Analysis: Islanders Qualifying Offers, Passing on Jack Hillen?

Another blueline odd man out?

The Islanders' qualifying offers to Micheal Haley, Jesse Joensuu, Ty Wishart, Dylan Reese -- and one key non-offer (Jack Hillen) -- as confirmed by Newsday offer another hint about how the front office sees the roster shaping up before free agency begins Friday. But before you game October's depth chart on your Initech memo pad, it's important to remember what qualifying offers entail.

First, qualifying offers (Q.O.'s) are necessary for a team to retain a restricted free agent's rights and ensure he's within team control for at least another year. He still might be subject to arbitration, and he can still sign any kind of contract, but a Q.O. preserves the right to match another team's offer sheet.

For a player like Hillen, who made just $550,000 last season ($525k cap hit), that means a CBA-mandated 10 percent raise, to $605,000. More interestingly, if he had amassed just seven more NHL games over the past three seasons (to reach 180), the CBA would've required a Q.O. to Hillen to be a one-way offer.

One-Way, or Two-Way?

CBA - 10.2 (a) iii. (p. 31) A Club's Qualifying Offer must be a One-Way Qualifying Offer if the applicable Player has: (A) actually played (excluding games missed for injury, illness or disability) 180 or more NHL Games in the previous three (3) NHL Seasons, (B) played at least sixty (60) NHL Games in the previous NHL Season, and (C) not cleared Waivers in the period between the 12th day prior to the commencement of the previous Regular Season and the end of a Club's previous Playing Season. For purposes hereof only, a goaltender is deemed to have played an NHL Game when he was dressed and on the bench as a backup. In all other cases, a Qualifying Offer may be a Two-Way Qualifying Offer.

By that reading, Hillen -- who played 64 games last season and 173 over the past three seasons, and did not clear waivers last season -- falls short of commanding a two-way deal in his qualifying offer. In other words, the typical reason you don't offer a player a Q.O. -- you're afraid they'll take it -- shouldn't in this case extend to fearing the possibility that Hillen would draw an NHL salary even if assigned to the AHL.

But if the Islanders aren't currently working on an extension for Hillen -- if they're prepared to let him walk -- then Hillen may be angling for a one-way contract or a longer commitment. Based on his play during the second half season, I figure he can command the former and maybe even the latter. But based on the existing NHL contracts on the blueline both with the Islanders and in Bridgeport, I didn't figure he would get both. Even if Hillen does return, his spot is under significant pressure from prospects below.

(To be fair, Hillen may be angling for nothing more than a Q.O., which has not been forthcoming.) If Hillen walks, he becomes a victim of that contract pile-up just like Bruno Gervais, an RFA who was traded to Tampa Bay for a fresh start last weekend. We feared this possibility and discussed it in Hillen's postseason report card, but of course to these eyes the loss of Hillen would be more significant than the loss of Gervais.

That said: Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Travis Hamonic, Milan Jurcina, Mark Eaton, Mike Mottau -- all signed, and we haven't gotten to Ty Wishart (RFA with a QO) or prospects Calvin de Haan or Mark Katic yet. That's a lot of bodies.

They are different scenarios, but Hillen's situation reminds me of Matt Gilroy, who was not qualified by the Rangers. Both signed as college free agents, Gilroy was different in that he was highly sought after and quite well paid ($1.75 million per). The way Gilroy's failed to meet expectations, the Rangers almost cannot qualify him at that salary. But reports are he'd rather test the market than accept the reduced offer the Rangers extended.

 

The Expected Q.O.'s: Could Bailey's Cap Hit Decrease?

Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau's qualifying offers were fully expected, mere formalities to retain their rights on the way to negotiations for contracts that might pay more or run longer than is offered in the Q.O. Each player is young with promise, but also with baggage.

With an $800,000 salary last year, Comeau's Q.O. must be a 5% raise (up to $840,000) and a one-way offer. With a $787,500 base last year (his $875,00 salary minus the $87,500 of his pro-rated signing bonus), Bailey's Q.O. must also be a 5% raise, taking him to just short of $827,000.

That's right: If Bailey simply accepts a Q.O. without negotiating a bigger contract, Bailey's cap hit would actually decrease for his second contract.

 

The Other Q.O.'s

I'd classify the Q.O. to Wishart, the prize in the Dwayne Roloson trade who played well down the stretch, as likewise expected. But again, with the blueline backlog, you never know.

Regardless, Wishart, Dylan Reese, Haley and Joensuu's Q.O.'s do not have to be one-way. But remember that one-way or two-way has nothing to do with whether they require waivers (they do).

Haley's Q.O. was expected -- but for me it only became fully expected once the Isles started publicizing his team appearances this summer. In his 2010-11 report card we discussed why the popular shift disturber still has some proving to do to make the team and carve out a sustained term as an Islander. They clearly want Haley to have a shot at doing more of what he did late last season -- and perhaps even take over some of the role Zenon Konopka leaves behind.

Joensuu's Q.O. is a no-brainer in my book but far from certain. The Finn Named Jesse has progressed each year but has also spoken in the past of having a three-year window -- the length of his ELC -- to make it. That window now expired, I've argued to keep him around as a swing player between Bridgeport and the Island. Ah, but would he accept that, and on another two-way contract? If he declines and flees back to Europe, the Isles at least retain his NHL rights with this move.

Reese, the headscratcher. Qualify Dylan Reese but not Jack Hillen? That was the debate yesterday in comments. As usual, I think Reese is better than his worst detractors do. But his still must be a veteran depth offer for Bridgeport.

 

Other Important Notes

The automatic expiration date for qualifying offers is 5 p.m. New York time on July 15. However, teams may extend the deadline if they file a specific deadline with the league and PA before that expiration. Expect to hear word about acceptance trickle out after July 1.

The deadline for clubs to make qualifying offers is "June 25 or the first Monday after the Entry Draft." The Islanders could still qualify Hillen by 5 p.m. today. Even if they don't, there is nothing preventing them ultimately re-signing him -- other than another team doing it first, of course.

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