Free agency opens on Friday and NHL teams are hoping to make the right signings that will add the necessary depth needed to win the Stanley Cup.
Another challenge for general managers will be to re-sign their own free agents and not risk losing them without getting any value in return.
When the New Jersey Devils lost Zach Parise and the Nashville Predators lost Ryan Suter last summer, the consequences were severe. Both teams went from being playoff-caliber clubs to not even being in the postseason race during the shortened 2013 season.
With the salary cap going down to $64.3 million (about an 8 percent drop from last year), re-signing players and acquiring help from outside the organization will be a difficult challenge for GMs.
Let's look at where your team stands as we unveil the offseason's first power rankings prior to free agency.
All salary and cap information courtesy of CapGeek.com.
The Florida Panthers find themselves in a rebuilding mode with very little elite talent, which is a situation not unfamiliar to this struggling franchise.
Florida finished 29th in goals scored, 30th in goals against and 30th in penalty killing last season.
Drafting two-way center Aleksander Barkov will give the team a legitimate first-line playmaker to play alongside Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau, but this team lacks the scoring depth needed to compete with the high-powered offenses it will go up against as part of a new division next season.
The Panthers have $17,069,625 in cap space and 20 players signed for 2013-14, so if ownership is willing to spend, this team could be a major player in free agency.
The shortened 2013 season was a difficult one for the Calgary Flames, as they traded longtime captain Jarome Iginla as well as top defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and lost starting goalie Miikka Kiprusoff to retirement.
The most frustrating part of losing Iginla and Bouwmeester was that the Flames didn't get any high-end prospects or young NHL talent in return.
Fans are hoping that this year's free agency goes better than last year's when the Flames handed out absurd contracts to defenseman Dennis Wideman and center Jiri Hudler. General manager Jay Feaster has $17,421,667 in cap space at his disposal with 19 players signed for next year.
His best option is to save the cap space for next season because, with the Flames in rebuilding mode, paying a veteran $4-6 million per season doesn't make sense.
Finishing at the bottom of the standings and earning a top-three pick for next year would be a good situation for Calgary.
After making the Western Conference Final in 2012, the Coyotes missed the playoffs entirely last season and the ownership problems have not gone away.
The Coyotes also won't be major players in free agency if they are still run by the league and not a new ownership group with the finances needed to sign top players.
However, the team just re-signed starting goalie Mike Smith to a new six-year contract worth $34 million, which was an overpayment considering he's had just one good year (2011-12).
Other weaknesses that general manager Don Maloney must address through free agency include a severe lack of talent and depth down the middle, the need for a top-six winger and a shutdown, physical defenseman.
The Buffalo Sabres seem to be doing a rebuild on the fly right now and it's going pretty well. They acquired some quality assets at last year's trade deadline and then followed up with a tremendous 2013 draft.
The next step in building for the future could include trading star goaltender Ryan Miller, who, at 32 years old, isn't likely to re-sign with a struggling club when his contract expires after next year.
Sticking with young head coach Ron Rolston, who took over for longtime bench boss Lindy Ruff last season, was a great move for the Sabres.
There is still a lot of work to be done, but this franchise is headed in the right direction.
The Winnipeg Jets barely missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season and now face a number of difficult free-agent decisions, with 15 players who have expiring contracts.
Winnipeg has only 13 players signed for next season, the fewest of all 30 teams.
The players who must be re-signed are top-four defenseman Zach Bogosian, top-six winger Blake Wheeler and forwards Alex Burmistrov as well as Bryan Little.
Even if the Jets sign a lot of their own free agents, they are currently $25,984,167 below the cap, so they should still have enough cap space to acquire someone on the free-agent market—preferably a defenseman who can provide some scoring from the blue line and excel on the penalty kill.
Winnipeg finished 30th in power-play success and 24th in penalty killing last season.
When the new NHL season kicks off in the fall, the Colorado Avalanche should be a much-improved team.
Injuries to key players and Ryan O'Reilly's contract dispute prevented the team from getting off to a good start in the shortened 2013 season, resulting in a last-place finish in the Western Conference.
A healthy roster and the addition of No. 1 overall pick Nathan MacKinnon, an elite center prospect with fantastic goal scoring and playmaking skills, will make Colorado a deeper and more talented team next season.
