Stanley Cups are won in June, but the teams that win them are made in the summer and at the trade deadline.
As a result, every move a team makes is important. Even a team out of the playoff picture has an opportunity to make certain moves at the trade deadline to give themselves a shot at the title the following season.
General managers from the top of the standings to the bottom are constantly assessing moves and looking for opportunities to improve.
With each new class of pending unrestricted free agents comes a plethora of decisions to be made. How valuable is the player to the team's chances that season? If he is not traded, will the team benefit? If the franchise hangs onto him, will they eventually lose him for nothing?
Let's take a look at some prominent names in the upcoming class of UFAs and determine whether their clubs should re-sign them before July 1st, trade them before the deadline or keep them on board and let them walk once the season ends.
Contract information via capgeek.com.
Current Salary: $7 million
The Carolina Hurricanes went with a small-risk, big-reward move in the offseason when they brought in Alexander Semin on a one-year deal. The lackadaisical winger has a ton of offensive talent if he can get his head in the game, and if not, the team suffers no consequences beyond this season.
At this point, Semin has a respectable six points in eight games, but that's not the kind of offensive production that can turn the 'Canes into contenders.
However, as the trade deadline approaches, better teams will start to get desperate to plug holes in their lineups. This will make Semin an attractive option for a bubble team, provided they have the cap space or can get Carolina to take back a moderately overpaid player.
Carolina's investment isn't exactly working out as they hoped, but they can still make the signing a brilliant one by turning Semin into some young prospects or a few draft picks.
Current Salary: $4 million
The Toronto Maple Leafs have not made the playoffs since the lockout, and I'm not talking about this most recent one.
The team is in an absurd postseason drought and the brass in Ontario can ill afford another year of absence when the playoffs roll around. For that reason, the Leafs should be desperate to build the roster during the trade deadline, not hit the reset button.
Connolly has postseason experience from his stint with Buffalo and could prove valuable if the Leafs can finally break through.
However, Tim Connolly is far from being a building block for this team and if he earns a contract similar to the two-year, $9.5 million deal he signed before the 2011-12 season, he'll be a waste of money for this Toronto team.
The Leafs would be best served to keep him on the roster to contribute this season, but part ways when the summer rolls around.
Current Salary: $2.25 million
The Detroit Red Wings have struggled this season and are allowing about three goals per game, but Jimmy Howard can hardly be blamed for the rough start.
The Wings defense is blatantly missing the presence of the retired Nicklas Lidstrom and Howard's poor stat line (3.07 GAA and .892 save percentage) is more indicative of the chaos in front of him than anything else.
The Red Wings should and will treat Howard as one of their major cornerstones to keeping the franchise the most successful in all of hockey, and he isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
His play this year will merely dictate the price tag when he earns a new contract before July 1.
Current Salary: $3 million
The New Jersey Devils are one of the more financially-strapped teams in the NHL, so it is in their best interest to get David Clarkson signed to a long-term deal sooner rather than later, preferably before he realizes what he could get on the open market.
Clarkson is a near-perfect role player, capable of dropping the gloves and backchecking while still scoring 30 goals last season and seven in nine games this year.
He fits perfectly into New Jersey's tough, defense-first system and is an outstanding presence in front of the net. At age 28, he is entering his prime, and if New Jersey can convince him to stay at The Rock, they owe it to themselves to get a deal done.
He'll be a key part of the team's postseason success this year, and he would attract major attention from Eastern Conference teams familiar with his well-rounded game, including the Buffalo Sabres, Boston Bruins and the hated New York Rangers.
Current Salary: $7 million
Calgary is a ways away from Stanley Cup contention and Iginla, while he isn't the talent he once was, can still be a difference-maker on the right team. There are a select few teams who would likely pay a steep price for Iginla's services, especially if they believed they could re-sign him and utilize his leadership for a few extra years.
