The 2013 NHL free-agent crop isn't as loaded as it could have been due to elite players such as Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Alexander Semin signing extensions during the season. However, there will still be plenty of talent available for the taking when the NHL's spending spree begins on July 1.
Who is the best free agent on the market?
Despite the fact that there are few elite players available—if any—teams are always willing to spend in order to improve. This year's free-agent class is more about adding depth, experience and specific pieces that can potentially take a good team and make it a great team.
Here are the hottest commodities that figure to be available when free agency starts, as well as analysis on what will make them so attractive to potential suitors.
With 530 career goals to his credit, forward Jarome Iginla is likely a future Hall of Famer. At 35 years old, his skills aren't what they used to be, but he has proven that he is still capable of contributing in a major way. The longtime Calgary Flame was re-energized upon being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins this season as he racked up 11 points in 13 games and has been a key contributor for the No. 1-seeded Penguins in the playoffs.
Iginla will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, though, so it is difficult to say where he will ultimately end up. Pittsburgh seems like a great fit for him, but the Penguins have so many free agents and so little cap room that re-signing him will be difficult. Thanks to his experience, track record, goal-scoring ability and size, Iginla will be a main target for several contending teams this offseason.
Prior to this lockout-shortened season, Iginla netted at least 31 goals in each and every season since 2000-01. That type of consistency is nearly impossible to find in the NHL, so Iggy should have his pick of the litter. It's usually tough for a 35-year-old player to get a long-term contract, but with so few stars available, Iginla may be able to milk a team for three or more years in an effort to score one last big contract.
Look for contending teams with cap room, such as the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings, to be players for Iginla this offseason.
Great defensemen are always at a premium in the NHL, but great defensemen who can move the puck and put up points are like gold. With that said, New York Islanders blueliner Mark Streit stands to make a fortune this offseason. The Islanders could have traded him at the deadline, but they decided to keep him and make a run at the playoffs. The Isles did manage to qualify for the postseason, however, they now stand to lose Streit for nothing if they opt not to re-sign him.
Streit has been one of New York's biggest stars since it signed him prior to the 2008-09 season. The Swiss rearguard brought some much-needed punch to the Islanders' back end and helped guide a young and inexperienced team as well. He has posted at least 47 points in each of his last four full seasons, and although he has only been a "plus" player once in four seasons with the Isles, that has much to do with the lack of talent around him.
At 35, perhaps Streit is on the decline to some degree, but he would be a great fit on a contending team in need of a puck mover. He has always been a model player and is a great leader as well, so he wouldn't disrupt the locker room chemistry on a good team. Streit is like former New Jersey Devils and Anaheim Ducks defenseman Scott Niedermayer in a lot of ways. He isn't a Hall-of-Fame-caliber player like Niedermayer, but he's smart, offensively-gifted and leads by example.
Every team in the league could use someone like Streit. If New York decides to not re-sign him after already extending a similar player in Lubomir Visnovsky, look for the Edmonton Oilers to be in the mix. They need defensive help and have been linked to Streit in the past.
There is no doubt that the wide-open style of play that existed following the 2004-05 NHL lockout no longer exists, so big-bodied forwards who can score are more important than ever. New Jersey Devils forward David Clarkson seems to be hitting free agency at the perfect time as he scored 15 goals in just 48 games this season and 30 the year before. Thanks to his combination of scoring and toughness, he will be highly sought after come July 1.
Clarkson has always played with an edge, thrown body checks and thrown punches as well, but he was never a big scorer. Prior to netting 30 goals last year, he had never scored more than 17 in a season. Clarkson loves to go to the dirty areas, though, and that has allowed him to become a reliable offensive player. His goals are rarely flashy, but a goal is a goal regardless of how it comes about.
It can be argued that Clarkson is a perfect player for the Devils as he is an honest, hard-working hockey player. They have been unable to reach terms on a contract extension, though, so Clarkson figures to be readily available. According to TSN Radio, one team that would love to sign him is the Toronto Maple Leafs.
@darrendreger - David Clarkson will be a priority for Dave Nonis and the Leafs in the off-season— TSN Radio (@TSN1050Radio) May 4, 2013
The Leafs will have a lot of competition, though, as Clarkson is the type of player who can play effectively on any line for any team. He was in on so many big plays during the Devils' improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals last year as well, so he has proven capable of stepping up in big games. Clarkson could very well be the talk of the offseason.
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