The unqualified RFA wish list

It’s no secret that the UFA market this season is rather barren. After a few big names like Brad Richards and Tomas Vokoun, things start to get awful thin awful quick. The recent qualifying offer deadline for RFAs may have added a few players of note to the UFA pool however. Here is a list of the most interesting guys that were not tendered qualifying offers by their clubs yesterday.

Tyler Kennedy

The 24-year old Pittsburgh center/winger scored a career high 21 goals and 45 points for the Penguins last year, despite averaging about 14  and a half minutes of ice time per night. The list of forwards who scored 40+ points on less than 15 minutes per game is extremely short in the NHL, especially when the list is further limited to guys like Kennedy who also saw less than two minutes per night on the PP.

His production given his role is impressive, but Kennedy is also well represented by his underlying stats. His possession rate of +13.36/60 was the third best amongst Pittsburgh forwards, trailing only Evgeni Malkin (+15.79) and Mark Letestu (+14.16) – both of whom started far more often in the offensive zone. In addition, Kennedy wasn’t merely facing only third and fourth line players – his quality of competition index from last year is consistently inside the top-six amongst Pens forwards.

So Kennedy scores a lot of points given his circumstances, plays against decent players and gets the puck moving in the right direction. Oh, and he’s already a veteran of 266 NHL games, has a Stanley cup ring and will turn just 25-years old in July. There really isn’t anything not to like about Kennedy and he should have a long list of suitors come July 1.

Why wasn’t he qualified?

Kennedy not getting a qualifying offer was probably the most mystifying decision from yesterday. The only potential reason is that if Pittsburgh qualified, he would have the option to file for player elected arbitration if he felt the resultant negotiations for a new contract weren’t going well. Arbitration is a messy affair and it’s a good chance Kennedy would win the fight given his impressive results.

Not qualifying Kennedy means the club can now negotiate with him as if he were a regular UFA. Of course, it also means that so can every other team once the calender flips to July. Pittsburgh obviously has some significant cap issues which are likely the impetus for this decision, but they also have some depth problems beyond their obvious “big three” players up front. Losing Kennedy would be a real blow to their forward ranks.

Niclas Bergfors

Perhaps most famous for being “the guy who was dealt for Ilya Kovalchuk”, Bergfors is a former first round pick of the New Jersey Devils. He scored 21 goals in 2009-10, his rookie season, but followed that up with a relatively disappointing 12 goal, 36 point performance split between the Thrashers and Panthers. That output certainly isn’t terrible for a 23-year old sophomore on a couple of rather impotent squads, but it doesn’t blow the doors off either.

What’s interesting about Bergfors is that his possession rate was fairly good given how poor his two clubs were at out-shooting. He finished the season with a cumulative +5.91 corsi/60 rate on Florida. To put that in context, the best regular skating forward for the Thrashers was Andrew Ladd at +4.32/60. Florida’s corsi leader was David Booth at +3.94/60. In short, Bergfors was near the top of both clubs when it came to moving the play north, a not insignificant feat for a guy in his second season in the league.

Why wasn’t he qualified?

Bergfor’s shooting percentage fell into a pit when he was traded to the Panthers for whatever reason. In 19 games, he managed just one goal on 53 shots for a SH% of 1.9. A career 10% shooter before moving to FLA, there’s no doubt that Bergfors is in-line for a rebound this season. The lack of production no doubt soured Tallon on his deadline pick-up, but Bergfors looks like a useful young player from just about every angle if you ignore what was probably  just a run of bad luck at the end of the season.

Anton Stralman

After leading the Blue Jackets blueline in scoring with six goals and 34 points in 2009-10, Stralman came crashing back down to earth last year, registering just one goal and 18 points in an injury-riddled, 51-game season. Interestingly, Stralman still averaged 16:27 of even strength ice per game when he was healthy, more than Kris Russel (14:24), Rusty Klesla (15:54) and Grant Clitsome (16:04).

Stralman was mostly deployed against third and fourth liners, but his underlying stats match favorably to other defenders on the Blue Jackets who played a similar role. Consider Kris Russel this comparison with Kris Russel:

Player corsi/60 zone start quality of comp
Stralman 5.41 52.8% -0.222
Russel 5.35 59.2% -0.794

Russel played lesser competition, was more sheltered in terms of starting position and yet had a slightly worse possession rate. He’s also almost exactly the same age as Stralman (24-years old). It appears to me that that the Blue Jackets are giving up on the wrong player.