With $11,351,667 in cap space and 22 players signed for 2013-14, the Avalanche have the financial flexibility to sign one or two UFAs to improve a blue line that did not provide much scoring or strong defensive play in its own end.
Colorado finished 26th in goals scored and ranked 27th in GAA last year.
The New Jersey Devils did not wait until free agency to make a major roster move.
They acquired former Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Schneider in exchange for the ninth overall pick in Sunday's draft, which will help the Devils maintain their quality goaltending in the post-Martin Brodeur era.
As for free agency, the Devils have a number of important players to consider re-signing. The most notable one is winger David Clarkson, who scored 30 goals in 2011-12 and 15 in 48 games during the shortened 2013 season.
As a power forward with impressive goal scoring talent, Clarkson will be among the top UFAs if he tests the open market.
Young center Adam Henrique, whose sophomore season didn't go as planned due to injuries, is an RFA and deserving of a raise. As one of the team's few young forwards with star potential, he must be re-signed.
Longtime Devils forward Patrik Elias is also a UFA, but after spending his entire career in New Jersey, it would be shocking if he left in free agency.
With $16,962,500 in cap space and 19 players already signed, the Devils have enough money to re-sign their most important free agents. Whether ownership is willing to spend enough money to keep them is the real question.
Buying out Vincent Lecavalier has begun a new era in Tampa Bay, one that will be led by superstar forward Steven Stamkos and this year's No. 3 overall draft pick, Jonathan Drouin.
The Lightning were not a good defensive team last season, finishing 26th in GAA and 19th in penalty killing. Poor goaltending also didn't help, and general manager Steve Yzerman attempted to remedy this situation at the trade deadline by acquiring young goalie Ben Bishop from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for talented rookie winger Cory Conacher.
With $9,159,523 in cap space and no major free agents to re-sign, expect the Lightning to pursue an impact player in free agency to help end the team's two-year playoff drought.
The Edmonton Oilers were unable to make the playoffs last season due to a number of injuries to important players and a few young stars (Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) failing to live up to expectations.
Reaching the postseason is priority No. 1 in Edmonton this season and there's a good chance that the team will accomplish this goal if healthy.
The blue line, arguably the team's most glaring weakness, was strengthened at Sunday's draft with the selection of defenseman Darnell Nurse at seventh overall.
The next challenge for the Oilers is to re-sign center Sam Gagner, who finished second on the team in scoring last season with 38 points. After taking care of Gagner, Edmonton must focus on signing a veteran defenseman who can provide a physical presence and consistently strong defense against opposing teams' top scorers.
With $14,935,833 in cap space, the Oilers will have the financial flexibility to acquire that player if general manager Craig MacTavish finds a good fit.
New general manager Jim Nill is off to a great start with the Dallas Stars after arriving to the franchise from the Detroit Red Wings following the 2013 season.
He signed veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar to a two-year deal, which will result in the team getting some much-needed scoring from the blue line.
Nill also had a fantastic draft by taking talented Russian winger Valeri Nichushkin at pick No. 10, playmaking center Jason Dickinson at No. 40 and two-way forward Remi Elie with the 40th overall selection.
His next priority should be finding a defensive defenseman, one who is capable of improving the penalty kill and adding a physical presence to a less-than-intimidating Stars blue line.
If the price is right, Nill should be able to acquire this kind of player because he has $13,857,223 in cap space to work with.
Despite having a 3-2 series lead against the New York Rangers and the benefit of playing Game 7 on home ice, the Washington Capitals ended another season in disappointment with a first-round exit.
Washington needs more veteran experience and leadership in addition to a legitimate No. 1, shutdown defenseman. The Caps will also be looking for a second-line center now that Mike Ribeiro will become a UFA on July 5.
With just $8,465,705 in cap space, general manager George McPhee would be better off plugging some of his roster holes with young players and top prospects rather than finding a short-term fix via free agency.
The Carolina Hurricanes' bold moves to acquire Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin last offseason did not help the franchise end its playoff drought, which is now four years long.
It's a challenge that will grow increasingly difficult with the team moving into a tougher division as part of the NHL's realignment plan for 2013-14.
Improving the team's blue line has to be a top priority for general manager Jim Rutherford. His team finished 29th in goals against and 28th in penalty killing last season.
