NHL Free Agency Goals: Top 10 players who have not received qualifying offers


NHL Free Agency Goals: Top 10 players who have not received qualifying offers

The NHL’s qualifying offer period has created an enticing secondary market for mining impact producers. In fact, this year’s crop of unqualified restricted free agents is more talented than ever.

For a club to retain the rights to his RFAs, he had to make the player a qualifying offer equal to his last contract’s base salary by 5pm ET Monday. Many teams would actually prefer to keep some of their unadvertised RFAs, but these players are often eligible for arbitration. If the player files an arbitration, the team risks an unfavorable salary decision, which a club is legally not allowed to avoid unless the achieved cap is $4,538,958 or more. In other words, once a team qualifies for an RFA, there is no certainty of costs and no going back if the player goes to arbitration. Of course, this poses a risk for clubs that are pushed against the salary cap.

Any RFA that has not received a qualifying offer is eligible to become a UFA on July 13. With that in mind, here are 10 of the most intriguing unadvertised free agents and honorable mentions.

Dylan Strome

Since arriving in Chicago, Dylan Strome has 154 points in 225 games, a clip of 56 points per 82 games. It then came as a big surprise that he didn’t qualify at his modest rate of $3.6 million considering the Blackhawks are swimming in cap space. Even if he hadn’t factored in the club’s long-term plans, it would have been better for Chicago to agree to a short-term deal and trade him by deadline than to let him run for nothing.

Ah, here we are.

Strome is a very useful middle six center that should appeal to teams that need help in the middle. Since the 2019-20 campaign, Strome has been averaging 1.92 points per hour in five-on-five, which is a true top-six rate.

However, there are yellow flags to watch out for. For one, Strome’s skating is still sluggish, making him a questionable two-way player. Because of this, it must be used carefully and strategically to be successful. The Blackhawks knew this as they fed Strome a heavy dose of offensive zone starts, playing him mostly against the bottom six contenders and putting Patrick Kane up his wing for long stretches.

Fit is key: Strome makes a lot of sense for a team that needs an offensively gifted center six on a protected goal-line.

Dominik Kubalik

Kubalik is a one-dimensional goalscorer, but when you can consistently fill the net, clubs can often overlook those mistakes. The 26-year-old Czech left winger has scored 62 goals in 202 NHL career games for a pace of 25 goals per 82 games.

Unfortunately, his results point in the wrong direction. Kubalik’s goal and points ratios have fallen in consecutive seasons, and his playing profile has also declined. An explanatory factor is the lack of help around him. Jonathan Toews, Kubalik’s most frequent centerman, was still a high-end top 6 pivot in 2019-20 when Kubalik scored 30 goals as a rookie, and the Chicago captain just isn’t the same player he once was. Kubalik can’t drive a line alone, so it’s not surprising that his production has dwindled without a top-notch center to push the game for his line.

Kubalik may not have the 30 goals advantage he flashed in 2019-20 as he posted an unsustainably high 19.1 percent that year. But he still offers a legitimate advantage of 20-25 goals in a mid-six role.

Danton Heinen

Heinen was not offered a QO by the Anaheim Ducks last offseason; now he’s in the same situation with the Pittsburgh Penguins. In this case he was not offered because he played so well that there was a high risk of an expensive arbitration award which the Penguins might not have been able to afford given their precarious cap situation. He was to good, in other words, and priced itself out of Pittsburgh.

Heinen was a crucial source of secondary goals with 18 goals and 33 points in 76 games. Fifteen of those goals were five against five, which put him second at the club to Sidney Crosby. That kind of high, consistent scoring is an outlier, of course, but we’re still talking about a player who has averaged 36 points per 82 games in his NHL career.

In addition to his second goal, Heinen was a strong two-way player who tipped the ice in Pittsburgh’s favor with very positive shooting, scoring chances and goal percentages.

Teams looking for a versatile, scoring and reliable forward in the bottom six should seriously consider Heinen.

Sonny Milano

That’s pretty surprising. A creative, gifted playmaker, Milano finally established himself with a solid season, scoring 14 goals and 34 points in 66 games alongside Trevor Zegras. The 26-year-old’s combination of speed and skill enables him to consistently create controlled zone entrances and prepare his line-mates for dangerous scoring chances.

Milano’s work off the puck isn’t perfect, but a look under the hood shows his two-way profile wasn’t a problem at all. In fact, the Ducks controlled a strong 52 percent percentage of shot attempts and chances during his five-a-side minutes last season.

Speed ​​and skill are becoming increasingly important in the modern game. In Milan, teams can bid on a cheap player who can offer both.

