There are so many layers to this Nick Schmaltz trade. So let’s start on the surface. On the surface, or in a vacuum, or whatever arena you need to evaluate the trade simply on the players involved, it’s not a bad trade. If you go by the “Team That Gets Best Player Wins Trade” model, then the Coyotes probably win it. But they only win it because we don’t know what Dylan Strome is yet.
Strome has played 48 games in the NHL. In his first full season as a pro last year, he was a point per game in the AHL. Now, that doesn’t mean much, even at age 20 which Strome was. Recall Brandon Pirri leading that league in scoring once in his early 20s, and it didn’t get him anything other than the Mike Sillinger Train To Everywhere. Still, it means he’s probably not incompetent. Or has the potential to be not incompetent at the highest level.
The Coyotes clearly saw enough to declare the #3 pick overall just three years ago wasn’t for them. The knocks are clear. He’s not very quick. His skating doesn’t pop. And even at his size, 6-3 and 200 pounds, has been reluctant to assert himself physically. And maybe that’s being kind.
If I were you, I would also allow for the fact that Strome has played all his NHL games under Rick Tocchet, who has proven beyond a doubt that he’s a moron. It’s hard to think of any player in Arizona who has reached beyond what you thought he might be in the year and change under Tocchet. Clayton Keller? Whatever. We have no idea if Jeremy Colliton is any better, but right now I’ll take the hope he can clear a low bar than what I already know Tocchet to be. We basically have to cling to that.
It is not requisite to be fast to be good at center in this league, but it’s getting a harder and harder needle to thread. If Strome is going to get by on his vision and instincts and smarts, and everyone still agrees all of those are at a high-level, his learning curve is a lot longer. Which is fine for a team that has time and a fanbase that has patience. I’m not convinced either of those are true here.
Brandon Perlini has already proven to be a useful piece on a bottom six. He has 31 goals over the past two seasons, is big as well but more importantly skates really well. Right now you could plug him in over John Hayden, Chris Kunitz, Andreas Martinsen and that would be an improvement. Maybe even Dominik Kahun. The Hawks need more forwards who can do something, and Perlini can do something. Get Sikura up here and things are at least improved. And tell Chris Kunitz it’s time to retire.
The Hawks turned one useful forward into possibly two. And they need numbers.
We like Nick Schmaltz. Always have. But we thought it was curious that he was always being mentioned as something of a cornerstone. Nick Schmaltz maxes out as a #2 center. A right-handed Michael Nylander if everything goes right? Nylander spasmed a couple huge seasons as a Ranger, and maybe Schmaltz will have one or two as well. That’s a complimentary player, not a foundational one.
The knocks on Schmaltz are clear. This was the year he’s supposed to grab the brass ring. This is when he was supposed to play above a bridge contract. The Hawks wanted to give him that bridge-plus or more contract. They said so. And most players want to do big things in their free agent year. Most do those things. This is when the chips are actually down and you can rake them toward you.
Schmaltz went backward. He was moved to wing, rightly or wrongly. But there’s no getting around the amount of times he begged off any kind of physical battle. It was happening more and more. That’s how you want to go about seizing a big-time contract? That’s who you are when yo have the most to make?
Schmatlz’s pass-first mentality, to an extent, is acceptable because he has the ability to be a plus-playmaker. But this season, it had gotten to pathological. And he was passing out of spots that didn’t suggest pass-first, but a lack of instincts. I don’t know that ever gets fixed.
Schmaltz has the ability to be a good, not great, defensive center. But he isn’t. Every metric bares that out. Yes, he can steal pucks when he gets to sneak up on someone. But he was much more often overpowered down low, when he even bothered, and his positional sense was iffy. Again, I don’t know that gets fixed. Being a good defensive forward is at least half want-to. Schmaltz has proven to not have much of that.
It’s when you dig deeper on this trade that you get worried. Schmaltz was considered important enough to keep the Hawks’ cap space dry for his extension. And then it took 24 games to go from that to expendable? Either Stan Bowman knew this was a possibility and this quarter of a season just confirmed that, or he’s using an awfully small sample size. Neither is encouraging.
To be fair, the window to trade Schmaltz isn’t that big. You only have 40 more games or so before the deadline, and maybe he plays even worse and lowers his value even more. But if trading him was even a possibility, meaning the Hawks weren’t completely sold on him, what deals did they miss out on this summer when his value would have been higher? Either Stan Bowman was lying to you, or he can’t judge the talent on his team anymore. It’s like one of the final scenes in “The Rock.” “So they know we’re bluffing? Oh great, so we’re incompetent.”
Schmaltz becomes the second “piece” mentioned this summer to make his way to the Valley Of The Sun. Vinnie Hinostroza was another who we were told after last season that Stan wanted to keep around and be the support system for one last push from the Core Five. Only Alex DeBrincat remains.
Which makes you skeptical about what the Hawks are really going to get from whom they’re pushing now. Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell, Nicholas Beaudin?. We’re already raising a people’s eyebrow about Sikura and Ejdsell, without giving up. But when was the last time the Hawks developed a real, genuine d-man. Nick Leddy? Jury’s is very much out on Henri Jokiharju.
On this roster now, other than the Core Five this regime had nothing to do with, the only player you build around that has come through the system is Top Cat. Anyone else who might have has been traded for various reasons, but without much in return. What makes you think any of this is going to change?
It appears more and more that here is no plan, and Stan is going to keep throwing things at the wall under his Core Five until something works. Which is usually the last act of a GM on his way out. You have to wonder how many more flings he’s got.