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The Rangers Are In Familiar Territory with Ryan Strome Heading Into Offseason

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New York Rangers v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

”I thought my first five games were real good, and then I had a little bit of a dip up and down, we had a bunch of guys come back from injury, Zuccarello and a bunch of guys, and after that I think it was just consistency, I think David Quinn did a good job talking to me, and being honest with me and upfront with me. Had a couple of heart to hearts, and I think from then on I think new lease on life is a really good way to put it, and I think I just took the opportunity and ran with it”

Ryan Strome was a guest on 31 Thoughts the Podcast — taped prior to the New York Rangers game vs. the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Saturday March 23 — and the episode went live Monday.

His comments were positive and upbeat in terms of how he feels he’s acclimated to his new home. All of that is good and well, but when it comes to Strome the Rangers find themselves in familiar territory, and need to be cautious on how they proceed.

On the surface, Strome has played well in New York since being acquired by the Rangers in November, with 17 goals and 14 helpers for 31 points in 59 games. Of players traded in-season, he’s scored the most goals for his new team. When isolating his performance to just the calendar year 2019, Strome is third on the Rangers in scoring with 24 points in 39 games, two points behind Pavel Buchnevich, and 14 behind leading scorer Mika Zibanejad.

During his 31 Thoughts interview, Strome acknowledged that he’s felt more comfortable as he’s been able to carve a role for himself. His self-assessment in this regard checks out, but once you start to dig a little deeper, there are a couple of red flags to be concerned about when trying to project his potential performance for 2019-20.

The biggest thing that stands out is Strome’s shooting percentage. The Mississauga, ON native’s goals per game average of 0.29 with the Rangers is 0.11 higher than his career average, and it’s being propelled by an absurd shooting percentage of 22.4%.

Strome’s 2018-19 cumulative goals per game average of 0.23 is 0.05 higher than his career average, and his shooting percentage is 17%. That rate is 27th highest in the league among shooters with at least 10 goals. If you count just his time with the Rangers, Strome is second in the league only to Ivan Barbashev of the St. Louis Blues who is shooting 23.6% (13 goals on 55 shots).

Strome has taken just 76 shots since joining the Blueshirts, and of the 17 that have gone in, 13 goals have come at even strength with the remaining four coming on the power play. According to Corsica.hockey, Strome’s all situation individual expected goals for total is 13.49, so his actual total is outpacing his expected outcome by 4.51 on the season.

This is not to take anything away from Strome, but to caution that he’s riding high after having no luck in Edmonton. Being so unlucky with the Oilers isn’t that surprising though; even after player there, Strome noted on 31 Thoughts that he can’t even figure out everything that’s gone wrong with the Oilers, or he’d be putting his hat in the management ring to right the ship. Strome is very interested about the happenings of the league, and talked about how him and some of the other players on the team have “hot stove” sessions where they talk about what’s going on with other teams.

The reason the Rangers need to be careful is because they’ve been in a situation where a player joins the team and plays well on the surface — because of that, they ended up with Strome in the first place.

Detroit Red Wings v New York Rangers Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Ryan Spooner came to the Rangers last season in the Rick Nash trade; he hit the ice running and didn’t look back. He would go on to tally 16 points in 20 games, despite some troubling underlying numbers, and it resulted in the Rangers signing him to a two-year deal which paid him $4 million annually. Spooner had 25 points in 39 games prior to his arrival in New York, and was coming off a season in which he had tallied 39 points in 78 games the prior year. The year before that he finished a point shy of 50, so the Rangers were acquiring a player who had a track record of some decent production and was trending in a somewhat positive direction.

At the time I thought he was a player for the Rangers to bet on to play in the top six, but that prediction didn’t end well. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Spooner struggled from the onset of this season, and he was subsequently shipped off to Edmonton before ultimately getting dealt to the Vancouver Canucks.

Back to Strome, while his offensive numbers will see him finish among the team leaders, how does he look below the surface? The numbers are pretty poor, and it is hard to see them being any better next season.

In his entirety with the Rangers, Strome is 10th among forwards in CF% (45.27) and CF% Rel (-1.05), sixth in GF% (50.00), ninth in GF% Rel (4.75), and third in highest PDO (101.3) among skaters with 10 games or more. Strome doesn’t come across favorably when looking at Evolving Hockey’s GAR, as Strome is a -4.1 which comprises of a -2 EV GAR, a 0.4 PP GAR, a -1.4 SH GAR and -1.1 Penalties GAR. League wide he was in the bottom 30 of 567 forwards, but this is just one metric; albeit one worth mentioning.

These numbers are pretty middling, so as I did earlier, I decided to look at Strome’s numbers in calendar year 2019. The reasoning for this is rooted in Strome’s own admission that it took a while for him to get going and be in a position where he could make his mark.

During that stretch of 40 games, Strome is seventh among forwards in CF% (48.43), sixth in CF% Rel (1.37), fourth in GF% (55.56) and GF% Rel (13.96), and fourth in PDO among skaters with 10 games or more.

The TL/DR is that since settling in, Strome has been slightly better than his whole season shows, but there is still an element of luck and unsustainable success fueling it. It begs the question: should the Rangers bring him back for next season?

