2013 NHL Free Agency: Predicting Which Teams Will Make the Biggest Splash

Tyler DonohueNational Recruiting AnalystJune 26, 2013

2013 NHL Free Agency: Predicting Which Teams Will Make the Biggest Splash

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    Years of financial planning have put particular NHL teams in position to make an impression on the current crop of free agents. While some squads are strapped by salary issues, others are set to make a splash and pursue some of the top players in a talent-laden market.

    Loyalty, location and playoff contention loom large on the list of most free agents' agendas. But in most cases, cash is king.

    Here's a look at teams with the financial flexibility and motive to make moves this offseason. Expect these franchises to be active members of the free-agent frenzy throughout the summer.

    Salary figures courtesy of CapGeek.com.

New Jersey Devils

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    Salary Cap Situation: $24.9 million under cap

    New Jersey has the necessary funds to bounce back from a brutal year. Last summer, the Devils watched captain Zach Parise depart for greener pastures in Minnesota, and a disastrous April derailed the team's playoff dreams.

    New Jersey's top priority is to retain forward David Clarkson, who has spent his entire career with the team and is truly coming into his own with 45 goals in the past 128 games. The Devils can't afford to see another franchise stalwart leave without getting anything in return.

    Rangers forward Ryane Clowe and Washington playmaker Mike Ribeiro are attractive targets. Don't be surprised if New Jersey gauges the interest of Jarome Iginla, the greatest scorer on the open market.

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Salary Cap Situation: $19.6 million under cap

    The Maple Leafs made the most of a shortened regular season, earning a playoff appearance for the first time since 2004. Toronto took Boston to a Game 7 overtime in the first round after falling behind 3-1 in the series, displaying grit and resilience that became a trademark of the team in 2013.

    This franchise is finally in a position to fight for a division title and could be just a few playmakers away from vaulting toward the upper echelon of Eastern Conference contenders. Forwards Clarke MacArthur and Tyler Bozak are top priorities when it comes to Toronto's own free agents.

    Beyond its current roster, New Jersey power forward David Clarkson is a compelling candidate. The unrestricted free agent is physical and just entering his prime.

Detroit Red Wings

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    Salary Cap Situation: $10.6 million under cap

    The Red Wings reached postseason play for the 22nd straight year, but the journey was quite a challenge. Detroit required four consecutive wins during the final stretch of the regular season to clinch a playoff spot, serving a wake-up call to the front office.

    This is a squad stacked with talent, and the Red Wings already made an excellent maneuver by keeping goalie Jimmy Howard off the market with a six-year deal. Impending unrestricted free agents Valtteri Filppula, Damien Brunner and Ian White will command substantial money, forcing the franchise to make difficult decisions early in the summer.

    How Detroit handles its own free agents will shape the organization's offseason approach. The Red Wings have always been capable of landing accomplished veterans, so expect the team to make inquiries on Iginla, Pittsburgh forward Pascal Dupuis and Florida franchise cornerstone Stephen Weiss. 

    The Red Wings love to reload without having to rebuild, so keep a close eye on how Detroit deals with a busy offseason.

New York Islanders

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    Salary Cap Situation: $29.2 million under cap

    Why not strike while the iron is hot?

    This once-proud franchise has suffered through lean years lately, but 2013 showed definitive signs of a promising future. New York won its first playoff game in six years, challenging top-seeded Pittsburgh throughout a six-game first-round series.

    Forward John Tavares is arguably the league's top young talent, and he has an equally youthful lineup supporting him. Now it's time to see if the franchise is willing to dig into its pockets and put its faith into the current regime.

    Veteran goalies Tim Thomas and Evgeni Nabokov are each unrestricted free agents and team would be wise to pursue other avenues in net. Restricted free agent Sergei Bobrovsky, the surprise 2013 Vezina Trophy winner, is just 24 years old and is certainly worth extending an offer sheet.

    A more likely and tangible target is Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith. The Coyotes are still struggling to make money, and it's hard to imagine the team matching what New York could offer. 

    The Islanders have more money to spend than any team in the NHL. New York could also use a veteran presence on the wings, so perhaps a familiar foe like Danny Briere makes sense.

Colorado Avalanche

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    Salary Cap Situation: $10.9 million under cap

    Franchise legends Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy have teamed up to rebuild Colorado. The Avalanche currently hold the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft and are bound to come away with a top-tier player or loaded trade package.

    Sakic seems intent on turning things around quickly in his first year as executive vice president, so expect a fast-paced effort to transform this roster. Colorado could shake things up by acquiring a collection of young talent, hoping one or two players emerge as stars in expanded roles.

    Pittsburgh's Tyler Kennedy is an intriguing restricted free agent. Forwards Clarke MacArthur (Toronto) and Nathan Horton (Boston) would both require significant contracts but are unrestricted free agents with high ceilings suitable for what the Avalanche aim to do.