Today was an important day for free agency. Restricted free agency, that is. All pending restricted free agents needed to be tendered a Qualifying Offer by their team to retain their rights by 5 PM ET today. It is exactly that: a qualifying offer. It does not mean the player will be signed at that amount of money and for that long. Just by being given a qualifying offer, the team will retain their first right to sign a restricted free agent (RFA). Other teams who wish to sign such a player would have to issue an offer sheet, which the original team has every right to match. In most cases, a Qualifying Offer essentially guarantees that the player will be back with a new deal. Negotiations will still need to be done and a new contract does need to be signed with the Qualifying Offer acting as a minimum. And some pending RFAs do have arbitration rights, which can be a factor for negotiations as well. Still, qualified RFAs often come back to the team for the following season.
The New Jersey Devils had ten pending RFA players to qualify by today. According to the team’s official Twitter account, eight of them were qualified and two were not:
Qualified: LW Blake Coleman, LW Miles Wood, RW Stefan Noesen, RHD Steve Santini, RW Nick Lappin, LHD Michael Kapla, C Kevin Rooney, and C Christoph Bertschy
There’s no real surprises for seven of these eight. Coleman, Wood, and Noesen were NHL regulars last season and have plenty to contribute. Keeping them around was a no-brainer. Steve Santini spent the first half of last season in New Jersey and the second half in Binghamton. While it remains to be seen where his role will be in 2018-19, he has a future of sorts on the blueline. Lappin and Rooney played big roles on the AHL affiliate (particularly Lappin) and have had some call up work in recent seasons, so keeping them in the fold is understandable. In fact, Jeff thinks Rooney should be the B-Devils captain next season. The Devils were high on Kapla out of college, and he has done well enough to be an AHL regular.
The Bertschy one is a surprise. Bertschy was acquired in a trade last season and did well in his time with the B-Devils. However, he signed a four-year deal with Lausanne HC of the Swiss National League back in April. So I don’t know why he was tendered an offer at all. It’d be one thing to keep his rights in case he wants to come back, but in four years, he’ll be 28. What would be the point? (Aside: Thanks to Jeff for pointing it out to me.)
Not-Qualified: G Ken Appleby, LW Mario Lucia
The not-qualified list may raise an eyebrow or two. Well, Appleby’s name being on it may do so. Lucia was acquired in the same trade that brought Bertschy to Binghamton. He was not as successful as Bertschy, so it appears the team will just let him go.
As for Appleby, his 2017-18 had some highs and some lows. His high points would obviously be making his NHL debut and doing fairly well as a fill-in in three appearances. The low points would be some of the struggles in Binghamton. Eddie Lack was brought into the organization in part because both Appleby and Mackenzie Blackwood were getting pasted in the AHL early on last season. While Jeff and his colleagues rated him well in their fourth-quarter grades; Appleby posted an overall save percentage of just 90.1% in 26 games last season per TheAHL.com. Given that it was the 23 year old’s second straight AHL campaign with an overall save percentage just over 90% and it was a down-grade from 2016-17, I get the sense that the organization does not think he can really turn it around in the future. With Cam Johnson entering the organization and the team’s current need of signing a #3 goalie who can hang in the NHL, not qualifying Appleby makes room for that.
That being written, Chris Ryan of NJ.com did suggest in this Tweet that it is possible that the Devils eventually do sign Appleby.
Not being qualified is not necessarily the end for Lucia or Appleby. Not being qualified means that the player will become an unrestricted free agent as of July 1. Players can discuss terms this week prior to that day. The Devils could absolutely still enter negotiations and sign them. Without a qualifying offer acting as a minimum for a Standard Player Contract, the Devils could offer them a deal that would keep them in New Jersey but under different terms. That all being said, not being qualified can be rough on fringe NHLers and minor league players. It can spell the end of their NHL careers, or lead to a long wait before getting a try out or something when camps start up in September. I wouldn’t be surprised if both look to see if their services are needed elsewhere - be it in the NHL or in other leagues.
So now that’s settled, what does it mean for the New Jersey Devils and what’s next?
First, qualifying a player will mean a new contract is needed for that player. So the Devils effectively committed seven more players to contracts. A team is allowed up to 50 contracts, with entry level contracts allowed to slide for players under 20 provided they do not play more than nine games in the NHL for that season. The Devils have 33 players under contract. They absolutely had the room to qualify all their RFAs. That they only qualified seven suggests that the other two really just does not factor into their plans for 2018-19 and beyond. So the Devils will be up to 40 contracts. They can sign ten more NHL deals for this offseason, whether they are entry level contracts for prospects, players that are willing to join Binghamton but want to be called up, or players for New Jersey.
Second, Ray Shero and his staff have a lot of negotiation to do. Seven players need new deals. By being qualified, they are guaranteed a small raise. Fortunately for Shero and the Devils, there aren’t any big names or top rookies coming off ELCs that will require a big deal. Players like Miles Wood, Blake Coleman, and Stefan Noesen all stand to make some pretty large ones. I would not expect anything exorbitant given their bottom-six roles on the team last season; but they will be making well above the league minimum. Given that he nearly scored 20 goals last season, improved quite a bit on the ice, and he’ll be turning just 23 by training camp, Miles Wood stands to gain the most.
Further good news for Shero and the Devils is that there is not a young talent that could force a deal through the threat of an arbitration hearing. According to CapFriendly, only Coleman, Noesen, Lappin, and Rooney have arbitration rights. Going to a hearing would probably not be in their best interests as the team will coldly and successfully argue that they have not done a whole lot in the NHL in their careers and so they do not deserve a significant contract. Besides, given their roles in the organization, it will not take a lot of money for Shero provides them each a contract that they may see as reasonable. I would not be worried about arbitration being a factor this summer for New Jersey.
Third, the Qualifying Offer requirement applied to all NHL teams today, so there are some additional UFAs about to hit the market if they are not signed by July 1. Shero and his staff should be aware of who could just be made available. The biggest “name” among them ais Devante Smith-Pelly, who did put up an impressive seven goals in the 2018 playoffs for Washington after putting up a not-so-impressive seven goals in 75 season games for Washington. Seeing that the Devils bought him out, I wouldn’t expect a return to the Rock regardless. Still, there are some players about to become UFAs in less than a week. Dobber at Dobber Hockey tweeted out a list of the notable names, mentioning that DSP is still negotiating with the Caps. From that list, the Devils could do a lot worse than take a chance on Anthony Duclair. Duclair’s career started off with promise as the attacking winger in an 18-game stint with the Rangers and a 44-point season with Arizona in 2015-16. He has struggled from a production standpoint ever since and a trade to Chicago didn’t spark anything (not that much sparked in 2017-18 for Chicago). Per Micah Blake McCurdy, he’s got some game. Rather than looking for a veteran of the Stafford or Hayes variety, I certainly wouldn’t mind the Devils taking a close look at him and give him chance at left wing. We shall see what will happen with most of the non-tendered players of the league soon enough.
In the meantime, I want to know what your take is on today’s news with the Devils’ Qualifying Offers. Are you surprised that Appleby and Lucia were not given one? Do you think they should have been? As for those who have been qualified, how much do you think they will be re-signed for? Should the Devils look at some other players who were not qualified today? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about who was and was not tendered an offer today by the Devils in the comments. Thank you for reading.