10 NHL Free Agents Facing a Make-or-Break 2013 Season

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2013

10 NHL Free Agents Facing a Make-or-Break 2013 Season

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    The puck is about to drop on the 2013 season.

    The pursuit of the Stanley Cup should be compelling, given the unfamiliarity of a 48-game regular season. Patterns of preparation that have been long established will have nothing to do with the way this season plays out.

    The lockout has reduced each team's schedule to 48 games. Teams have pinpointed a fast start as a big key to success this season. That may or may not be the case.

    However, players who will be free agents prior to the 2013-14 season must come out of the gate flying.

    Free agents will not be able to sign long-term deals like the ones that Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed last year. Instead of being able to sign 13-year contracts, terms will be limited to seven years if a player signs with a new team and eight years if they sign with their existing team.

    Don't look for Jarome Iginla on this list even though he is the highest-paid player who is scheduled to become a free agent. He does not face a make-or-break season. He is an established commodity whose consistency is his calling card.

    (All contract information is courtesy of CapGeek.com. All 2013 salaries are prorated.)

Alex Semin, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Alex Semin scored 40 goals in the 2009-10 season and appeared to be the perfect complement to Alex Ovechkin with the Capitals.

    He had a blistering shot, scored goals at key moments and opposing defenses could not focus on him because of Ovechkin's presence.

    But after that explosive season, Semin dipped to 28 and 21 goals the past two seasons.

    He was a free agent last offseason and the Hurricanes gave him just a one-year contract—at $7 million according to CapGeek.com—but the deal was viewed as one last chance for him to prove what kind of NHL player he can be.

    If Semin has another disappointing year, he may not get the kind of deal he wants at the end of the season and could choose to play in the KHL. However, an explosive year may allow him to re-establish himself.

Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks

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    Corey Perry could be the most sought-after free agent in the NHL once the signing period starts in July.

    Perry scored 50 goals in 2010-11 and he followed that up with 37 goals last year. The 27-year-old Perry is approaching the prime of his career and he is earning $5.325 million this year.

    Despite the changes in the collective bargaining agreement, don't expect the big-name free agents to take much of a beating when it comes to contract offers. As long as Perry continues to be a big-time goal scorer, he should receive a very impressive offer.

Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks

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    The Ducks have a lot to be concerned about once the 2013 Stanley Cup is raised.

    They will have to worry about Ryan Getzlaf in addition to Corey Perry. Getzlaf, 27, is scheduled to earn $5.325 million this season.

    Getzlaf is not the kind of goal scorer that Perry is and he has never scored more than 25 goals in a season. However, Getzlaf is a superb playmaker. He scored 91 points in the 2008-09 season and he is one of the best passers in the league.

    A solid season in 2013 should give him a chance to earn an impressive contract in the offseason.

Joffrey Lupul, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Joffrey Lupul is being paid like a superstar in 2013. He is in the last year of a contract that will pay him $4.25 million to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Lupul, 29, scored 25 goals last year and he had a career-high 67 points in 2011-12.

    If Lupul wants to get one of the prime free-agent contracts of the offseason, he has to build off of last season's success and have an even better year.

Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild

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    Niklas Backstrom is the top goalie who will be available as a free agent next year.

    Backstrom, 34, is scheduled to earn $6 million this season with the Minnesota Wild. The Wild could be a much-improved team this season after signing top free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter last summer.

    If the Wild build on those signings, make the NHL playoffs and win a round or two, Backstrom could be in a position to earn an impressive contract.

    If NHL teams look at him as the kind of goalie who can win the Stanley Cup, he will get significant offers. However, if the Wild struggle and fail to make the playoffs, Backstrom will not hit the mother lode.

Derek Roy, Dallas Stars

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    Derek Roy was traded by the Buffalo Sabres to the Dallas Stars in the offseason.

    The 2013 season is the final year on a contract that will pay him $4 million this season.

    Roy is a slick skater and a clever playmaker. However, he is not a physical player and that's one of the key reasons the Sabres moved the 29-year-old center.

    They wanted to bring in sandpaper and grit, and that's why they acquired Steve Ott.

    Roy has scored as many as 32 goals and 81 points in a season. If he can approach a point per game as he did in 2007-08, Roy should get a sizable contract in the offseason.

Nathan Horton, Boston Bruins

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    It's a huge year for Nathan Horton of the Boston Bruins.

    Horton, 27, was one of the Bruins' heroes during the 2011 Stanley Cup run, scoring the series-winning goals against the Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    However, since that series-winning strike against Tampa Bay, Horton has struggled after suffering two concussions.

    Horton is healthy at the start of the season and figures prominently as a sniper for the Bruins. If he can stay that way all season and show that he can be a big-time scorer, expect the intense-looking Horton to become a highly sought-after free agent in the offseason.

    Horton is scheduled to earn $4 million this season.

Stephen Weiss, Florida Panthers

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    Stephen Weiss could be in a position to earn a huge contract during the offseason.

    Weiss has been one of the leaders of the Panthers franchise. He has scored 20 or more goals in each of the last three seasons and he has a gritty component that tells his teammates to climb on his back in clutch situations.

    Weiss, 29, is in the final year of a contract that will pay him $3.1 million this season. If the Panthers are not a playoff contender this season, Weiss will likely be moved prior to the trade deadline and that will give him an opportunity to show what he can do in the postseason after scoring five points in seven playoff games last year.

Valtteri Filppula, Detroit Red Wings

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    Valtteri Filppula is in the final year of a contract that will pay him $2.8 million with the Detroit Red Wings.

    Filppula is not a superstar, but he is the kind of player who makes a huge difference because he can shoot, score, pass, skate and play defense.

    Filppula, 28, scored a career-high 23 goals and 66 points last year.

    Savvy general managers will follow Filppula closely this season and he will have a lot of interest in the offseason.

Alex Edler, Vancouver Canucks

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    Defenseman Alex Edler of the Vancouver Canucks has a chance to be one of the more popular free agents in the offseason.

    Edler, 26, is scheduled to earn $3.25 million this season. He is one of the top defensemen on this perennial contender.

    Edler scored a career-high 11 goals and 49 points last year. As long as he stays healthy and can remain a key contributor, he will be a very well-paid player next year.