Columbus Blue Jackets v New York Rangers Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Rangers were unable to move Vladislav Namestnikov and Ryan Spooner last offseason, and both got two-year extensions as RFAs which will take them to unrestricted free agency.

Contractually there is nothing for the Rangers to do with Strome as he’s got one year left on his deal after this season at which point he will be an RFA. But based on the team’s current organizational depth and the odds that the team could add another center in the 2019 draft, the Rangers should sell high on Strome. Yes, Strome has played and could play on the wing next year, but it makes more sense to move on from him given recent history.

The Rangers already have a log jam of options down the middle, and in the context of the rebuild it is important for players like Filip Chytil, Brett Howden, and Lias Andersson to show what they can do. Quinn clearly doesn’t gift spots, but the Rangers will need to learn as much about these pivots as they can, and it isn’t crazy to think that each will take another step forward after summer training and another camp under Quinn.

Well what about the wing? There may be an opportunity, but the potential arrival of Vitali Kravtsov and pursuit and potential signing of Artemi Panarin would take up two more spots just like that. When you start to factor in the potential for additional youngsters on smaller tickets to make noise in training camp; it is hard to find a top-nine spot for Strome.

If made available, it stands to reason that there would be at least a handful of teams who would look at him finding his way in New York, and willing to take a chance on the No. 5 overall pick from the 2011 draft. Yes, Strome’s underlying numbers, his shooting percentage bender, and career history point to this being an anomaly, but there are a lot of general managers who don’t look at fancy stats, but damn do they love a good redemption story.

I can already see how the conference call would play out...

GM: We felt this was a good opportunity for our club. Strome was a good junior player and there’s a reason he went No. 5 overall in his draft year. He had a rough go of it in Edmonton, but that was the case for practically every player not named Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. The Rangers got a bit of depth down the middle, and we were able to make a hockey trade that’s a win-win for both sides.

You might be saying, well why weren’t the Rangers able to do that Namestnikov and Spooner?

In the case of Namestnikov, he had a really rough time in New York posting just four points in 19 games. That was a steep drop off from the 44 points in 62 games he tallied while playing primarily with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. Spooner lacked name recognition, pedigree, and at 5’11” and 191 pounds is smallish for a center. It didn’t matter that he had somewhat of a decent track record, teams for whatever reason overvalue intangibles, draft position, size, and things of that ilk. It is why more often than not a player’s draft slot is mentioned early on in press releases as if it is some justification for taking a risk.

Put another way, which player — assuming stats, age, and contract status were practically the same — would you feel better about acquiring in a “change of scenery trade”; a former No. 5 overall pick, or a No. 45 overall pick? There’s a number of ways to look at this, one of which being why is a former No. 5 overall pick available, but I bet if you asked “200 hockey men” the majority would want the first-rounder.

Ultimately the Rangers will be in a position in which they can say, ‘we have a player who scored just under 20 goals and about 35 points in 63 games, assuming he’s in the lineup the rest of the way.’ If Strome were to go cold the rest of the way, he’d finish his NYR season with 31 points, and at a ticket of $3.1 million that works out to $100,000 a point. There are worse ways for teams to spend their money, and just maybe Strome has turned the corner after going through a humbling experience in Edmonton after leaving the Islanders. As Strome said in 31 Thoughts, “It doesn’t really matter how old you are, I think I’ve continued to grow and learn and no matter how many ups and downs I think that’s the key for me.“

Either way, the Rangers are rebuilding and they too need to start taking steps forward as they attempt to become contenders again, and they should learn from prior mistakes and use that knowledge to come out ahead on flipping an asset.

I doubt Strome factors into the team’s long term plans, and next season’s roster should primarily feature players who will be part of the Rangers’ next playoff team. Even if Strome replicated his production this season, it wouldn’t make sense to sign him to a long-term deal. And I don’t think such a season would alter his current value positively. The 2020-21 season will be the third full season since the rebuild was announced, and that seemingly is a good mile marker to judge the progress the team has made.

The Rangers ultimately could decide to keep Strome given the fact that the soon-to-be 26 year old is under contract and will be an RFA next July, but they run the risk of him regressing, and him fetching less than what he’s currently worth. If the Rangers could get a third for Strome that should be considered a win, as they would have effectively gotten rid of all but $900,000 of Spooner’s contract and a pick in a rebuilding year. The Rangers should obviously ask for more, but unless a team is desperate, a third-round pick feels like an accurate assessment of his current value.

You can be happy with what he’s accomplished, even more so when you consider what Spooner’s be unable to do, but the Rangers need to be careful with an open cap sheet. It remains to be seen what Strome’s fate is, but the Rangers have an opportunity to potentially sell an asset before their value diminishes, and that would be the ideal move. They’ve made the mistake of waiting too long too many times in recent years, and this upcoming offseason will highlight if the team has learned from prior missteps.

Stats via Cap Friendly, Corsica, Evolving Hockey, Hockey-Reference and Natural Stat Trick unless otherwise noted. Stats were obtained prior to Monday’s game vs. the New Jersey Devils.