2012 NHL Free Agency: The Unqualified RFA Group

ST PAUL, MN - NOVEMBER 5: Alex Pietrangelo #27 of the St. Louis Blues falls to the ice as Guillaume Latendresse #48 of the Minnesota Wild handles the puck in the second period on November 5, 2011 at Xcel Energy Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Wild defeated the Blues 2-1 and Latendresse scored on the play. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Every year some poor restricted free agents end up not getting qualifying offers from their clubs for any number of reasons. The deadline to extend a qualifying offer to restricted free agents passed Tuesday afternoon which added numerous free agents to the pool.

Working your way through the restricted free agent pool is similar to going to Galveston to get in the ocean. It's dirty, full of trash, murky, and just overall questionable as to whether or not you should even risk dipping your toe in it. The payoff is still potentially decent though if you're willing to put up with the occasional beer can floating by you. The RFA pool isn't all trash this year. There are a few medium risk medium reward types available. After the jump I'll be the guinea pig willing to dip my toe in the murky RFA waters. Follow me, won't you?

Before we even look at the group of players worth considering we need to answer the question "How does one become an unqualified restricted free agent?". At the base level they become one when their entry level or a subsequent contract runs out before they meet the requirements for unrestricted free agency, but that's common knowledge. What non-CBA negotiated conditions lead these guys to unrestricted free agency?

Several factors lead to this. Injuries, regression that makes their current salary overpayment, an oversight, or just being a poor NHLer in general. Some of the guys that went unqualified meet one of these conditions. Several meet numerous criteria. The point is that these guys have flaws. They aren't players the Stars should consider as potential key pieces for the 2013 season unless something goes horribly wrong in the offseason.

The Stars also shouldn't sign some of unqualified players just because they're young. Gilbert Brule and Cam Barker are prime examples. Brule produced a little offensively for the Coyotes. He did so in very easy minutes, with the highest PDO on the Coyotes (on ice shooting percentage + on ice save percentage) which suggests that he was very lucky, and the Coyotes allowed a lot of goals with him on the ice. Cam Barker is, well, Cam Barker. If you aren't familiar with how bad he was last season then just head to Google. These two examples both have age on their side, and a couple definable skills. Age is their biggest selling point though. That isn't enough to make them interesting prospects for the 2013 roster.

Ed Note: Benoit Pouliot and Wojtech Wolski were intentionally ignored. Pouliot is likely to sign with Tampa after his rights were dealt to the Lightning from Boston. Wolski has a ton of red flags so I didn't even bother.

There are some out there who should be of interest to the Stars. The recently unqualified duo from the Minnesota Wild is where we'll begin. The Wild refused to extend qualifying offers to forward Nick Johnson and Guillame Latendresse. Latendresse was a 2nd round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 2005. The last two and a half seasons he has been a member of the Wild. Over the past two seasons Latendresse has gotten into only 27 games. In 2011 he dealt with both a sports hernia and labrum issues with his hip.

In his 82 games with the Wild he put 52 points on the board including 33 goals. He's a good shooter with a career 14% accuracy rate over 314 games. On top of the offense he's considered to be a solid two way forward. The Wild have criticized his fitness in the past, and that has to be a red flag. Especially when you add in the injury concerns. However, if anyone knows about Latendresse the person it will be Bob Gainey who happens to be in the Stars front office again. He brought Latendresse into the NHL under Guy Carbonneau who just so happens to be the father-in-law of Stars captain Brenden Morrow. The Stars will know the player as well as anyone so he's definitely one to keep an eye on.

His teammate might be even more intriguing. Nick Johnson isn't a household name, but he's a very solid hockey player. He played the tough minutes for the Wild last year. The only Wild forward who consistently played more difficult minutes was Kyle Brodziak. In those difficult minutes Johnson was about average in Corsi amongst his teammates which is impressive given his difficult assignments. He even contributed 26 points. In the AHL his NHL equivalency was about 30. Moreover, when Johnson was on the ice the Wild offense improved by .23 goals/60. The defense improved by .22 goals/60.

It's curious that Johnson is available. He was really good for a team that was really bad. The only reason given can be found here. Johnson is arbitration eligible, and is likely to win a one way contract. You might be asking "so what?" right now. Yeah, I don't know. A team that bad can find a place for a 26 year old who was that good for them. Perhaps there's more to the story, but as is it's curious. Johnson would be an excellent signing for the Stars checking line to play beside Steve Ott.

I've already profiled several Flames cast off forwards, so why not another? The Flames are allowing Blake Comeau to test the free agent market. After the Flames picked him up off of waivers last season Comeau produced 15 points in 55 games. Last season his shooting percentage dropped to 4.3% despite being a career 12% shooter prior to the season. He appears to be the victim of some bad luck.

The Flames used him in all situations and he was effective. The Flames defense improved by .73 goals/60 minutes with Comeau on the ice. He isn't known for his defense though, and his drive to the net is questionable so you have to wonder if something clicked for him with Calgary. Or, it could just be 55 games. Either way, he's a good talent. The only reason he is available is that his qualifying offer called for him to receive 2.5 million dollars. He won't get that as an unrestricted free agent, and the possibility still exists that the Flames resign him. He's a guy that could interest the Stars, but his game historically isn't a good fit with what they're trying to put together for 2013.

Matt D'Agostini of the St. Louis Blues is our first concussion victim to consider. Concussions are obviously nasty to return from, and D'Agostini was fortunate to only miss 27 games with his last season. He was a pretty good player for the Blues in 2010. He scored 21 goals to go with 25 assists while being trusted as a solid defensive option. His offense dried up considerably in 2011 prior to the concussion. He scored nine goals in 55 games last year which is about a 14 goal pace. It's definitely not 21, but it's enough to make him a solid depth option for the Stars even if he ultimately is just a 10-15 goal scorer.

The final guy to consider is Peter Mueller. He was drafted 8th overall by the Phoenix Coyotes back in 2006. He is a highly skilled forward with severe concussion issues. Adam Kimelman of NHL.com chronicled his issues here. In summary, Rob Blake knocked him out in 2010. He sat out the entire 2010-11 season after getting another concussion in the preseason. A light caught his eye last season in his third game back which caused his headaches to return. There is no doubt that Mueller can be an offensive weapon if healthy, but the concussion issues are a severe red flag.

Another problem is that he's going to need a top six role to thrive. He's also going to need sheltered minutes. He met these two conditions both with Phoenix and Colorado. Given his injury history it's an incredibly risky proposition to bet on him being a top six contributor next season. Not only that, but the Stars are clearly moving to a focus on responsible two way hockey with their moves so far this offseason. Signing a player in need of heavily sheltered minutes with no track record of sustained success and injury concerns would be puzzling at the least. He could be a fit for the Stars if the offseason goes horribly wrong, or if he's willing to skate in a bottom six role. Both outcomes seem unlikely, but if either situation arises he could be an interesting upside play. I wouldn't bet on it though.

The group as a whole isn't particularly exciting, but there are a few names to keep an eye on. Nick Johnson should clearly be the Stars top target of the group though they could get value out of any number of these guys. It's important to keep in mind why these guys are available though. They all come with massive question marks except, as far as we know, Nick Johnson. It will be interesting to see if the Stars pursue any of these guys come Sunday, but don't be surprised if they do.


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