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Tuesday’s FTB: Do the unqualified qualify for Toronto?

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One NHL team’s non-renewed RFA is another team’s treasure.

Dallas Stars v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Yesterday was the NHL’s deadline for qualifying offers, and thus a time of much excitement for hockey nerds.

In the NHL, a “qualifying offer” is a one-year contract offer that a team makes to players whose contracts are about to run out, but who aren’t automatically unrestricted free agents. This covers most NHLers at the end of a contract who are between ages 20 and 26. By offering a QO, the team gets to keep the player’s rights as an RFA—meaning other teams can only get at the player by signing them to an offer sheet, a thing that almost never happens. If the team doesn’t send out a legitimate qualifying offer, the player goes unrestricted and can sign with any team they want. So yesterday was essentially a deadline for teams to cut bait on their RFAs: either send them a QO to keep their rights, or set them free to sign with any team.

The thing about qualifying offers is that how much money they’re worth depends on the last contract the player signed. For many players this is pretty small, in NHL terms. Vancouver star Elias Pettersson’s qualifying offer is $874,125 since he’s coming off his entry contract, and Vancouver is eventually going to sign him to a deal much, much larger than that. There was no doubt Vancouver would give him a QO, and there’s also no way Pettersson is going to take it. But other players coming off bigger deals can have very big qualifying offers: ones they might actually consider signing as of July 28th, or ones that teams might flinch at sending them.

And so the players who needed QOs and didn’t get them are now heading for the open market, to sign with any team they like. Here are a few names to think about, with their most recent team and a few short lines of analysis because this is an FTB and I’m not going to work that hard. As always, thanks to CapFriendly for tracking this and a million other useful things.

Danton Heinen, LW/RW, Anaheim Ducks, 26: Heinen looks like a decent, versatile fourth-line winger type. He actually once had a 47-point season with Boston, and he’s listed in some places as a centre, but he was firmly a depth winger in Anaheim this year. He didn’t seem that bad at it, but he’s the classic sort of NHLer who gets non-qualified: he was coming off a contract signed back when he was scoring for the Bruins, and at this point the QO of $2.775M required to keep his rights was simply more than the Ducks could afford to pay a competent 4W.

Pius Suter, C, Chicago Blackhawks, 25: Swiss free agent and Hockey Name All-Star Pius Suter was a bit of a surprise name on the unqualified list, because—and I’m not kidding—he served as the Hawks’ first-line centre for parts of this year. He had 14G-13A-27P in 55 games for the Hawks this season, and his offensive impacts looked terrific in the bargain, although the big overhanging caveat is that his primary wingers were Patrick Kane and Alex Debrincat. He doesn’t do much defensively and isn’t much good at faceoffs, so he may be a bit of a top-six-or-bust type, but once free agency opens I would expect Suter to have (drum hit) suitors. Or failing that, a very nice contract in Switzerland.

Ondrej Kase, RW, Boston Bruins, 25: When Ondrej Kase was flipped to the Bruins in the David Backes trade back in 2019, plenty of people felt that Boston had absolutely robbed Anaheim blind. The Bruins paid a late first-rounder to unload a bad contract and to get a skilled two-way playmaker with phenomenal fancy stats, Mr. Ondrej Kase. The only risk was Kase’s health, and unfortunately, it was a problem in Boston: Kase had a concussion and then an unrelated upper-body injury that limited him to only three games this whole year. Kase might be a good buy-low candidate if he can get healthy, but Boston didn’t want to make a bet on that happening.

Nick Ritchie, LW/RW, Boston Bruins, 25: Hey, remember him? Big power forward Nick Ritchie was famously the player that Don Cherry thought the Leafs should have taken in the 2014 draft instead of soft swede William Nylander. But let’s not hold that against Ritchie: he’s a respectable third-line winger who set a career high in goals last season with 15, and his impacts look solid. See what the price is; if it’s a bargain, I wouldn’t mind giving Ritchie a look.

Mark Jankowski, C, Pittsburgh Penguins, 25: Back when the Leafs were shopping Nazem Kadri in 2019, they negotiated a deal that would have sent him to Calgary for T.J. Brodie (whom they have since signed as a free agent) and Jankowski. Kadri vetoed the move with his no-trade clause, and the Leafs instead flipped him to the Colorado Avalanche for Tyson Barrie and Alex Kerfoot. There’s not much question which of Barrie and Brodie Leaf fans would rather have, but Jankowski has fallen on hard times lately: his scoring evaporated and, despite his gifts as a skater, he wound up at the bottom of the lineup. If Toronto still finds him interesting, he ought to be cheap now.

These are just five names, and there are many more: Jayce Hawryluk, Ryan Donato, Jujhar Khaira, Dominik Kahun, and numerous others. Do any of these secondhand forwards appeal to you? Let us know.

ICYMI

Comprehensive Goalie Shopping for the Maple Leafs by Katya Knappe. Goalies are an mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in shoulder pads, but Katya goes through just about every conceivable option here and comes up with a few plausible candidates to pair with Jack Campbell.

Maple Leafs trade signing rights for J.D. Greenway to Boston by Katya Knappe. The last of Mark Hunter’s Large Adult Sons exits the organization, in a trade for future considerations. Real “not with a bang, but with a whimper” energy there.

Maple Leafs issue qualifying offer to Denis Malgin by Katya Knappe. Speaking of QOs, the Leafs decided to hang onto slick playmaker Malgin even though he spent all of last season in the Swiss league. Have you noticed how many of PPP’s articles are by Katya, by the way? Franchise-level blog production.

Around the NHL

Sportsnet: Thoughts on all ten player-based trades since the expansion draft by Justin Bourne. Good survey of a bunch of moves here. Two thoughts from me: Philadelphia did too much, and Seattle did too little.

The Athletic: The case for abolishing the NHL draft by Joshua Kloke. As Kloke himself acknowledges, there’s no chance of this happening anytime soon, but it’s an interesting idea. Maybe if people start putting more radical ideas out there we can at least get something better than our current dumb lottery.

TSN: Proposing a blockbuster trade that would help the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres by Travis Yost. The idea of a trade structured around Marner for Dahlin seems bonkers to me; I don’t think it works for either team. The Leafs want players that are definitely going to have a big positive impact now, and the Sabres probably aren’t eager to take on a massive winger contract as they go into another rebuild. But it’s interesting and Yost is a smart guy, so it’s worth reading his case.

Have a great day out there, folks.

Poll

Which of these non-qualified free agents do you think fits with the Leafs?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Danton Heinen
    (22 votes)
  • 11%
    Pius Suter
    (51 votes)
  • 9%
    Ondrej Kase
    (40 votes)
  • 51%
    Nick Ritchie
    (226 votes)
  • 7%
    Mark Jankowski
    (31 votes)
  • 4%
    Someone else
    (21 votes)
  • 11%
    I don’t want any of these players and am disgusted that you would propose them
    (49 votes)
440 votes total Vote Now