With the regular season wrapped up, much of the puck talk is centered around the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, if your favorite NHL team can be found at the local country club, get excited for the offseason.
Once July 1, 2012 rolls around, many of this season's surprising stars will be open to the market. What's great for the teams that had regular season woes is that the majority of the league's top upcoming free agents are being tested right now during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs—a first-hand look at how each free agent can produce at the most stressful level.
Here are five highly-touted future free agents following the 2012 Stanley Cup's conclusion.
Alex Semin – Right Wing, Washington Capitals
Performance Test – 2011 Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins
When Semin first arrived, he seemed comfortable and focused, encompassing everything that was asked of him to be the best Capital he could. However, that has certainly not been the case for Ovechkin's "BFF."
The Capitals could not be happier to part ways with the Russian after he has not lived up to his $6.7 million deal. His performance as a professional has proven to be extremely uncoachable, and it's highly unlikely that an NHL franchise will offer him that kind of money coming off of his multiple weak seasons.
More than likely, Semin's best bet to land a big-time deal is near his homeland in the KHL.
Brandon Prust – Left Wing, New York Rangers
Performance Test – Ottawa Senators; likely Philadelphia Flyers Round 2.
After seeing his performance this season as one of the Rangers' toughest forwards, it is likely that he will get a call from multiple clubs. Prust never hesitated to drop the gloves with the toughest in the league, whether that be Wayne Simmonds, Milan Lucic or Ryane Clowe—he earned every dime of least season's $800,000 contract.
If the Rangers choose to part ways with Prust, they'll need to get aggressive in the offseason to replace that "tough guy" role.
Zach Parise – Left Wing, New Jersey Devils
Performance Test – Dan Marino's Florida Panthers
Parise is set to be one of the biggest names on the market this offseason and the American-born goal scorer is ready for a new, large contract. The Devils placed their captain on the trade block before the deadline, but made the wise choice and stuck with him for the remainder of this season as the Devils are poised to make a run at the Stanley Cup.
Parise is only 27 years old and thriving during his prime. After the Devils dished out unreal cash to sniper Ilya Kovalchuk two years ago, it's likely that they will not be able to pay Parise the money he deserves.
Jiri Hudler – Center, Detroit Red Wings
Performance Test – Nashville Predators
The 28-year-old Czech has been a Detroit Red Wing for all seven of his seasons in the NHL. Hudler is largely overshadowed in Detroit by the unmatched talents in Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg. However, Hudler is one of those players in the league that'll beat you on the score sheet and is not to be taken lightly.
Hudler should fully expect the Red Wings front office to renew his contract, but even if they decide to dump Hudler, he'll surely be in the NHL next season. There is no team that cannot add a forward that has averaged over 42 points over his last five seasons.
Cory Schneider – Goaltender, Vancouver Canucks
Performance Test – 3-0 deficit to No. 8 seed Los Angeles Kings
The Canucks' backup goalie Cory Schneider has proven his high-level talent, yet still remains heavily unnoticed and undervalued. Schneider is a restricted free agent and the only realistic way to land an RFA is to swap draft picks and/or a long-term deal to his current team.
Vancouver's current netminder, Roberto Luongo, just turned 33 years old and is poised to continue his Martin Brodeur-esque career through 2022, earning about $5 million each year.
As Lou's backup, Schneider surprised the league with a five-game win streak. Seeing as how he is forced to do nothing but watch the team's No. 1 netminder shut it down night after night, Schneider is inevitably getting a free goaltending lesson every single game—something many GMs around the league are excited to target.
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