The NHL season is nearing its end, with only a few more games left on the schedule before the playoffs begin.
For teams outside the playoff picture, these games seemingly don't hold much weight. But that could not be farther from the truth.
These last five games could have a large impact on the future of a few key pending free agents.
So, let's take a look at four who could benefit from a strong finish to a rocky season.
Dylan Strome - Chicago Blackhawks
Status: Pending RFA
Stat Line: 64 GP, 21 goals, 25 assists, 46 points, 17:17 TOI
Credit to Dylan Strome for snatching his career from the jaws of irrelevancy once again this season, against all odds.
The Blackhawks didn't exactly put Strome in a position to succeed in 2021-22, shuffling him in and out of the lineup as a healthy scratch for large stretches of the schedule while yo-yoing him between the top and bottom-six whenever he actually drew in.
Despite that lack of stability, Strome still managed to set a career-high in goals while eventually earning more responsibility from the coaching staff as the season wore on.
Now, though, Strome sits only a few games away from restricted free agency, with a qualifying offer of $3.6 million. Are the Blackhawks willing to pay that in order to retain his rights for another year?
That remains to be seen.
Few front offices ever make influential decisions based on a five-game sample. But Strome's tenure in Chicago has been so rocky to this point, teetering between promising young core piece and lineup tweener, that every bit of playing time matters, and could at least help steer new GM Kyle Davidson in one direction to some degree.
Skating will always be an issue with Strome. It held him back on most draft boards, and it's a weakness that hurts him still to this day. But he's proven to be a decently effective NHL forward with his best years still ahead of him.
Closing this season on a high note could do wonders to his perception within the Blackhawks' building.
Brock Boeser - Vancouver Canucks
Status: Pending RFA
Stat Line: 66 GP, 21 goals, 22 assists, 43 points, 18:37 TOI
Look, five games aren't going to make a world of difference in the context of Brock Boeser's six NHL seasons. But it sure couldn't hurt his case for a new contract as he enters an off-season that could possibly spell the end of his tenure in Vancouver.
Despite Boeser's RFA status keeping his rights with the Canucks for the time being, Jim Rutherford & Co. still face a difficult choice: keep Boeser via a $7.5 million qualifying offer, or cut him loose.
Which option they ultimately choose is anyone's guess.
Boeser has the reputation of being a pure goal-scorer despite never having reached 30 in a season to this point in his career, scoring 25 or more for the last time all the way back in 2018. Given how cap-strapped the Canucks are, and how injuries have seemingly lowered Boeser's ceiling thus far, there's a legitimate risk to devoting that much money to him in the immediate future.
The underlying numbers aren't exactly glowing, either. The Canucks generate less than half of the expected goals in Boeser's even-strength minutes this season, surrendering the lion's share of high-danger scoring chances, as well.
Most teams won't think twice about bringing in a consistent 20-goal scorer, which Boeser is. But if he wants to stay a Canuck, these last five games are a great opportunity to leave a good taste in the organization's mouth.
PK Subban - New Jersey Devils
Status: Pending UFA
Stat Line: 73 GP, 5 goals, 17 assists, 22 points, 18:23 TOI
PK Subban is not as old as you think he is. While injuries have aged his body well beyond his years, the guy is still just 32, seemingly with at least a few more big-league seasons left in the tank.
After the past few years, that remains to be seen.
Subban has struggled mightily since coming to New Jersey via trade in 2019. Some of that could be due to the steep drop-off in supporting talent from the Predators to the Devils, sure. It had to have played some part in all this. But, frankly, Subban has been a sub-replacement player for the better part of the past three years, and is now staring down unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career.
Funnily enough, the 2021-22 season has actually been somewhat of a step-up for Subban compared to recent years. His team-based value is above zero for the first time since 2019, with Dom Luszczyszyn's model deeming him worth 0.3 wins, while his 52.43 percent expected-goal share is the highest it's been since all the way back in 2016.
Subban still has some value at the NHL level -- even if only used in a sheltered, third-pairing role. A strong final push to close out the year could do wonders in inflating his list of suitors, and perhaps earn Subban something a bit more lucrative than the one-year, sub-$1 million offers he'll surely field once the market opens.
Alexander Radulov - Dallas Stars
Status: Pending UFA
Stat Line: 69 GP, 4 goals, 18 assists, 22 points, 14:07 TOI
What happened here?
Alexander Radulov has experienced what can only be called a truly staggering drop in overall production this season, going from the consistent 15-30 goal scorer he was from 2016-2020 (Radulov played just 11 games in 2021) to a guy who won't even sniff double digits by year's end.
Sure, age almost certainly plays a factor, with Radulov set to turn 36 before the start of next season. But players don't usually fall off a cliff so suddenly after years of otherwise above-average play.
That's what Radulov's numbers have done this season, though: fallen off a cliff across the board. His ice time is down three full minutes from the 17:47 he averaged last year to just 14:07 now. While plus-minus isn't a terribly effective stat in a vacuum, it's still notable when Radulov's minus-21 this season serves as the first time he's ever dipped into the negatives at the NHL level. The veteran is even shooting less on average despite otherwise being healthy, putting just 1.30 pucks on net per game compared to his career mark of 2.15.
No matter how you look at it, Radulov's 2021-22 has been a disaster. And with free agency right around the corner, Radulov desperately needs to end the year on a high note if he wants to earn what will likely be the final contract of his career.
There's still some value hidden amongst the wreckage, though. The Stars out-score and out-chance their opponent in Radulov's even-strength minutes this season, generating 50.95 percent of the expected goals and 50.93 percent of the scoring chances when he's on the ice.
Shelter him on a contender while feeding him loads of power-play usage, and Radulov could possibly be a value add at near-league-minimum. But he has to earn that chance first. And a strong final stretch could help him do it.