July 1 is always a busy day on the NHL schedule when unrestricted free agency opens and teams scramble to add to their rosters. Even with Ilya Kovalchuk and John Carlson off the market, the biggest fish, John Tavares, is out there and meeting with prospective buyers as we speak. If you’re looking for a scoring winger James’ van Riemsdyk and Neal might tickle your fancy.
After Monday’s 5:00 p.m. ET deadline to qualify RFAs, there are some late additions to the UFA pool. Teams had the option to qualify their younger and controllable FAs, but if they decided they either wanted to move on from the player or not pay the price of a new deal, a player could be left unqualified which makes them a free agent. Some of these players are still negotiating with their 2017-18 team and could end up staying put.
None of them will be hosting interested parties in fancy Los Angeles offices, or likely to come away from this summer with long-term, big-money contracts, but there could be value to mine here. Here, we take a look at seven of the most noteworthy players who were left unqualified Monday and will now be UFAs this summer.
Robin Lehner, G
A number of teams are looking for a goalie to fill various roles for next season: Edmonton could use an experienced backup to push Cam Talbot, the Hurricanes could use the same for Scott Darling and the NY Islanders need a starter. The Sabres decided that Lehner wasn’t working for them, but there will be another team willing to take a shot on him.
Lehner is one year removed from a .920 save percentage season, and in 2015-16 — his first with the Sabres — he had a .924 SP in 21 games. Although he struggled in 2017-18, Lehner has the 20th-best save percentage in the league the past three years, in the same ballpark as Tuukka Rask, Mike Smith and Henrik Lundqvist. He’s faced a pile of shots over that time, too, backstopping a team that’s best finish was seventh in the Atlantic Division.
He’s only 26 years old and shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to acquire. Consider that Carter Hutton is six years older and played 30 or more games in a season just once in the past four years, and that Cam Ward, Jaroslav Halak and Kari Lehtonen have their own performance and age issues. You have to wonder if Lehner is now the best goalie available on the UFA market.
Anthony Duclair, LW
Still just 22 years old, Duclair hasn’t been able to produce at the 20-goal level he reached in 2015-16, notching a total of 16 goals combined the past two seasons, but that’s just what makes him a low-risk, potentially high-reward gamble for some team’s third line. He did score nine times in 33 games with Arizona this season before he was traded to Chicago in January and cooled. His shooting percentage returned to a level closer to his career average in the first half, but came crashing down in the second.
Duclair can skate, he is still very young and made just $1.2 million last season, but there is still 20-goal upside in the player. The best teams have already locked in big money on their best players and the key for them in filling out their bottom-six or finding complementary performers to their aces is to find bargains. Duclair falls into that category. His disappointing 2016-17 could be more of an outlier than it appears right now.
Just 24 years old, it’s easy to forget Pouliot was the eighth overall pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, ahead of such players as Jacob Trouba and Filip Forsberg. He doesn’t have that upside anymore, but could be worth a look as a bottom-pair or depth option still. Pouliot’s 22 points were the second-most on Vancouver’s blue line last season with a 17:51 per game ice time average that ranked seventh. He logged a good amount of minutes on the power play — second-most among Vancouver’s defenders — so any team looking for a left-shot defenceman who brings offence to his game could find value in picking up a player with this pedigree.
Dylan DeMelo, D
The Sharks shaved off a little more cap space by leaving DeMelo unqualified, and the 25-year-old is another player a team could find value in for a third-pair option. DeMelo doesn’t come with the offensive upside of Pouliot and didn’t score a goal in 63 games, but he played reliable depth minutes for San Jose. DeMelo’s value comes at the defensive end and he was the Sharks’ third-most used defender on the penalty kill behind Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun. He’s a right shot, too, which a lot of teams are looking for this time of year.
Tobias Rieder, LW
The Kings picked up Rieder to try and add a little speed and maybe a few goals further down the lineup, but his $2.25 million price tag was just too much for the cap-strapped team to qualify. Rieder isn’t a top-six player, but could come in around 16 goals and with a little shooting percentage luck, maybe even hit the 20-goal mark. If you’re looking for a bargain winger who brings speed and that kind of goal upside, you could do worse than take a shot on Rieder.
Petr Mrazek, G
No one is going to want to sign Mrazek as their No. 1 goalie and no one was willing to pay him the hefty $4 million he was due on his own deal — but there could be interest in taking a swing on him as a backup with a decreased cap hit. Now 26 years old, Mrazek is just two years removed from a .921 save percentage with the Red Wings when he was on the verge of taking the top job from Jimmy Howard. Mrazek was seen as a potential stud on the rise — but since then the bottom has fallen out of his game. He was left exposed to Vegas at last year’s expansion draft, but they passed, and the Wings were finally able to find a taker for him when they sent him to Philadelphia for two conditional picks in February. Mrazek finished with a save percentage below .900 with the Flyers. At this point it seems a long shot he’ll ever be an NHL No. 1, but in the right situation under the right goalie coach, there could still be talent to mine here.
Daniel Carr, LW
This 26-year-old left-winger was about a point-per-game player in 20 AHL games and in 38 NHL games with Montreal he had the fourth-best 5-on-5 points per 60 minutes played rate. The knock on Carr is his foot speed, which isn’t ideal in today’s game, but he is a feisty player who can create chances and forechecks well. Again, with a low cost there could be some even strength offensive upside to find on the cheap here.