at the angles he might play to try and either A) retain Strome or B) trade him for other assets.
One approach for re-signing him could be to run the same route as what happened with Zack Kassian where they signed him to a one-year contract at a lower rate than what his qualifying offer would have been. After finishing a two-year deal that saw Kassian with a $1.75 million cap hit, he re-upped with the Oilers for the 2016-17 season for a quarter million dollars less than he previously had earned. The gamble paid off for Kass as he had a solid season and was rewarded with a new three-year contract this past summer. Obviously, it was a completely different situation and we all know about Kassian’s personal comeback, but my point is that getting a player signed to something lower than their QO can be done.
And of course, there is always the option to move him at the trade deadline or Draft. I don’t think that will happen but what the hell do I know? Optically, moving Strome would be a tough sell for Chia unless he was part of a package that landed a superior player. It’s not necessarily that Strome was only here for a year, or that he’s some fan favourite, that would make moving him a challenge but the fact of who he was traded for would bring a lot of heat on the organization if they walked away so quickly. Besides, in a one-for-one type scenario, Strome wouldn’t fetch much in return (unless Chiarelli was the one answering the phone) and I don’t see how moving him for mid-round draft picks will help this team win games now.
SO WHAT TO DO?
Unless they are miles apart on a new contract, I would bet that Ryan Strome will be an Oiler next season and that Chiarelli will be looking to run the same route as he did with Zack Kassian. We all know Kass was battling with some personal issues but he had the willingness to fight tooth and nail to stay in the NHL even if it meant taking less money, and I wonder if Ryan Strome is in a similar position albeit different. After signing this contract in September of 2016, Strome has never been able to get close to the career-high 50 points that likely landed him the deal.
Will he be willing to take a pay cut in order to stay with the Oilers, a team that is looking at a laundry list of cap issues going forward, or will he want to try and cash in while he can? Has he even done enough to cash in, anyway? If Chiarelli can get Strome signed to a one or two-year deal worth $2.25 million or less then there could still be a fit here, but if Strome wants a raise then it will be interesting to see how this thing plays out. Strome does have arbitration rights this summer if he feels like the Oilers are lowballing him on his next deal, but I’m struggling to find reasons for why he would even want to go there — the comparables would not be kind.
In the end, Ryan Strome can still be an effective bottom-six player, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but the Oilers need to make sure that he’s paid accordingly. If he heads into next season making the same money as Mark Letestu then no one will look at Ryan Strome’s contract or production and think that he’s overpaid, but it will be up to him whether or not he’s looking to grind like that. Chances are, he’s going to have to take a pay cut regardless of where he ends up and I wonder if that will be here. Regardless of what happens, Ryan Strome’s story is far from over in Edmonton and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
STROME’S SEASON SO FAR