Caps believed in Strome, Milano when former teams wouldn’t

Capitals center Dylan Strome celebrates after scoring a goal against the Oilers

ARLINGTON, Va. — There is a scenario of last offseason where neither Dylan Strome nor Sonny Milano ever makes it to D.C.

Strome was already a two-time 20-goal scorer heading into his final season with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2021-22, but he fell out of favor with the coaching staff and found himself in and out of the lineup. Milano got off to a hot start in his lone full season with the Anaheim Ducks, skating on their top line alongside Trevor Zegras. It wasn’t enough for them to retain him.

Neither the Blackhawks nor Ducks made qualifying offers to their respective restricted free agents, paving the way for the Capitals to sign them. Less than four months into the 2022-23 campaign, they each have signed long-term extensions to remain in Washington.

“Just a team that saw something in me and believes, like myself, that I’m only gonna get better over the next five years,” said Strome, who signed a five-year, $25 million deal over the All-Star Break. “They put the faith in me and I’m gonna continue to grow and become a better player and I’m looking forward to it. I signed with a team that believes in me enough to sign me to that deal and I’m really excited about it. I’m really happy to be here.”

Though head coach Peter Laviolette has tinkered with the forward lines all season, Strome has shared the ice with Alex Ovechkin for nearly 400 minutes of ice time on the five-on-five — the most of any forward pairing on the team this season. Strome lauded the fit both skating with Ovechkin and playing in the Capitals’ scoring-focused system.


“I just like the way they play, the style of the game,” Strome said. “We focus a lot on offense. Obviously, we got great defensemen and great goaltending, which has been a constant this year, and then we really talked about offense a lot and new ways to score goals.

“They take pride in the power play here. There’s lots of meetings that go on about it and things like that. So I think the offensive side is something that looks great to me and it’s been an easy fit for me so far and I’m excited to extend that for five more years.”

The Capitals have scored 26 of their 33 power-play goals this season with both Strome and Ovechkin on the ice. Strome himself has 14 points with the man advantage, already just two short of his career high. After he was forced to settle for a one-year deal last summer, he has thrived with his new team and earned the long-term security he wanted.

For Milano, the opportunity the Capitals gave him was perhaps even more important to his career trajectory. The 26-year-old never landed the contract he was looking for in free agency, ultimately joining the Calgary Flames on a professional tryout. Calgary cut him at the end of training camp and the Capitals signed him shortly after the season started.

Washington signed Milano for $750,000 and pushed him through waivers without any other team submitting a claim for him. He reported to the AHL for five games before making his Capitals debut Nov. 5. In his 40 games since, he’s impressed coaches with his five-on-five play and gradually earned more opportunities to contribute.

“I think I fit pretty well here,” Milano said. “They gave me a chance when a lot of other teams didn’t so [I am] definitely grateful for that and I just think it’s clicking.”

On pace for just under 39 points this season, Milano is well within reach of his career-best total of 34 set with the Ducks last year. The Capitals signed him to a three-year, $5.7 million extension less than 24 hours after announcing their deal for Strome. For a veteran-laded team, signing Milano and Strome presented the opportunity to add some youth to their core.

“I just think they’re an older, smart group,” Milano said. “They know where I’m gonna be, I know where they’re gonna be and, I don’t know, I just think there’s good chemistry.”

It took both of their former teams choosing to let them go, but the Capitals found two players with the potential to fit into their system and watched them flourish into players they felt they could build around.