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WICHITA, Kan. – We have reached one of the final hurdles of the offseason, and perhaps the most critical one, qualifying offers.

Offers are due into the ECHL offices Saturday night at 11:59 pm Eastern Time and the complete list will be sent out early Monday afternoon.

If you’re not familiar with the qualifying offer process, it’s pretty simple.

With this deadline, teams can qualify up to eight players, and no more than four can be veterans (260 regular season professional hockey games played as of the start of the 2018-19 season). The other piece that is important to realize here is that if a player is already signed, they will not be on the qualifying offer list.

The qualifying offer must remain open for acceptance until July 16, at which time the qualifying offer becomes null and void and the team may sign the qualified player to any salary or may elect to take no further action. Teams that extend a valid qualifying offer to a non-veteran player will retain the rights to that qualified player for one playing season.

A team that extends a valid qualifying offer to a veteran player will retain the rights to that player until July 16.

After that date, if the veteran player is not signed to a contract by the team, the veteran will be deemed a restricted free agent and can talk with other teams and get other 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.

Here is the list of players on the season-ending roster that could be given a qualifying offer. Ryan Van Stralen, Mitch Maloney, Ralph Cuddemi, Steven Iacobellis, Mark MacMillan, Lane Bauer, Travis Ewanyk, Cam Reid, Grayson Pawlenchuk, Nick Latta, Daniel Leavens, Guillaume Asselin, Matt DeBlouwGuillaume Lepine, Marc-Olivier Crevier-Morin, Samuel Thibault, Kevin Patterson and Travis Brown.

In case you missed it, here’s what’s gone on with the roster so far this offseason:

Different from last year’s list, I do expect head coach Malcolm Cameron will use all eight offer slots. This list comes with the caveat that we don’t know who has agreed to terms on a new deal, whether in the ECHL or overseas.

Here are the five forwards I expect to earn qualifying offers:

  • Ralph Cuddemi is the no-brainer of the group. He was the team’s offensive heartbeat during the 2017-18 season, posting 58 points (31G, 27A) in 59 games after being acquired from Fort Wayne in early November. Even if Cuddemi doesn’t re-sign in Wichita, Cameron could fetch a decent player for his rights on the trade market.
  • Lane Bauer had a stout rookie season, posting 37 points in 63 games for Wichita. 13 of his 37 points came on special teams, including a forward corps-high ten assists on the power-play. He also did the little things not compiled on a scoresheet, such as winning crucial faceoffs and blocking shots.
  • Daniel Leavens put together a stellar, but well-traveled rookie season. His 51 points (15G, 36A) were second on the Rush behind Peter Sivak, who led the team with 61 points. Like Bauer, Leavens can play a 200-foot game and would be someone whose game could go to the next level in Cameron’s systems.
  • Cam Reid is the lone veteran to be qualified. Reid showed up in Wichita for the playoffs after being released from Indy, and while Thunder fans didn’t get to see a lot of Reid’s game due to an injury he sustained in game three of the Mountain Division Semifinals, his game speaks for itself. In 347 professional regular-season games spread out over the AHL, ECHL, CHL & German DEL2 leagues, Reid has picked up 233 points (80G, 153A). On what will likely be another young Thunder team, having Reid’s leadership up front could prove huge, especially late in games.
  • MacMillan is the final forward I would qualify. The 26-year-old forward is coming off a career-best year with the Thunder, in which he finished the campaign with 53 points (21G, 32A) in 65 games and served as the team’s assistant captain. Even though MacMillan has signed to play in Sweden, the Thunder would retain his rights for the 2018-19 season by qualifying him, meaning that if he returns to the ECHL before February 15, it will be with the Wichita Thunder.

Here are the three defensemen I expect to earn qualifying offers:

  • Like Cuddemi being the no-brainer up front for the Thunder, Travis Brown fills that role on the back-end. The Thunder have not had an offensive defenseman like Brown since Andrew Martens. In fact, Brown’s output last year (36 points in 67 regular-season games, +7, 18 special teams points) is the highest for a Thunder rearguardsman since Martens patrolled the blueline late in the Kevin McClelland era. As he heads into his fourth season as a pro, it will be interesting to see how Brown’s game improves.
  • Kevin Patterson was a solid find for Cameron last season. An in-season call-up from the SPHL’s Peoria Rivermen, Patterson earned a roster spot with his steady play on the blueline. In 19 games, he was a +3 with seven points (1G, 6A).
  • Samuel Thibault is the last defenseman to be qualified. In his rookie season, he posted nine assists but was a +10, tied for best on the team with O’Brien. Even though he was 5/6 defenseman or a healthy scratch last season, it would be fair to expect him to take on a more prominent role for Wichita next season, should he re-sign.

Of course, all of this could be moot. We’ll find out together on Monday.

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