With the end of the season quickly approaching, we now have clarification on most of the players that are eligible for Group VI unrestricted free agency this offseason. The full list can be found here along with the breakdown of the criteria to reach this status. However, there are four players that could still avoid being in this situation which will be worth watching for over the last few weeks.
Colby Cave (Edmonton) – A year ago, it didn’t look like Cave would be in this situation. He spent the majority of 2018-19 in the NHL, getting into 52 games between Boston and Edmonton but failed to earn a regular role with the Oilers this season. Instead, he has played in 43 games with their AHL affiliate in Bakersfield this season and just 11 with the big club. That leaves him 13 games shy of remaining RFA eligible. While he won’t get there with regular season games, playoff games count as well and he’s likely to be up with them for their playoff run. With AHL Bakersfield well out of playoff contention, he’s someone they could recall right away if they wanted to knock some games off before the postseason starts.
Mackenzie MacEachern (St. Louis) – Of the four, this is the likeliest one to get to 80 and remain a restricted free agent as long as he doesn’t get injured in the near future. MacEachern has spent the entirety of the season in St. Louis, albeit in a limited role as he has averaged less than nine minutes a night in 48 games while spending a lot of time as a healthy scratch. Nonetheless, he’s just two NHL games shy of 80 and with the Blues comfortably in a playoff spot, they can afford to toss him on the fourth line a couple more times to secure his rights for another season.
Michael McCarron (Nashville) – The 2013 first-round pick saw NHL action in each of his first three pro campaigns but hasn’t since then. Instead, he has played a more limited role in the minors and a midseason trade from Montreal to Nashville hasn’t changed his fortunes much although he has nine goals in 26 games with AHL Milwaukee. He’s ten NHL games shy of 80 but barring a rash of injuries, he’s unlikely to make it back to the NHL this season or at least play enough to reach the threshold.
Boo Nieves (NY Rangers) – This is another one that didn’t seem likely a year ago. Nieves played in 43 games with New York in 2018-19 and did well enough that they gave him an early one-way contract extension to avoid him hitting the UFA market as a Group VI player last season. However, he has played in just four NHL contests this year which leaves him four shy of reaching 80. With the Rangers’ fourth line seeing limited minutes, it’s not crazy to think that they could bring Nieves up for a week or so to give him another look and ensure they keep his rights for next season.
If any of these players get to 80 total NHL games, they will be eligible for restricted free agency with salary arbitration eligibility this summer.