NHL Free Agency: Top 10 Forwards

Adrian Szkolar@@adrianszkolarContributor IIIMay 29, 2012

NHL Free Agency: Top 10 Forwards

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    With the NHL's collective bargaining agreement set to expire on Sept. 15th, general managers will be operating in an unusual position this offseason, not knowing exactly how much they will need or be able to spend.

    The salary cap's upper limit for the upcoming offseason is currently projected at around $69 million, as ESPN's Pierre LeBrun reported earlier this month. However, that number is only temporary for the summer. With a new CBA needing to be negotiated, if the owners and league have it their way, the salary cap could end up being lower.

    Despite this, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, according to Yahoo! Sports, has told teams to continue with "business as usual," in regards to the offseason.

    If teams follow Bettman's word, then expect to see the usual spending and bidding that occurs in any other offseason. Here is a list of the 10 best forwards who could be available as unrestricted free agents when July 1st comes around.

David Jones

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    Coming off of a 20-goal, 37-point performance for the Colorado Avalanche this season, David Jones' goal-scoring abilities, while streaky, should garner interest from teams looking to add scoring to their wings.

    Last year, Jones scored a career-high 27 goals in his first full season in the league, which earned him a one-year, $2.5 million contract. Turning 28 years old over the summer, he is just starting to approach his prime years.

Jaromir Jagr

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    After a three-year hiatus from the NHL, Jaromir Jagr signed with Philadelphia last offseason and had a successful comeback year, finishing third on the team in scoring with 54 points. However, he only scored one goal in 11 postseason games and especially struggled in the team's five-game second-round loss to New Jersey.

    At age 40, Jagr is not the superstar he was during his glory years with Pittsburgh, but he showed this year that he still has the vision and skill to be a reliable top-six scorer in the NHL.

Jiri Hudler

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    A small but skilled winger, Jiri Hudler had a good bounce-back year with a 25-goal, 50-point season after a poor 2010-11 campaign in which he only scored 10 goals and 37 points. It was also the second time Hudler put up a 50-point season, having scored a career-high 57 points in the 2008-09 season.

    While Hudler is known as a one-dimensional player who struggles defensively and isn't the strongest skater, scoring is at a premium, and his 25 goal-season should have teams lined up to bid for his services on July.

Dustin Penner

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    What a difference a playoff run can make.

    Dustin Penner had been a bust since being acquired by Los Angeles during last year's trade deadline, failing to provide the extra scoring the Kings needed. Those struggles continued this season, as he put up only 17 points in 65 games and was more known around the league for "pancake-gate."

    However, like many of his teammates, the 29-year-old Penner has come alive in the postseason, putting up 10 points in 14 games and scoring the overtime winner in his team's 4-3 series-clinching win against Phoenix on May 22nd.

    The 6'4", 245 lbs. winger, who put up 63 points with the Edmonton Oilers in the 2009-10 season, should garner plenty of interest thanks to his recent play.

Alexander Semin

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    Possessing speed and one of the league's best wrist-shots, Alexander Semin is probably the most skilled player available in this year's free-agent class. However, Semin struggled for much of this season, putting up a modest 54 points in 77 games and had a disastrous playoff showing, scoring only four points in 14 games.

    The former 40-goal scorer has a reputation of being a one-dimensional offensive forward and weak defensive player, but his talent level alone should draw interest from teams needing offensive talent. With the Kontinental Hockey League exempting Russian NHL players from counting against the salary cap, expect Semin to get some serious interest there as well.

Olli Jokinen

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    The 33-year-old Olli Jokinen had a strong season for the Calgary Flames, putting up 61 points  in 82 games despite playing through a torn abdominal muscle late in the season which required surgery.

    While he is no longer the elite center that he was in Florida, Jokinen has been a consistent 50-plus point performer for the last four seasons and is the top center in what is a relatively weak year for centers in this year's free-agent class.

P.A. Parenteau

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    A castoff from the New York Rangers, P.A. Parenteau has emerged as a legitimate top-six forward playing for the New York Islanders the past two seasons.

    In his first two full seasons in the NHL, Parenteau has scored 120 points in 161 games, including 67 points this past season (the third-highest total among all pending free agents).

    While some believe the 29-year-old's production was a result of playing with John Tavares, Parenteau continued to put up points even after he was moved away from Tavares' line.

Ray Whitney

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    At age 40, Ray Whitney showed he still has plenty left in the tank after scoring 77 points this past season, the most out of all pending free agents.

    Whitney, who debuted in the 1992-93 season for the Sharks, should provide veteran leadership on top of his scoring abilities. He had put up at least 57 points in each of his last six seasons.

Shane Doan

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    One of the most consistent power forwards in the entire league, the gritty, energetic Shane Doan has put up at least 50 points in each of his last nine seasons.

    Having been with Phoenix for their entire existence, Doan has said he would prefer to stay, but with the team's ownership in question he also said that he would be willing to listen if other teams called him in July.

    If Phoenix is unable to re-sign Doan before he hits the open market, expect there to be a lot of interest in the Coyotes captain.

Zach Parise

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    Easily the most coveted forward in this year's free-agent class, Zach Parise has quite a bit on his résumé.

    He has scored at least 30 goals in five of his six full seasons in the league, has had a highly successful international career for the United States and is currently the captain of a team currently in the Stanley Cup Final.

    While his 69 points this season is down from the 82 and 94-point seasons he had a few years ago, he is a complete player who brings everything to the table. And at age 27, he is just starting to hit his prime.

    While New Jersey will have the cap space to retain him, Parise will have his fair share of options should he decide to test the open market.