Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Looking back at Strome’s season

At the beginning of the season, I thought the expectations that the team and many fans were placing on Ryan Strome were unrealistically high. He played all 82 Oiler games this year and now we have a chance to review what he accomplished and try to project moving forward.

In September the Oilers were full-steam-ahead on a path that had Strome playing with Connor McDavid, essentially directly taking Jordan Eberle’s old spot. On September 15th I wrote this:

Ryan Strome is entering the 2017-2018 season as a reclamation project but with the expectations of a top six forward. If he joins the squad and becomes the newest Pat Maroon – a perfect fit with McDavid and an offensive producer – then that will be fantastic. If that’s not the case, we really shouldn’t be surprised though. He hasn’t been the player the Oilers are telegraphing him to be in quite some time.

Well, the time with McDavid that was apparently going to boost Strome past his previous career highs didn’t materialize. Before Training Camp was officially over he had already been removed from those duties. You’ll recall Kailer Yamamoto had beaten Strome and then it was all downhill from there. In total, Strome played 55:18 with McDavid in 5v5 play. Strome played more with Ethan Bear, who didn’t get called up until March, than he did with 97.

Strome bounced around the wings of various lines while the Oilers were running their top three centermen down the middle. It wasn’t until McLellan switched back to having one of Draisaitl or RNH paired with McDavid that Strome established himself as the pivot of his own line, albeit the third. To his credit, he seemed most comfortable by eye in that position. Either that, or it’s simply the way we remember the coaching staff opting for some stability instead of constantly juggling Strome around.

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There was some suggestion that second half Strome was better overall than first half Strome, so Oiler fans could expect him to start the next season strong. However, once again facts get in the way of a good narrative. Strome’s first half saw him score 17 points and his second half saw him jump remarkably to…also 17 points. It was a consistently inconsistent effort from beginning to end.

The player, who was acquired by giving up a legitimate top-six talent, faced a mountain of expectations early on. The player he was traded for and the role he pencilled into placed him in a bad situation. Somehow reports of the team being unhappy with their newest forward started to pop up in late October. The reality is that Ryan Strome’s 82GP, 13-21-34 season is exactly what the Oiler management and coaching staff should have expected all along.

In 2015-2016 Strome produced 0.39 points per game.

In 2016-2017 Strome produced 0.43 points per game.

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In 2017-2018 Strome produced 0.41 points per game.

This is who Ryan Strome is. He had two full seasons of essentially the same production as he gave this year directly before he was acquired by the Oilers. Once in a presser this year, Todd McLellan said that the team had been “tricked” by his draft pedigree into expecting higher offense from Strome. That might have been true, but it’s a damning statement on Edmonton’s player acquisition process if someone who (at the time) had 273 NHL games (Regular Season and Playoff) under his belt was traded for because of his draft position from six years earlier.

Sep 30, 2017; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) blocks a shot on net by Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Strome (18) during the third period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers had 15 forwards play at least 200 minutes 5v5 this season. Ryan Strome is firmly in the middle of the pack for almost all the advanced metrics. He is eighth in CF%, FF%, and SF%. He’s ninth in GF% but he’s fourth in SCF%. In total scoring, Strome was tied with Lucic for fourth on the club with his 34 points. However, in 5v5 P/60, he was seventh among the forwards who played those 200 minutes.

I will only include this because centermen are traditionally also judged by their faceoffs. Strome took the fourth most number of faceoffs on the Oilers this season. However, he only beat McDavid in faceoff percentage. In the final half of the season, when he was almost exclusively a center, his faceoff percentage was actually just slightly lower than his first half.

Draisaitl 1198 – 56.1% FOW

McDavid 909 – 41.4% FOW

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RNH 767 – 48.8% FOW

Strome 671 – 44.3% FOW

Letestu 649 – 53.5% FOW

In his first four seasons with the Islanders, Strome’s faceoff percentage was 44.1%, 46.7%, 41.1%, and 42.7% respectively. He’s 24 years old and age plus experience can help in the faceoff department, but there is a relative consistency to these numbers.

