The deadline for NHL teams to submit qualifying offers to restricted free agents was on Wednesday.
As we know, the Oilers opted not to qualify a handful of players, including Andreas Athanasiou and Matt Benning.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Athanasiou and Benning are gone. It just means that Edmonton is allowing both of them to hit the open market and that they’re avoiding the risk of having to hand either player an inflated, one-year deal as they were both eligible for salary arbitration.
The Oilers could certainly still bring either player back, but they’ve now afforded themselves the ability to go and take their own dive through the bargain bin for non-qualified players from other teams.
Who might they be interested in? Here’s a full list of players who didn’t receive qualifying offers, courtesy of PuckPedia. I’ll name off a few I believe the Oilers could target.
After an absolutely miserable season in which he managed just seven points in 56 games, the Flames have decided to let Mark Jankowski move on.
I’ll always remember as the guy that the Flames shockingly reached for in the 2012 draft. He was projected to go in the third round and they grabbed him with the No. 21 overall pick.
Since then, though, he actually carved out a gig as a pretty solid bottom-six centre. Between 2017-18 and 2018-19, Jankowski scored 31 goals and 57 points over 151 games, playing defensively sound hockey and contributing on the Flames’ penalty kill.
On a cheap, one-year deal, Jankowski is a fair rebound candidate. He would be an upgrade offensively over Riley Sheahan as the team’s third-line centre.
This is probably the biggest surprise on the list.
Since arriving in Ottawa as part of the return for Ryan Dzingel, Duclair scored 31 goals and 54 points over 87 games. It looked like he had finally found his stride for the first time since his 20-goal rookie season back in 2015-16 with the Coyotes.
But the Sens opted not to qualify Duclair, making him a free agent for the second time in his career.
On Duclair, Dorion told @Pammerhockey – "I don't want to get into the specifics of the negotiation. All I'll say on this, Anthony chose to represent himself, and we told him, it's not always easy to represent himself."
— Full Press NHL (@FullPressNHL) October 7, 2020
Another interesting thing here is that Duclair is operating on his own terms, opting not to be represented by a player agent.
It’s certainly a strange situation, but there’s no denying the offence that Duclair brings to the table. His 23 goals last season were right on pace with big names like Tyler Toffoli, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Brayden Schenn, and the fact he scored so much on a very bad Ottawa team makes it all the more impressive.
But given the big season, Duclair isn’t really a bargain contract candidate here like other players on the list. He’s probably looking to cash in with a big, multi-year deal.
An undrafted free agent signed by the Blackhawks in 2018, Kahun will now likely be moving on to his fourth NHL team.
He played one season in Chicago scoring 37 points and got moved in the off-season to the Penguins as part of the return for Olli Maatta. He put up 27 points in 50 games for the Penguins and then got shipped to Buffalo in exchange for Evan Rodrigues and Conor Sheary. He would score four points in six games for the Sabres before the season was cut short.
Kahun is a very solid two-way player. Through his 138 career NHL games, teams have outscored opponents 87-to-64 while he’s on the ice at even strength. He plays both centre and left wing (but is more effective on the latter) and would be a great depth addition for the Oilers.
Given the Golden Knights’ cap crunch, this isn’t surprising at all.
The Canadiens signed Cousins to a one-year deal last summer and he went on to produce 25 points in 65 games for the Habs. That was good enough for them to manage to deal him ahead of the trade deadline to Vegas for a fourth-round pick. Cousins would put up three points in seven regular-season games and five assists in 17 playoff games for Vegas.
Cousins is a solid depth player because he can chip in a little bit offensively, but he would be a downgrade on the defensive end of the ice from Sheahan.
Another player who got squeezed out of a team with a tight salary cap situation is defenceman Troy Stecher.
An undersized, undrafted free agent from the NCAA, Stecher signed with the Canucks back in 2016 and has since established himself as a quality defender who can move the puck effectively, produce offence and, hold his own in the defensive zone.
In 2019-20, Stecher’s role on the Canucks’ blueline was diminished as the team added Quinn Hughes, Tyler Myers, and Jordie Benn, but he still produced 17 points in 69 games despite not seeing any power-play time. In 2018-19, he scored 23 points while logging nearly 20 minutes per game.
Over the past two seasons, the Canucks outscored opponents 100-to-84 at even-strength with Stecher on the ice.
I think he would be an upgrade over Matt Benning on the right side of Edmonton’s blueline.
What does it all mean?
When looking up and down the list of solid, young players who didn’t get qualified by their teams, you can see why the Oilers opted to let Andreas Athanasiou test the open market.
Had Edmonton qualified both players, they would have been tied up in roughly $5,000,000 in salary for the two of them in 2020-21. With that money, you’ll could feasibly afford all of Mark Jankowski, Troy Stecher, and Dominik Kahun, which would be a nice upgrade for the Oilers.
Of course, as I said earlier, there’s still certainly a chance that either or both of Benning and Athanasiou return this fall. The Oilers could offer them two-year contracts at a smaller cap hit in order to squeeze them in, which is more ideal than a big, one-year deal.