Why wasn’t he qualified?

Stralman isn’t a big guy and he doesn’t bring a lot of physicality to the table. He’s also not the kind of defender who is going to shut down the other team’s best players. As such, if he isn’t putting up nice counting numbers, there’s a good chance he’ll be regarded as useless. Like Bergfors, Stralman struggled with some poor percentages last year, including a personal SH% that dropped to 1.3% after shooting 5.0% the year prior. His on-ice SH% and SV% (PDO) was also fairly low at 96.7, which was the cause of his underwhelming -11 rating.

In addition, Stralman was rewarded with a one year, $1.9M deal after his career season in 2009-10, meaning his qualifying offer would have been in the $2M+ range. The Blue Jackets likely considered that a little rich for him after an 18-point season.

Other Names of Note:

Matt D’Agostini – Former Hab scored 21 goals and 46 points for the injury depleted Blues last year. He played mostly a third-line type role at even strength for the club and none of his underlying numbers are overly impressive, although none of them are terrible either. It’s hard to determine why the Blues decided to walk away.

Anthony Stewart – Former first rounder out of Florida, Stewart is a big kid at 6’2 and 240 pounds. Despite being 26-years old, last season was the first time Stewart managed the sort of output that suggests he might be a functional NHLer (14 goals, 39 points). Apparently, the Thrashers Jets still weren’t convinced.

Matt Gilroy - A hot commodity coming out of college as an undrafted free agent, Gilroy’s stock has steadily fallen with the Rangers since they landed him. He played some of the most protected minutes in the league last year amongst defenders (when he was in the line-up) and didn’t do much with them. He’ll turn 27 in July, so it’s not like he has much time left to improve either.

Daniel Carcillo – The NHL’s most unpredictable hot-head fell off the map last season when the Flyers grew tired of his act. Carcillo was eventually relegated to a fourth-line/13th role with the club and only managed six points in 57 games as a result. A 12-goal scorer the year prior, Carcillo can actually play the game at a reasonable level when he isn’t focused on fighting or hurting other people. Problem is, that’s all too rare.

Brian Elliot – Acquired by Colorado in the Craig Anderson trade with Ottawa, Elliot played 12 games for the Avalanche down the stretch and was mostly terrible, winning just two of them and stopping 89.1% of the shots he faced. Once considered a promising youngster, Elliot has put up nothing but mediocre or worse numbers since breaking into the league. His career save percentage over 142 games is just .901 after his poor season last year, which is easily replaced given the saturated goaltender market. He may get some interest from a team looking for cheap back-up, but in truth his days in the league are probably at an end.

Kyle Chipchura – Drafted  18th overall by Montreal in 2004, Chipchura has never managed to put up the sort of offense that would justify his draft pedigree. And I mean never – his career season in the WHL was his 21 goal, 55 point effort in 2005-06. His high water mark in the AHL was 39 points and his best NHL season to date was the six goals and 12 points he garnered as a Duck in 2009-10. He has scored all of 10 goals total through 163 NHL games so far.

Chipchura was mostly a role player in Anaheim, albeit one who was fed the softest circumstances available and still didn’t spend more time in the offensive zone the defensive end. He is, in short, terrible and probably the only reason he has stuck around the NHL for this long is his admirable draft position. Looks like the Ducks have wised up and are walking away.

Matt Pelech – The Flames went off-board to pick the big, bruising shut-down defenseman in the first round back in 2005. Pelech has struggled with injuries ever since and his development pace could have been clocked with a sun-dial in Calgary. Although he skates relatively well for a big man, he has never seriously contended for a roster spot with the Flames and was passed on the depth chart by 20-year old TJ Brodie last September. He might make a useful AHL veteran signing for someone, but Pelech’s ceiling is likely “seventh defenseman” in the NHL at best.

Mike Lundin – Unlike many of the other player listed here, Lundin faced fairly tough circumstances last year, starting far more shifts in his own zone against top-six quality of opposition. He averaged the second most even strength ice per night (17:20) on the Lightning behind Eric Brewer and the third most total ice (20:24) behind Brewer and Victor Hedman. It is therefore surprising to see Lundin listed with the unqualified RFA’s given the fact his club basically considered him a top-four defender during the regular season. He could make for a cheap but capable defensive signing for someone this off-season.

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