When we take all of this information together, I think the proper conclusion is that we should expect more of the same from Strome moving forward. This was by all indications a typical Strome season. He delivered exactly what should have been expected by all reasonable parties. He is a middle of the pack player who can go through short bursts that remind you he has plenty of talent, and longer stretches of invisibility.

The real question in front of the Oilers now is, “What number makes sense?”. That number I’m referring to is obviously the cap hit associated with his next contract. In order to retain his rights, the Oilers need to offer Strome $3M as a qualifying offer. He can reject and the Oilers can negotiate a lower number, but they have to first offer him that.

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There are plenty of examples of centermen Strome’s age with a similar number of games and points signing in the $2.75M to $3.1M range. Edmonton is under a little more financial pressure moving forward because of the McDavid and Draisaitl contracts (and Russell, Lucic, Sekera, Nurse’s new deal, etc).

Ryan Strome might not be the player they had envisioned, but he seems like halfway decent bet to cover the needs of the third line. Perhaps we’d feel even better if Lucic hadn’t dropped the ball in his second half. I think he’s done enough to prove that this is who he is and this is what we can expect. And that’s just fine.

  • crabman

    Good assessment. I do think he looked much better.down the stretch at center even though he didn’t get the results on the score sheet. The line of Strome, Lucic and Puljujarvi looked to be doing a lot of things right. Good zone time, getting chances and looked to be building chemistry. Unfortunately they weren’t finishing chances. Too many posts and missed nets. That said they were getting chances and at some point a few of those start to go in. Depending on who the Oilers bring in in the offseason Strome may find himself on one of the pp units and if the team gets back up to league average he should be able to get a few more points on the pp going forward too.
    Strome should reasonably be able to be counted on for 35-40 points depending on usage and that is very good production for a 3rd line player.

    Going forward if the team plans on using him as the everyday 3rd line center and a regular on the pk at least anything under $3M is a good price. I am hoping for more like $2.5M×2-3 because the team will need every bit of cap space to improve the team in other areas.

  • Craig1981

    We traded a good 1st line right winger for a good 3rd line centerman for 3 million in cap space.

    I’m baffled how this was a one for one trade. Still in this years cap crunch as seeing how the 3rd forward on an elite line can be a medioour to fringe NHL player and still contribute (see Coby Armstrong, Marron, Rust, Blair Mcdonald) I do see some logic to this move…..just not the one for one trade

    • oilerjed

      Ebs was playing 2RW here and did it again on the Islanders. So really it was a #2RW for a #3c, which isn’t too bad as centers are generally worth more. A throw in would have made it look better but most likely not changed the Ebs for Strome plus cap space that it was.

    • Hemmercules

      I think one of two things happened:
      1. New York convinced Chia that the sweetener in the trade was the extra cap space. With Drai and Mcd contracts coming up Chia surely needed it.

      2. Chia is stupid and didn’t get a pick plus Strome for Eberle. Then he doubled down on stupidity and figured Strome could be just as good offensively as Ebs. Then he tripled down on stupidity and didn’t use the cap space he just earned to actually get a good winger or Dman that the team desperately needed and settled on Camel Larry.

      I still cant for the life on me understand why Chia felt Eberle needed to be shipped out so quickly?? Sure, he sucked in the playoffs but they still had a year of cheap McD and surely could have found a better trade over the course of this year than just Strome straight up.

      I hope Chia writes a book one day and explains the behind the scenes of what was going on during the Hall/Eberle trades and signing Looch to a ridiculous contract.

      • oilerjed

        Who knows except Chia for sure. It is possible that during the exit interview Eberle made it clear that he wasn’t happy here. His interviews since leaving have certainly indicated that he was in favour of moving to a new situation.
        We can for sure exclude Chia being dumb, even if you hate his moves. You don’t get to his heights by being stupid. It’s like saying a player in the NHL is terrible at hockey. It would be an interesting book. Too bad GM’s don’t have to keep daily diaries that would be automatically released when they retire. That would make for some very interesting reading for many GM’s.

