WICHITA, Kan. – As one of the weirdest offseasons in hockey history continues along, the ECHL is about to have its fair share of action as teams issue qualifying offers later this week.

On Tuesday, June 16, the ECHL’s free agent signing period began. Wichita wasted no time, bringing back forwards Jay Dickman and Spencer Dorowicz the following day. On June 25, the Thunder added their third forward of the offseason in Peter Crinella.

Qualifying offers are due into the ECHL offices Tuesday night by 11:59 pm Eastern Time and the complete list will be sent out early Wednesday afternoon.

Before Tuesday night’s deadline (11:59 pm Eastern Time on June 30), teams may qualify up to eight players, with no more than four being veterans (260 regular season professional hockey games played as of the start of the 2020-21 season).

The teams who have signed players already cannot place players already signed on the qualifying offer list.

Once a qualifying offer is issued, it must remain open for acceptance until August 1. At this point, a team may offer the qualified player any salary or decide to continue without further action.

As for non-veteran players, a team that offers them a qualifying offer retains the rights to the player for one full season. With veteran players, the offering team retains the rights to that player until July 16. After this date, if the veteran player and offering team have not agreed to a contract, the veteran becomes a restricted free agent, gaining the right to talk with other teams and receive offers from other ECHL teams.

When a restricted free agent receives a contract offer from a team other than the team with the player’s rights and the restricted free agent wishes to accept the contract offer, the restricted free agent and the offering member must, within 24 hours, notify the ECHL, the team with the player’s rights and the Professional Hockey Players’ Association. The member with the player’s rights shall have seven days after the date it is notified to exercise its right to match the contract offer. Restricted free agents cannot be traded.

If a restricted free agent is not signed to either an offer sheet or a contract by an ECHL team by August 1st, the player will be declared an unrestricted free agent.

Now, Wichita can extend up to eight qualifying offers to players on their 2019-20 season-ending roster. Announced on June 16, Wichita’s list of players eligible for qualifying offers consists of:

Defenseman: Cam Clarke, Garrett Schmitz, Kyle Pouncy, Jacob Graves, Sean Allen, Zachary Borsoi, Dylan Olsen (V), Patrik Parkkonen 

Forwards: Shaquille Merasty, Jason Salvaggio, Fabrizio Ricci, Lane Bauer, Stefan Fournier (V), Billy Exell, Chris Gerrie, Frankie Melton

Goalie: Mitch Gillam

The defenseman I expect Wichita to offer are:

  • Garrett Schmitz – Schmitz’s 2019-20 campaign was one of stretches. When he was hot, his play looked like some ECHL veterans, putting up good point totals while providing quality defense. Some more game experience will enhance his play significantly.
  • Jacob Graves – Graves was a bright spot on the Thunder’s roster as soon as he found confidence on the ice. His relentless defensive checking was felt nearly every game he played in. Graves spent time with Florida, Reading, and Wichita last year, recording one goal and four assists in his 50 games played. He was acquired as apart of the trade that sent Ralph Cuddemi to Reading.
  • Dylan Olsen – Despite Olsen’s time with Wichita being very short in the 2019-20 shortened season, his experience alone should earn him an offer this year. Olsen has over 100 games in both the NHL and AHL, experience that could prove vital to the evolution of young blue liners.
  • Patrik Parkkonen – Parkkonen is a no-brainer to receive a qualifying offer after leading the Thunder in points in 2019-20 with 45 (8G, 37A). His -12 plus/minus rating was the downside of his year, struggling to keep the opposition off the board. His leadership and two-way play will be helpful as Ramsay continues to rebuild the Thunder.

The forwards I expect Wichita to offer are:

  • Jason Salvaggio – Salvaggio played a great role as a lower line depth player in 2019-20. He found himself in the right place offensively, making him an easy player to build around. His 37 points (15G, 22A) were a bright spot among Wichita’s depth scorers.
  • Fabrizio Ricci – Ricci was easily one of the best forwards on the Thunder’s roster in 2019-20. While his 33 points (12G, 21A) were good, his defensive selflessness was better. Ricci consistently put his body on the line to block pucks during five-on-five play and, more importantly, on the penalty kill.
  • Stefan Fournier – Since being traded to Wichita during the 2018-19 season, Fournier has quickly found his way into many Wichita fans’ hearts. His flashy, consistent play helped Wichita in many of their rough stretches. His 24 goals led the Thunder’s eight double-digit goal scorers. Fournier also served as Ramsay’s player-assistant coach in 2019-20.

The goalie I expect Wichita to offer is:

  • Mitch Gillam – Gillam was a large reason Wichita sat atop the ECHL early in the 2019-20 season. His rough games were largely due to struggling defense rather than shaky goaltending. Gilliam’s consistent work between the pipes earned him 40 starts where he recorded a 3.48 goals against average and a .905 save percentage.

With so much still up in the air on the 2020-21 ECHL season, the qualifying offer stage is a huge step on the way to hockey. Expect to see many signings roll out quickly following the release of teams’ qualifying offer lists. The Sin Bin’s full ECHL transaction wire can be found at here.

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