Today was the due date for qualifying offers to be tendered to restricted free agents in the National Hockey League. In order for the team to keep the rights to their RFA, a qualifying offer must be provided. This had to have been done by 5 PM ET. The New Jersey Devils had four RFAs: defenseman Kevin Bahl, center Michael McLeod, right winger Nathan Bastian, and forward Jesper Boqvist. As first tweeted by Greg Wyshynski of ESPN, McLeod, Bastian, and Boqvist were not given a qualifying offer. Ryan Novozinsky of NJ.com confirmed on Twitter that Bahl did get a qualifying offer. James Nichols of New Jersey Hockey Now added that Utica Comets left wing Timur Ibragimov, center Aarne Talvitie, defenseman Zackary Hayes, defenseman Jérémy Groleau, and goaltender Zacharie Émond were also not qualified.
What this means is that Bahl remains as a RFA and the Devils still have to sign him to a new contract. Another team could provide an offer sheet, which the Devils could match should Bahl sign one. I do not know who or why a team would want to offer sheet Kevin Bahl. As for McLeod, Bastian, Boqvist, and the other unqualified players, they are now unrestricted free agents. They are free to enter the open market and sign with anyone starting at noon tomorrow.
For the Comets, this may be a matter of just clearing room. Ibragimov and Émond came over from the Timo Meier trade to help make the contracts work. Groleau has been a depth defenseman with the AHL affiliate for multiple seasons. Talvitie has already signed with TPS of Liiga. Hayes was acquired in an AHL-only trade that sent Jack Dugan to the Hurricanes organization back in March. It is understandable that these players were not in the Comets’ plans so they were let loose - either to sign elsewhere or perhaps return on an AHL contract. Or in Talvitie’s case, already signed elsewhere.
The bigger news are the three NHL players. Wyshynski’s tweet was emphatic that all three could return. The reason for their lack of qualifying offer was “the strength of their arbitration cases.” All three are eligible for player-elected arbitration. Bahl was not. Rather than risk being taken to a hearing and forced to negotiate a higher salary than the team would want to pay to avoid said hearing, the Devils are hoping to bring each back for a more reasonable amount of money. This was confirmed in this tweet by Nichols. Which makes sense for the team. There is no threat of an arbitration hearing with either as well. It is a risky decision. Now, all three can sign with whomever they want as of noon tomorrow. Another team can call up the player’s agent, offer them a better deal, and go with them instead. That is a real possibility.
It is a risk Tom Fitzgerald is willing to take. On the one hand, it is not as if the Devils are under a heavy cap constraint right now. They have $10.2 million in cap space. McLeod’s qualifying offer would have been $1 million, Bastian’s qualifying offer would have been $918,750, and Boqvist’s qualifying offer would have been $917,831. All three will likely get raises over these offers regardless. On the other hand, Fitzgerald has been very good with managing the salary cap so far. Not overpaying or overcommitting to fourth line players is a good way to do that. Even if it seems inessential, those dollars add up pretty fast. With the core locked in for significant money, this is the part of the lineup where his spending needs to be efficient.
To that end, the watch for all three are on. The Devils can - and seemingly are - negotiate with any of those three to keep them in New Jersey prior to noon tomorrow. It has happened before where a player is not qualified by a team, only to be re-signed. For example, Devante Smith-Pelly and Beau Bennett with New Jersey back in 2016. If they are unsigned by noon, then I would worry about them moving on. Even then, it may not happen.
Should you be unfamiliar with the player or want an assessment about the player as a free agent, we have profiled all four Devils. Alex profiled Bahl in this post, Bastian in this post, and Boqvist in this post. Chris profiled McLeod in this post. Check out each one to get a sense of what they have done and what that may cost the Devils.
What do you think of the Devils’ decision to not qualify Bastian, McLeod, or Boqvist? Do you think they will stay and re-sign with New Jersey anyway? Or could they sign elsewhere tomorrow? With Bahl qualified to stay as a RFA, how much and how long of a contract do you think he will get? Please leave your reactions and answers to these questions in the comments. Thank you for reading.