The 2016 All-Unqualified team ironically has many quality contenders. Out of the 110 newly unrestricted free agents that did not receive qualifying offers from their respective NHL club yesterday will now join the July 1 market. The reasons for the large list are likely the Las Vegas expansion and the minimal salary cap increase.
Creating the All-Unqualified team
Paring down the list of young, talented NHL players was not easy. Picking from only the list found here, these six players could fit into an NHL starting line-up and not look out of place. Position, upside, current skill level and other considerations were all weighed when evaluating each player. These are the starters.
Center – Brandon Pirri
The 2009 second round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks split last year between the Florida Panthers and Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks send a sixth-round pick to the Panthers to acquire Pirri, so he came cheap. But not qualifying the 25-year-old center is a headscratcher. Pirri has 62 points in 122 NHL games but hasn’t done much in the possession department. There is still plenty of time to hone Pirri’s game as he is just entering his prime. Pirri will get a lot of calls for teams looking for a talented third liner. Pirri was coming off his entry-level contract and will likely see a healthy raise.
Left Wing – Joe Colborne
After being a dependable player for the Calgary Flames for three seasons, Colborne will test the UFA waters. Colborne has appeared in 217 games and recorded 38 goals and 68 assists. He has great size at 6’5 and over 220 pounds, and that makes him desirable as well. Last season was a career year for Colborne with 44 points in 73 contests. It would have taken Calgary only around $1.5 million to qualify Colborne. The former first-round selection of the Boston Bruins will have no issue finding a franchise willing to pay at least that on July 1.
Right Wing – Devante Smith-Pelly
Smith-Pelly posted a career high in points last season with 25 points in 64 games. Smith-Pelly was traded from the Montreal Canadiens to the New Jersey Devils in a final-hour trade at the deadline for Devils prospect Stefan Matteau. He had 8 goals and 13 points in 18 games with New Jersey. The quick right-winger is a good mix of speed, skill, and physicality. His ability to contribute in all facets of the game make him a great third-line right-handed shot that brings an element of talent as well. He only made $800,00 last year, so he’ll likely be an affordable option as well.
Right Defense – Justin Schultz
Finally, a UFA that makes sense. Schultz is a skilled and right-handed defender who contributed to the Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup victory. He is an NHL regular with offensive upside and a player finally coming into his own after becoming a UFA out of college. What is is not, however, is worth the $3.9 million he received for the 2015-16 campaign. The Penguins are already over the salary cap for next year according to GeneralFanager.com. Schultz just could not be handed a qualifying offer when his performance does not match the contract.
Left Defense – Patrick Wiercioch
Wiercioch brings a lot of size to the blueline and is the left-handed, defensive defender that matches well with Schultz. For a 6’5, 200+ pound defenseman, Wiercioch is a good skater and an underutilized powerful shot from the point. There are knocks, as he does not alway use his size to his advantage, and consistency can be an issue. However, as a third pairing defenseman with a talented partner could be more than serviceable as-is. Wiercioch turns 26 in September, so there are still at least two years ahead of him regarding his development, in particular for a big defenseman with his skillset.
Goaltender – Joni Ortio
The second Flame player on the list, Ortio has had a bit of a rollercoaster career. He was originally a 6th round draft pick of the Calgary Flames and after a year in the AHL went back to Finland. He came back to North America ahead of the 2013-14 season and was part of the goalie carousel in Calgary along with Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller. Ortio has shown flashes of NHL-quality talent but struggled along with the entire Flames squad during their rebuild and last season with the AHL‘s Stockton Heat. He is an afford depth goaltender could get a few game starts in a pinch. He appeared in 22 games last season and also can fulfill the exposed goalie role for a club. A two-year deal would be perfect for both him and his new home.
Why is there more quality than ever being let go without a qualifying offer. Check out some of the reasons here.