On Sunday night, the Chicago Blackhawks moved further away from the team speed that defined their recent success. According to NHL.com, they dealt 22-year-old Nick Schmaltz to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for forwards Dylan Strome (21) and Brendan Perlini (22).
BREAKING: The #Blackhawks have acquired forwards Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini from Arizona in exchange for forward Nick Schmaltz.
Strome (AAV $863,333) is signed through the 2019-20 season and Perlini (AAV $863,333) is signed through the 2018-19 campaign. pic.twitter.com/ss3FE7s2X1
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) November 26, 2018
Though Schmaltz had a breakout season centering Patrick Kane in 2017-18 (52 points in 78 games), he hasn’t carried that form over to this campaign. He’s sitting on just 11 points in 23 games.
A deeper dive into the numbers paints an unflattering picture: Despite an ordinary PDO (99.1), Corsica indicates that his on-ice performance has toiled below the team’s average in several key metrics (CF%, GF%, xGF%). And this was on a club that’s three points outside of a wild-card spot. Nearly all of Chicago’s complementary players are struggling — Schmaltz was simply one of the main culprits.
The 20th overall pick in 2014 is a fluid skater and talented playmaker, but he would often defer to Kane rather than attempting to drive the line on his own. As a result, opponents could devote their focus to stopping Kane without necessarily paying the price.
This lack of offensive depth is hampering the team. Prior to sending Artemi Panarin to Columbus for Brandon Saad, Chicago’s offense ranked ninth in the league. Since then, it’s come in at 21st and now 26th this season.
With this trade, the Blackhawks are surely hoping that an injection of size and finish can shift the tide back in their favor. Strome (6’3”, 200 lbs) and Perlini (6’3”, 211 lbs) aren’t bruisers by any stretch of the imagination, but they can utilize their frame and reach to extend possessions. They’re better shooters than Schmaltz as well. While they’ve both struggled to produce this season (6 points apiece), they’ve won the possession battle on most nights and could bring that element of puck control to a Blackhawks club that has frequently looked out of sorts.
Moreover, they’re both former first-round picks with untapped potential. If they find their stride, you can expect a new-look attack in Chicago. That’s an awfully big “if,” though.
For Arizona, it’s hard to see this move as anything other than an indictment of its own drafting. Strome (3rd overall) and Perlini (12th overall) haven’t amounted to much yet, which is especially rough when you consider the players available at the time of their selection. Mitch Marner, Ivan Provorov, Zach Werenski, Mikko Rantanen, Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor, Brock Boeser, Timo Meier and Thomas Chabot were picked after Strome in 2015, whereas Dylan Larkin, David Pastrnak, Alex Tuch and Kasperi Kapanen were still on the board when Arizona opted for Perlini in 2014.
Obviously, the draft process is a guessing game to some degree, but missing on a pair of first-round picks is sure to set any rebuild back a few years. Any way you slice it, the Coyotes traded two former first-rounders for one — and an under-performing one at that.
Strome certainly had the tools to dominate at the junior level. Unfortunately, he doesn’t appear to process the game or release his shot quickly enough in the pros. His skating is also an issue at the moment. On the bright side, taller players usually require a longer adjustment period and he undoubtedly has the highest ceiling among the players involved in the deal. For that reason alone, this move is worth the risk for Chicago.
Perlini simply needs to get more engaged. In order to carve out a long career, he’ll have to assert himself in the trenches and put in the work to generate production. Scoring goals in the NHL isn’t easy, and he can’t just rely on teammates to grant him high-quality opportunities.
On the other side of the equation, Arizona’s acquisition of Schmaltz suggests a desire to play faster. At least in terms of mobility, he will fit in nicely with forwards Clayton Keller, Michael Grabner and Vinnie Hinostroza. He can also play center or wing, which opens up possibilities for head coach Rick Tocchet. Pairing him with a natural shooter in Alex Galchenyuk or a multi-dimensional threat like Keller could be just what the team needs up front.
Ultimately, this trade boils down to desperation.
The Blackhawks have lost a step since their championship years and were watching another season slip away. They already fired longtime bench boss Joel Quenneville earlier this month in hopes of creating a spark. On Sunday, they sent a promising youngster packing for a pair of raw forwards whose upside isn’t evident yet.
Meanwhile, the Coyotes have dwelled in the cellar since reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2011-12. They had to kick their rebuild into another gear, and to that end, they chose to move two fledgling prospects for a slightly more established one.
While the shakeup is unlikely to propel either club straight into the playoff conversation, it hopefully marks a step in the right direction.