Ducks Issue Three Qualifying Offers; Seven Did Not Receive Qualifying Offers

Photo: Anaheim Ducks

By Thomas Harrington

The Anaheim Ducks had 11 restricted free agents this summer: Isac Lundestrom, Jackson LaCombe, Nikita Nesterenko, Pavol Regenda, Max Jones, Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Urho Vaakanainen, Gustav Lindstrom, Brett Leason, Blake McLaughlin, and Brayden Tracey.

The Ducks signed Lundestrom to an extension while giving qualifying offers to LaCombe, Nesterenko, and Regenda according to the Athletic’s Eric Stephens. When the Ducks and other teams extend qualifying offers to their restricted free agents, they are essentially signaling that they are planning on retaining that player’s rights. Depending on how much the player made the previous season, the team must offer a contract that pays at least a certain percentage of the previous contract.

If there is no qualifying offer made, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent and can sign where they want, including back with the team that failed to qualify them. Sometimes teams will not qualify a player in the hopes of re-signing them to less than they would have made with the qualifying offer. Once a qualifying offer has been made, the two sides can work out a longer deal, or the player can take the qualifying offer as a one-year deal.

It wasn’t a big surprise to see Lundestrom re-signed or for LaCombe, Nesterenko, and Regenda to get qualifying offers. While none of them are star players, they all played important roles in Anaheim and San Diego last year. Lundestrom and LaCombe should be in Anaheim this coming year, and both Nesterenko and Regenda should see some time with the Ducks as well. None of the three players qualified will likely get long deals. I’d guess LaCombe gets two or three years while both Nesterenko and Regenda sign for one or two years.

Lundestrom’s deal is for one year for $1.5 million. He’s a former first round pick who has struggled through injuries and consistency over the past couple of years. The deal he signed was actually for less than his qualifying offer. He only played in 46 games and scored five goals and 11 points last season. He’ll be hoping for a bounce back year and then sign a more lucrative contract next summer.

In terms of defensemen who finished the year in Anaheim, LaCombe was third in average ice time per game with 19:23. He played in 71 games, good for second on defense, and scored two goals and 17 points. Overall, it was a solid but unspectacular rookie season for him. Depending on what the Ducks do this summer, he’s not guaranteed a spot in the team’s top four, but he should be in the lineup most nights.

The Ducks acquired Nesterenko from Minnesota, and he made his NHL debut at the end of the 2022-2023 season. This past year, he spent most of it in San Diego, scoring 16 goals and 37 points in 70 games for the Gulls, but did score a goal in three games for the Ducks. He’s shown that he can be a very good AHL player, now he needs to take that next step and show he belongs in the NHL.

This was Regenda’s second season as a member of the Anaheim organization. He spent most of last season with the Gulls, scoring 19 goals and 34 points in 54 games, but did play in five games for the Ducks. Similar to Nesterenko, Regenda has shown that he’s a good AHL player; now he needs to show that he can play in the NHL on a consistent basis.

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Jones is probably the biggest surprise to not be qualified by the Ducks. A former first round pick, he’s never quite lived up to that billing. He’s become a bottom six forward, but Pat Verbeek has stated he wants to reshape Anaheim’s bottom six lines, so it’s ultimately unsurprising to see Jones not qualified. That being said, he’s one of the few players not qualified who I could see the Ducks try to bring back at a cheaper price.

Groulx is a former second round pick who just completed his rookie season. In 45 games, he recorded two assists. At the junior level and in the AHL, he’s shown significantly more offensive ability, but it has yet to translate to the NHL level. I wouldn’t expect the Ducks to bring him back, but if he can’t find an NHL deal, I could see the Gulls trying to get him on an AHL deal.

The Ducks acquired Vaakanainen from Boston in the Hampus Lindholm deal. Until this past season, he had struggled to stay healthy, never playing in more than 30 NHL games. He played in 68 this past season, but I think he wasn’t qualified because the numbers were against him. The Ducks have Cam Fowler, Olen Zellweger, and Pavel Mintyukov under contract right now, and they qualified LaCombe, four left-handed shots. While some of them can move over to the right, the Ducks currently have Radko Gudas and likely Tristan Luneau playing on that side. Also, Verbeek has stated he wants to get a right-handed defenseman in free agency. There just wasn’t room for Vaakanainen on the roster.

Lindstrom was a waiver claim who played well for the Ducks, but similar to Vaakanainen, there just isn’t room on defense for him next season. He played in 32 games for Anaheim and had six assists. Leason was also a waiver claim who has played well for the Ducks in a bottom six role for the past two seasons. Of the restricted free agents who weren’t given a qualifying offer, he’s the one I was hoping the Ducks would keep.

McLaughlin was a third round pick who just never found his footing in the AHL with the Gulls. In his first full professional season, he skated in 24 games with San Diego and was scoreless. Last year, he skated in 29 games and had two assists. He’s also spent significant time in the ECHL each of the past two seasons. Of all of Anaheim’s restricted free agents, he was the least surprising to not be qualified.

Tracey is a former first round pick who has struggled with consistency. He’s spent the last three years in San Diego playing over 50 games each season, but saw his point totals drop from 31 to 28 to 25. He did get one game with the Ducks back in the 2021-2022 season.

By letting seven of the 11 restricted free agents go, the Ducks now don’t just have significant cap space, but also roster space. Expect Anaheim to sign at least one defenseman and one forward in the coming days. While they likely won’t land the biggest names, the Ducks have a lot of money to use and can offer a veteran player a chance to play with a very young and very skilled team. The next few days could be very interesting for Anaheim.

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June 30th, 2024


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