        • Hemmercules

          What has Chia done to lead you to believe he isn’t stupid. Im struggling for examples myself. Would he even be a GM right now if the Oilers didn’t hire him? I’m not so sure. Its not like the Old boys have ever actually hired someone smart anyway. Krueger I guess and then they fired him in the most stupid way possible.

          • crabman

            Not defending any of the man’s moves but he has a Harvard degree and then a law degree from Ottawa. Even student athletes that get scholarships need to get good enough grades to get into Harvard and he would have had to do well enough there to get into law school in Ottawa. After which he practiced law in Ottawa before becoming a player agent and then joining the Senators in a management position.
            He may make questionable trades and signings but the man osn’t an idiot.

        • Hemmercules

          He did do good things in Boston I suppose until his cap management fell apart. Seems like he has past his best-before-date. He has one more shot this summer, we will see what he has learned over the last 4 years.

    • crabman

      Nuge looks like he is a better winger than Eberle. And if Strome makes more sense as the 3rd line center over Nuge’s $6M for that position. Going forward if they use the cap savings to find Draisaitl a decent winger then the deal will look better because a 3rd line center and a top 6 winger for the money Eberle makes would be money better spent and better for the team overall. But I agree that doesn’t excuse not getting at least a pick or prospect back in the deal.

      • oilerjed

        I still think the original plan was to bank the cash and wait to pull the trigger on a winger if they came up during the season. As it went on and became clear it wasn’t happening this year, Chia decided to save Katz’s money. It ended up looking like he wasting cap space, which I think is a ludicrous idea. Who said they need to spend to the ceiling anyway.

        • crabman

          @oilerjed, I absolutely think that was the plan. Save the money for a deadline trade/playoff push. Chiarelli banked on this team being good enough minus Sekera and Eberle and was looking at Sekera as a mid-late season add and money to load up at the deadline. If it worked out it would have looked great but it didn’t. It was a gamble to wait to use the money and it didn’t pay off.
          “Who said they needed to spend to the ceiling anyway.” The fact that this team wasn’t good enough but had the means to be better. If an owner gives you the go ahead to spend to the cap, make that money matter.

    • Big Nuggets

      A good 3rd line centerman can handle heavy defensive responsobilties. I’m not sure about Stromes usage but my impression was he was not given much a lot of defensive zone starts. I could be wrong and I have hope he can continue to progress in the center position. He could turn out to be a valuable player but at the time of the trade it still seems reasonable that we could have gotten a pick along with Strome.

  • oilerjed

    Could Strome ever become the Horcoff type center that we have been missing for awhile? Except this time paid accordingly. He would of course need to fix his FO%
    Thank Gord he didn’t go on a Cup run goal bonanza before he is resigned.

    • Hemmercules

      I dont think Strome will ever drastically improve his faceoffs. He doesn’t seem to be improving, just lingering in that 41 to 46 range. Rnh only got sightly better and that seems to be because of the new face-off rules. Tough thing to improve on it seems. Thankfully Drai seems to have the touch for it.

  • Lawndemon

    Curious… who here would trade Strome + 3 mil in cap space BACK for Eberle straight-up?

    A lot of you are looking at Eberle through rose colored glasses. He is still an above average winger who disappears when things get tough. He didn’t do much to help the Islanders make the playoffs this year did he? Many of you guys are massively overvaluing a soft, defensively challenged, 60 point winger. That’s his reputation as a player… basically a less offensively gifted version of Thomas Vanek in his prime. I’d much rather have Strome and cap space (used properly) than Eberle on my team.

    Don’t get me wrong though… I think Chia is a terrible GM, truly awful at asset management … BUT … They lost the deal because they didn’t use the cap space to improve the roster, not because Strome + 3 mil in cap space isn’t a reasonable return for Eberle.

  • freelancer

    Bang on Matt. Strome is a decent 3rd line player but those who were expecting him to become a 50-60 point player were grossly misinformed.

    I’ll add to your point that it is very concerning that this management group seems to focus in on draft position and ignore what the player has done since. They did so with Strome and they certainly did again with Griffin Reinhart.

