In the summer of 2017, Devante Smith-Pelly unexpectedly entered into free agency after getting bought out by the New Jersey Devils. One year later and only a few weeks removed from scoring seven goals in the playoffs, he is on the verge of unexpectedly hitting free agency again.
The deadline for teams to issue a qualifying offer to their restricted free agents was at 5 p.m. Monday. The team qualified five players, but Smith-Pelly was not among them.
Washington issued qualifying offers to Tom Wilson, Madison Bowey, Travis Boyd, Liam O'Brien and Riley Barber. As restricted free agents, teams had to qualify these players in order to retain their rights. Those players who did not receive offers—Smith-Pelly, Adam Carlson, Adam Chapie and Tim McGualey—will become unrestricted free agents on July 1, free to sign with any team.
Wilson enjoyed a career year with the Caps with career highs in goals (14), assists (21) and points (35). He seemed to find a home on the top line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin and looks to finally be living up to his potential as a first-round draft pick. Madison Bowey, meanwhile, played 51 games in his rookie season and looks poised to take on a full-time role. Boyd, O'Brien and Barber all look like candidates to compete for a spot on the NHL roster in the upcoming season after spending the majority of 2017-18 in Hershey, though Boyd did appear in one playoff game for the Caps.
The biggest surprise is the decision not to qualify Smith-Pelly who was a major factor in the team's postseason run, scoring seven goals including the game-tying tally in the decisive Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. He was also a player the team seemed interested in bringing back next season.
“He's become a big part of the team,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “He brings good energy, he's a good teammate, he's well-liked. You could tell the teammates really migrate towards him, they like him and then the crowd also likes him. They're chanting 'DSP' all the time so it's been fun to watch how he's got everybody to embrace him and his personality.”
But while Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the playoffs, that matched his entire production of seven goals from the regular season. Seven goals in the regular season obviously carry a much different value than seven goals in the postseason so it is easy to see where a disagreement could potentially form between how much the team may value him and what Smith-Pelly and his agent believe he is worth.
By not qualifying Smith-Pelly, the team does not risk arbitration and does not close the door completely on a new deal to stay in Washington. There are reports that the team is still negotiating with him. The team also did not qualify Brett Connolly last year and he signed a two-year deal with the Caps on July 1.
Until those non-qualified RFAs officially become free agents on July 1, the only team they can currently sign a new deal with is the Capitals.
But a qualifying offer ensures the team will maintain the player's rights even beyond the opening of free agency on July 1. By not qualifying those players, that seems to indicate the team is at least willing to move on if they can't reach an agreement by then.
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