The deadline for giving restricted free agents qualifying offers was Monday for the Vancouver Canucks. Surprisingly, the Canucks chose to qualify just one of their restricted free agents — Mikey DiPietro.
That means three restricted free agents will now become unrestricted free agents: Justin Bailey, Matthew Highmore, and Juho Lammikko.
The latter two are the biggest surprise, as both played a key role on the Canucks' fourth line this past season. Highmore played in 46 games, tallying 5 goals and 12 points, while Lammikko played 75 games, scoring 7 goals and 15 points. Both were go-to penalty killers as well.
Highmore and Lammikko were two-thirds of the so-called "Motto Line" with Tyler Motte, becoming the most-consistent line for head coach Bruce Boudreau and chipping in some secondary scoring. That line was much more of a third line than a fourth line, frequently playing a match-up role against tough opponents.
While Highmore and Lammikko were not quite as good without Motte, there was still no reason to believe that they would not receive qualifying offers. Highmore brings speed on the forecheck, while Lammikko is a solid centre with good size. At the very least, they seemed like they could be quality depth options.
According to contract projections, Highmore and Lammikko were likely to sign at around $1 million per year. It's entirely likely that Highmore will sign a deal for closer to league minimum, so it's not like the two players would be overly pricey.
It should be noted, of course, that the Canucks can still sign Highmore and Lammikko. The two are now unrestricted free agents, allowing them to sign with any team, but it's still possible that they sign with the Canucks. It's just not overly likely at this point.
What this means is that the Canucks believe they can find better options for the fourth line. the Canucks have newly-signed players like Linus Karlsson, Nils Åman, and Arshdeep Bains who will be vying for spots, as well as Will Lockwood. Up until Monday, it seemed like those players would be pushing for a spot on the wing with Highmore and Lammikko rather than potentially replacing them.
With free agency opening this week, they could also look to the open market to find replacements for Highmore and Lammikko. Given that they are just fourth-line forwards, replacing them shouldn't be too complicated. Still, it's strange to see two players who played a significant role under Boudreau go to free agency when they could have been qualified at minimal expense.