Soon-to-Be NHL Free Agents with Most to Prove in 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IMay 17, 2013

Soon-to-Be NHL Free Agents with Most to Prove in 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    It happens each year in the playoffs: there are players not only fighting for the Stanley Cup, but to upgrade their own hockey future because they are scheduled to become free agents this summer.

    As a result, a strong playoffs can mean not only wins but a lot of money for these players.

    To appear on this list, a player has to still be alive in the postseason and a potential unrestricted free agent this offseason.

    In addition, there has to be some potential issues or questions surrounding the player's future that can be resolved or settled in the mind of potential suitors with a strong playoff performance.

    Feel free to mention any players you feel belong on this list that I left out, but please say why you feel the player belongs on the list.

10. Scott Gomez

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    Scott Gomez was let go by the Canadiens before the start of this season for his low production and high salary.

    He signed with the Sharks this year to play on the fourth line and help out on the second power-play unit. The results were OK but hardly spectacular. In 39 games, Gomez scored twice and added 13 assists—eight of those coming on the power play.

    A strong playoff performance by Gomez may convince the Sharks to re-sign him or some other team to take a flier on the veteran center next season.

    So far, Gomez is not off to a great start with no points in three postseason games.

    He has registered six shots on goal in three games, however, which is not bad for a fourth line player that logs limited minutes.

9. Michal Rozsival

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    Michal Rozsival is a veteran defenseman who will turn 35 before the start of next season.

    The Czech native has good size and hockey smarts but is obviously on the downside of his career.

    During the regular season, Rozsival was productive when called upon. He played 27 games for the Blackhawks and picked up 12 assists. He was also a plus-18—which shouldn't be too surprising playing on the team with the best record in the NHL.

    A strong playoff performance by Rozsival would guarantee him some more offers from NHL teams for next season.

    In Rozsival's case, a strong playoff is not measured in goals and assists. He needs to be reliable in his own zone, help kill penalties when called upon and be smart with the puck.

8. Rob Scuderi

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    Rob Scuderi has won two Stanley Cups during his career, one with Pittsburgh in 2009 and one with the Kings last season.

    Scuderi has never been an offensive force. His strength is playing well in his own zone, taking the body and clearing the puck out to start his club's transition from defense to offense.

    Now, the Syosset, New York, native is 34 years old. He has been a minus player in each of the last two seasons and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

    A strong postseason would put Scuderi in a better position to get one last multi-year contract from an NHL team.

    Scuderi is off to a good start. In seven playoff games, Scuderi has two assists and is a plus-three. He has also been credited with 15 blocked shots and nine hits.

7. Raffi Torres

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    Entering the playoffs, Raffi Torres belonged on this list.

    The 31-year-old Toronto native seemed to undergo a rebirth after being acquired by the San Jose Sharks midway through this season. Torres scored six points in 11 games for the Sharks while adding a valuable physical element to the San Jose lineup.

    In five playoff games, Torres was off to a good start. He had one goal, 18 hits in and had stayed out of the penalty box—picking up just two penalty minutes.

    Unfortunately for Torres, his reputation precedes him. He received a controversial suspension from Brendan Shanahan after a hit on Jarret Stoll. Torres is one of the biggest repeat offenders in the league and is now out for the rest of the Sharks-Kings series.

    The Sharks were relying on Torres to combat the Kings superior size and physical style of play. His absence may be very costly to the Sharks.

    If San Jose defeats Los Angeles and advances to the third round of the playoffs, Torres may have a chance to redeem himself. If not, his playoff suspension may make teams wary of signing him this summer when he hits the open market.

6. Brenden Morrow

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    Brenden Morrow went from being captain of the Dallas Stars to being more of a role player on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Morrow's offensive numbers jumped when he joined the Penguins. In Dallas, Morrow scored just six goals and 11 points in 29 games. With the Penguins, the 34-year-old veteran scored 14 points in 15 contests.

    Skeptics will say anybody's offensive numbers will jump when they play on a team that features Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, but a strong postseason would help dispel that notion.

    Morrow's solid play has to go beyond just putting up points. He needs to dig for pucks in the corners, be responsible in his own zone and show leadership in the locker room to demonstrate his potential value to another team this summer.

    Thus far, Morrow has just two assists in seven playoff games and has a minus-three.

5. Viktor Stalberg

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    Unlike many of the other players on this list, Chicago's Viktor Stalberg is in the prime of his career at the age of 27.

    Stalberg had a down year this season, scoring nine goals and 23 points in 47 games—off of last year's pace of 22 goals and 43 points.

    The Swede was still a solid plus-16—the best plus/minus rating of his NHL career. A strong postseason would certainly erase the memories of a sub-par offensive season for Stalberg.

    Unfortunately, Stalberg is not off to a good start in the playoffs this year. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville benched Stalberg for Game 1 of his club's series against Detroit after he registered only one assist in five games against the Wild.

    Stalberg needs to show his present team and potential suitors a little bit more during the remainder of the playoffs to solidify his negotiating position this summer.

4. Ryane Clowe

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    It's been a rough season for Rangers winger Ryane Clowe. He started the season in San Jose and struggled—failing to score a goal in 28 games.

    A late-season trade to the New York Rangers ended his goal-scoring slump, but his season totals were an underwhelming three goals and 19 points in 40 games.

    Clowe has a pair of 20-goal seasons and one with 19 in his NHL career, so he is capable of putting the puck in the net.

    A strong playoff after a down year would certainly make Clowe a more attractive free agent this summer if the Rangers decide not to re-sign him.

    Unfortunately for Clowe, he has appeared in only two playoff games thus far and is out of the lineup with an undisclosed injury.

3. Damien Brunner

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    Swiss native Damien Brunner had an uneven rookie season in the NHL.

    The 27-year-old scored some highlight-reel goals during the season, but his final statistics were just average: 12 goals and 26 points in 44 games. Ten of his 26 points came on the power play.

    Clearly, Brunner has skills and potential. A strong performance in the playoffs would go a long way towards establishing him as a bona fide NHL player and give him a chance to play top-six minutes next season either in Detroit or elsewhere.

    He's off to a good start thus far with three goals and six points in eight playoff games.

2. Jarome Iginla

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    Jarome Iginla will be 36 years old before the start of the 2013-14 NHL season.

    It is very likely his 50-goal seasons are behind him and, instead of being a star like he was in Calgary, he will now be a role player when he starts next season with a new NHL team.

    That doesn't mean Iginla can't still be an effective hockey player. He finished this season with 33 points in 44 games—solid numbers for a veteran forward who should still see top-six minutes.

    Still, a strong postseason would help show just how valuable Iginla can be. On the Penguins, Iginla can add leadership without having to be the leader. He can score goals without having to be his club's top offensive weapon.

    Iginla is off to a very strong start. He has scored at least one point in each of the Penguins' first seven postseason games. He has two goals and 10 points with four of his points coming on the Pittsburgh power play.

    If he keeps playing well and the Penguins go on a long playoff run, Iginla will increase his leverage with NHL general managers this summer.

1. Nathan Horton

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    Injuries are the biggest question mark facing Boston's Nathan Horton. The talented Welland, Ontario, native played in only 46 games last season and missed another five contests this year due to injuries.

    Horton tallied 13 goals and 22 points during this season.

    A strong performance during the playoffs—when the style of play is more physical and intense—would go a long way towards showing potential suitors that Horton is worth signing to a lucrative free-agent deal.

    In his first seven postseason games, Horton is off to a strong start with four goals and seven points. Two of his goals have been game-winners. He also is an impressive plus-11 and has 11 hits.