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Skimming the free agent pool for non-qualified players

Looking at if anyone makes sense for the Penguins to sign who are perhaps unexpectedly now a few days away from the open market due to not receiving qualifying offers

NHL: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday qualifying offers were due to retain players rights prior to free agency, starting on July 1 (Sunday). Usually QO’s are but a formality, but we’ve seen more and more in recent years teams not qualify fairly useful players. The Penguins basically did this with Riley Sheahan (covered here).

Why does this happen that a team would willingly risk the potential of losing a player that is somewhat valuable? A few reasons. One, there is a real salary squeeze in the NHL and the “middle class” of player that isn’t a star, yet needs to be compensated more than an entry level deal is in a crunch, due to the big stars eating up more and more of a team’s alotted salary cap. For instance, it’s impossible for Pittsburgh to pay Sheahan $2+ million next season when they just gave Patric Hornqvist a raise and an extension himself for next season.

A second reason is arbitration rights. By not offering a QO, a player can’t go the arbitration route. Teams don’t like arbitration because the process is friendly towards paying a player more than they want. Avoiding going this way either gets the team the player to “play ball” with them in negotiations and sign for a team friendly price, or the team gets to move on and find a replacement. Either way, they won’t be stuck with an arbitration award (or feel the pressure to settle before the hearing) and end up paying more than they want for the player.

It seems like this year several decent, young(ish) players did not receive qualifying offers. Let’s skim the pool and see if any might make sense for the Pens to target.


Sheahan: This one is obvious. Though GM Jim Rutherford recently heaped praise on prospect Teddy Blueger’s believed ability to fill a 4th line center role, the Pens would be better if they could retain Sheahan. Reports say they will try to do so. Ideally team and player can reach a mutually agreeable middle ground prior to July 1, since it was a very good fit for Sheahan in Pittsburgh after his career was petering out in Detroit.

2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Tom Kuhnhackl: Also a Penguins non-qualified player. His time is done in Pittsburgh, and for good reason after a very poor 2017-18 season. Kuhnhackl was a very useful player in the 2016 Stanley Cup run (and even pitched in 15 points in 42 games) but that was down to 8 points in 69 this season with unimpressive PK metrics. Hopefully he catches on somewhere else in the NHL.

Devante-Smith Pelly (WSH): At 26 years old, Smith-Pelly was a surprise player for the Capitals this spring, scoring 7 goals in their 24 game playoff run. That draws a lot of attention to play well at the biggest point of the year, but don’t let it disguise the fact Smith-Pelly was basically a replacement level player (or worse) in the regular season. DSP had a 44.1% Corsi For% (one of the worst on his team) and just 7 goals and 16 points in 75 regular season games. Smart teams will ignore the noise of his excellent playoff and see it’s more of a mirage than a repeatable effort to build on.

San Jose Sharks v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Anthony Duclair (CHI): If you’re bad at Instagram you may already think that Duclair has reached an agreement with the Penguins just mere minutes after finding out he wasn’t qualified by the Blackhawks (spoiler alert: he hasn’t). Duclair is an interesting player - he’s about to turn 23 this summer and yet he’s already looking for his 4th different NHL team to join at this point. His first full season in Arizona, Duclair put up 20 goals and 44 points. That’s very alluring. This past year he did total 11 goals and 12 assists in just 53 games, splitting time between AZ and CHI.

Duclair would certainly be the guy to look into due to his age, tools (he plays very fast), past experience and some NHL success. The issue here is Pittsburgh wouldn’t be alone on this player and I’m not sure his price would be as much of a discount as some think. Also, if he reaches UFA other teams may be able to promise him power play and a chance at a 2nd/3rd line role. In Pittsburgh, he’s probably a 3rd/4th line guy that would be in-line to PK a lot more than play PP. Role may be favorable elsewhere.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Tobias Rieder (LA): In his career, Rieder has 5 goals in 8 games against Pittsburgh (and only 50 goals in 304 games against the rest of the league). So that may color how good Pens fans think he is, since he doesn’t really torment the rest of the league like the way he always seems to score against Pittsburgh. Rieder has scored between 12-16 goals the last four seasons and he did play 1:33 per night in AZ on the PK. So Rieder would seem a pretty decent addition to the Pens bottom six for scoring and PK work.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Los Angeles Kings Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Nick Shore (CGY): Shore suffered an injury-filled season and only got 15 total games between LA and Calgary last season. His numbers were never very impressive anywhere, with a season best of 6 goals and 17 points coming back in 2016-17 (but even then he was still a negative Corsi Rel% player). If he is still out there in August and you need some camp competition to see if he can out-perform some of the 4th liners, maybe this is a call to make. But I don’t see too much here to be excited about.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Boston Bruins Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Derrick Pouliot (VAN): Hahahahahaha. No. Hahahahaha