The Flames would be able to stock up on draft picks and prospects and, if the right deal came along, could even land an established player. They should wait for teams to get more desperate closer to the trade deadline, but there is really only one option here: ship him out.
It'll be a sad day in Calgary, but then again, these days are all sad days in Calgary.
Current Salary: $4.1 million
It's early in the season, so we can't get our hopes up quite yet, but the New York Islanders are actually in pretty decent shape.
After years of rebuilding seasons, the team is finally riding its young core to some success and could break their five-year playoff drought.
For that reason, the team should not look to give up captain Mark Streit at the trade deadline. His leadership and point production are extremely valuable to this team, even at age 35.
However, the Islanders have some financial concerns, recently trading for absent goaltender Tim Thomas, presumably to give themselves some room above the cap floor (via Yahoo! Sports). Keeping a guy over 35 on board when money is a concern is not a smart move, especially when the team is looking to build around superstar John Tavares.
For that reason, the Islanders should do little more than test trade waters, and instead let Streit finish out his contract. Unless he's willing to take a big pay cut, though, this needs to be his last season on the island.
Current Salary: $4.1 million
Stephen Weiss has been a class act on the Florida Panthers for years, a true passionate leader in a city that gives little back to its hockey players.
Weiss is an unrestricted free agent at season's end, and his reputation and production make him a desirable target for many competitive teams. It seems unlikely that the Panthers will be able to offer Weiss a deal that makes him decide not to test the waters of free agency.
With Florida struggling to recapture the magic of 2011-12, it seems likely that the Cats will be sellers at the trade deadline. Weiss is their big chip, allowing them to acquire prospects who could play with future stars Jonathan Huberdeau and Jacob Markstrom, making Florida a competitive team in a few years.
Current Salary: $4.2 million
This is a huge year for the St. Louis Blues.
After winning the competitive Central Division in 2011-12, the Blues failed to get out of the second round of the playoffs when their offense simply couldn't produce. With the addition of Vladimir Tarasenko to the top six, the Blues have become very well-rounded.
Andy McDonald is not the offensive juggernaut he was back in his days in Anaheim, but he is still a key forward on this highly successful team. He can play center or wing, depending on the makeup of his line, and is an underappreciated backchecker.
The Blues need to keep him on board for the rest of the season, as his poise and experience will be valuable in the playoffs. After that, though, the team must concentrate on building its young talent, and the roster will likely run out of room for McDonald.
Current Salary: $6.125 million
No team faces tougher decisions this offseason than the Anaheim Ducks.
It begins with their captain, Ryan Getzlaf, slated to become an unrestricted free agent. Getzlaf is an outstanding leader and part of a potent top line at the Honda Center, and he has put up 46 or more assists in each of the last five seasons.
Still, Getzlaf is going to command some big bucks; he is making $6.125 million this year (prorated, of course) and the team won't be able to water down his cap hit with some cheaper years like they did with his last contract.
As long as Anaheim can afford him, though, Getzlaf needs to be the centerpiece of the team. He does so many things well and he is only 27 years old. If a Cup is in the cards for Anaheim in the near future, this guy is going to be involved.
Current Salary: $4.875 million
Ryan Getzlaf may be the most important member of the Anaheim Ducks, but his co-UFA-to-be, Corey Perry, is the man that the Ducks need to put the most effort into signing.
The former Hart winner is tough as nails and is a true goal scorer, the kind of guy who will see quite a few zeroes on contract offers if he hits the open market.
Thanks to the new CBA, Anaheim has an advantage in that they can sign Perry longer than any other team can, eight years instead of seven on the open market. But the big money teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens have the checkbooks to make up the difference.
If Anaheim can offer Perry an eight-year deal that sounds too good to pass by, then they might be able to avoid shipping him to free agency and losing out on one of the league's top players.
But if this deal isn't done by the time the playoffs end, it seems as though the Ducks will be parting ways with one-third of their lethal top line.