    • Randaman

      I think Ryan had a pretty good second half after being used properly and settling in somewhat. I think next year will be somewhat better after having a full season in Edmonton.

    • Sorensenator

      At 21 he put up 50 points, I think this is what they were basing his potential on. Nonetheless he did poop the bed two seasons after so they should have gotten a better idea.

  • Johnny Utah

    Well on the plus side…

    1) While Ebs would have likely resulted in a few more points, I don’t believe he would have made us a playoff team. So, we get a better draft pick out of it.

    2) The cap savings can finally be used this off season to pay Nurse and cover some of the overpayments.

    Half-joking of course… terrible asset management.

    My question is: why was Strome never given a legit shot with McDavid? With some depth at centre (Khaira’s emergence, when Letestu was here), I don’t see why they didn’t give him more time. I have a hard time believing management would keep him off there to deflate his next contract. Seemed like McDavid was excited about him joining the team. I find the line structure so confusing; McLennan tried so many different variations but never seemed to give some obvious ones a shot. Any insights?

      • LAKID

        If it was Eb’s for Strome, Capspace and a better pick in 2018, Chia blew it as the Oil are slotted at 9 spot. This team does not have a brain nevermind braintrust between all of them.

      • oilerjed

        This is a terrible take. Presumptuous and gratuitous. If the PP and Pk were even middle of the road, this is a playoff bubble team. Even with Lucic and Klefbom having terrible seasons. If your going to write, at least try and come off unbiased.

        • CMG30

          You might be shocked to learn that our PK on the road was one of the best in the NHL. It was at home that it was historically bad. Even them out and it’s a wash, fewer games won on the road more at home. We still miss the playoffs. Our problem comes down to depth and talent. Management has been trading down on skill for years. We now have a tremendous depth problem at almost every position, (except center… well till RNH is sacrificed to fill a hole on the 4th line… gotta give to get folks, amiright?) Seriously though, we need a top pair D man (A hole Hall was traded to fill). We need a pair of top line right wingers (Threw away Eberle ’cause cap space). A left wing for Drai (Here’s hoping Lucic is not totally washed up). Oh and a competent backup goal tender.

          Strome has been Strome. If management is ‘shocked’ at his level of play or ‘tricked’ by his draft position after playing years in the NHL then Katz needs to can them ASAP. Where was the due diligence? You traded a top 6 winger for him straight up. A google search could have shown you what kind of player he was.

          • oilerjed

            I would argue that Our defensive depth isnt that bad. Just needing one RHD guy that can produce offense and put in tough minutes. Under that we are not that bad off. As for the PK, at home, on the road… This is already taken into account in the overall %. the point is that it was epically bad. If it is only average for the league we are a bubble team.
            My argument to Matt Henderson’s comment is that there wasn’t a plan for this to be a lottery team this season and every reason to believe that this was a playoff team. Just Matt being Matt.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    The Oilers drafting abilities are strong given the number of ELC’s the team has from the last 3 drafts but their player assessments when they are making a trade do indeed seem weak. Doesn’t Bode well for Chia this coming draft or in the future.

  • camdog

    The scouting report from Islanders fans was that Strome struggled with Tavares was a better fit centring the third line. I found that by googling him after the trade. Using draft position as an evaluator when trading for players is what landed the Oilers Reinhart. Strome can score a few more, missed a few stood looks/posts, might be able to score some powerplay goals like Letestu, but this what Strome was when we traded for him. It shouldn’t have taken a whole season to figure it out. I’ve been critical of coach Strome’s usage, but this might be more on the GM for suggesting it… two peas in a pod.

  • Arfguy

    I like Strome coming back for no more than $2.5 AAV for the next 3 years. Please do not give him too much term and dollar. If you want to do $2.5 AAV for even 4 years, I think it’s potentially worthwhile.

    He is a good player and I think he will serve the Oilers well, if used properly (3rd line centre), but do not over-pay and over-commit. At this point, the Oilers best bet to be competitive and not get into pure cap hell is if we get more and more value contract.