Ondrej Kase

After a frustrating 2020-21 season in which he missed all but three games through injury, Ondřej Kaše made a nice comeback last season. The 26-year-old right winger is proving to be a valuable Swiss Army knife-type center six – he can score (14 goals and 27 points in 50 games), take penalties and offer transitional help with his track record as a zone generator.

Kaše’s health remains the greatest risk. He has endured multiple head injuries and only fought once in his career for 60+ games in a season. The talent is there, but knowing the health concerns, how much will a team do?

Ilya Samsonov

Injuries and inconsistencies eroded Samsonov’s time with the Capitals, who eventually decided it was time to move on.

Samsonov doesn’t have a great NHL track record, having only a .903 save percentage in 94 career games. Still, he’s tall, athletic, has good pedigree as number 22 in 2015, and is still quite young at 25. Samsonov can see a fellow UFA player like Jack Campbell as proof of concept for a highly acclaimed goalkeeper who gets a little lost can get his career back on track.

Samsonov could be an interesting upside bet as No. 2, especially considering how many teams are looking for help in the goalkeeping market.

Victor Mete

Mete was once an analytics darling, posting strong results from Montreal’s third pair. However, he fell out of favor in Quebec and was unable to increase his stocks in the nation’s capital, where he campaigned largely for the senators.

A fresh start, however, could help the smooth-running undersized puck mover find the kind of consistent, positive form that has made him a solid two-way presence with the Canadiens.

The key to Mete is figuring out if he’s misunderstood and underappreciated, or if he was a product of a strong Montreal system. Some would argue that because he is stereotypical for his smaller stature, teams only view him as a puck mover with limited offensive advantage, overlooking his usually strong two-way numbers. Others would say his work off the puck is really a concern and that his positive underlying results are overstated and the result of a favorable environment in Montreal where many defenders have had good numbers.

We’ll have to wait and see which camp is right, but for now Mete remains an intriguing depth option for a club looking to add mobility and puck movement skills.

Nicolas Aube Kubel

After plying his trade for portions of four seasons with the minors, Aube-Kubel finally broke through as a everyday NHLer for the Flyers in the 2019-20 season. He was an instant hit, offering secondary scoring, strong defensive stat and a non-stop engine. Aube-Kubel ran into trouble with penalty shootouts in 2020/21 which eroded the confidence he had built and that year he was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche.

The 26-year-old right winger is spirited, fast and an excellent forechecker. He has scored 11 goals and his ability to retrieve the puck has resulted in positive two-way play driving results. Aube-Kubel doesn’t kill penalties and he can be inconsistent, but he would be worth a throw if he’s a fourth line contributor who can step up to the third line in a pinch for teams playing a quick forecheck style.

Jonathan Dahlen

Dahlen can score and offers real potential, but there are flaws in his game that make fit a big key.

The Sharks rookie came out of goal on a heater and had eight goals and 14 points in 26 games through mid-December. From there, he suffered multiple injuries, including upper body discomfort and a concussion, and was placed on the COVID-19 protocol twice. He could never find his groove again, scoring just eight points in 34 games as of January 1 and also being a healthy scratch. He finished the season with 12 goals and 22 points in 61 games.

Dahlen shines downstairs and can finish, but he’s slow, undersized and not the most reliable two-way player. Is he the kind of tweener who is talented but not quite skilled enough to play a consistent role in the middle of the six, and who’s too one-dimensional to add value further down the lineup? Or were his struggles in the second half mostly the result of injuries he can get over?

The 24-year-old is still young enough to make a move so he could be worth a gamble for a recovery club that has open roster spots that offer opportunity.

Ryan Donato

Think of Donato as a downgraded version of Kubalik. He has a great shot that allows him to score goals in bunches, but is a polarizing player due to his one-dimensional profile. Donato scored 16 goals and 31 points in 74 games last season for an offense-starved Seattle Kraken roster. He’s not driving the game, has holes in his defensive game, is a bit undersized and needs protection due to these factors.

Despite all of these shortcomings, Donato’s ability to score efficiently cannot be denied – as of the 2019-20 season, he ranks 56th among all NHL forwards for his/her individual goals per 60 minutes.

Donato could be a worthwhile addition in a prescribed role where he can play a protected bottom six minutes on a score line while receiving power play replays.

Honorable Mentions: Brett Howden, Sam Steel, Kale Clague, Adam Gaudette, Matthew Highmore, Kevin Stenlund, Rem Pitlick, Daniel Sprong, Dennis Cholowski

With files by Thomas Drance

(Photo by Dylan Strome: Stan Szeto / USA Today)

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