With $6,397,500 in cap space and only 17 players signed for next season, Carolina may be forced to strengthen its blue line from within the organization. Expect top defensive prospect Ryan Murphy to play an important role at the NHL level next season.
The Nashville Predators were very lucky to draft top defensive prospect Seth Jones with the No. 4 pick in Sunday's draft. He will join an already talented blue line that includes captain Shea Weber and emerging star Roman Josi.
Nashville will be difficult to score on next season with a deep and talented blue line that is anchored by elite goaltender Pekka Rinne.
The team's most glaring weakness is its lack of scoring depth. Top prospect Filip Forsberg, who was acquired in the Martin Erat deal at last year's trade deadline, will likely play a top-six role in 2013-14, but general manager David Poile must make a move in free agency to improve an offense that was tied for last in goals scored last season.
Luckily for Poile, he has $12,148,690 of cap space to work with.
The Vancouver Canucks have just $3,297,222 in cap space with only 16 players under contract for the 2013-14 season.
Even if they use their two compliance buyouts, it's unlikely that this team will make much of an impact in free agency.
The Canucks won the Northwest Division for the fifth straight season in 2013, but were unable to advance past the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year. The team has also lost 10 of its last 11 postseason games dating back to Game 6 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
Vancouver has a number of star players, good talent on defense and a proven goaltender in Roberto Luongo, but it lacks the depth and grit required to win in the postseason.
With an aging roster and a new head coach, the chances of the Canucks making a deep playoff run next season are slim.
The Minnesota Wild made headlines in free agency last summer by signing the two best players available, forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts.
This resulted in the Wild making the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season, but they were soundly beaten in the first round by the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Minnesota won't be as aggressive in free agency this offseason due to the fact that it has $2,451,132 in cap space, the smallest amount of any team.
Luckily for the Wild, they have an impressive prospect pool and will address their weaknesses (scoring depth, top-six defensemen) from within the organization.
The Flyers' decisions to buy out the contracts of forward Danny Briere and goaltender Ilya Byrzgalov gave general manager Paul Holmgren the cap space needed to finalize the signing of top UFA defenseman Mark Streit to a four-year, $21 million deal.
At the moment, Philadelphia has just $4,181,478 in cap space with 23 players signed.
After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07, Philadelphia has plenty of work to do in the offseason before it challenges for a Stanley Cup.
The Flyers need to add more defensive skill, toughness and depth to their blue line because they won't achieve success in the playoffs by relying on a high-powered offense.
Finding a starting goalie who will be consistent for a full season is also on the to-do list.
The New York Islanders were a major winner of the 2013 season because they made the playoffs for the first time in six years and many of their best young players gained important experience.
To build on that success, general manager Garth Snow must re-sign a number of key free agents, including defensemen Travis Hamonic (RFA) and Thomas Hickey (RFA), forward Josh Bailey (RFA) and recently acquired grinder Cal Clutterbuck (RFA).
With $32,812,667 in cap space, the most of any team, New York has all the room it needs to re-sign its best players and bring in one or two upgrades from outside the organization.
The two most glaring weaknesses that the Islanders must address are the lack of a top-pairing defenseman after the departure of captain Mark Streit and the need for another top-six forward—preferably a winger.
The Ottawa Senators upset the second-seeded Montreal Canadiens in the 2013 conference quarterfinals, but were beaten in convincing fashion by the Pittsburgh Penguins in a quick, five-game second-round series.
That series defeat highlighted the Senators' lack of scoring depth.
After finishing the regular season 27th in goals scored, Ottawa must make improvements in free agency even if All-Star forward Jason Spezza enters next year fully healthy and longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson is re-signed.
With $22,074,167 in cap space this summer, the third-most of all 30 teams, the Senators have the financial flexibility needed to make a major upgrade to a roster that is already of playoff caliber.
The Columbus Blue Jackets nearly made the playoffs last season after many people, myself included, picked them to finish last in the Central Division again.
Led by goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, the Blue Jackets finished tied for the eighth seed in the Western Conference, but missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker.
Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy and was re-signed to a two-year contract on Monday. Re-signing him was Columbus' main goal before free agency, which means that team President of Hockey Operations John Davidson can now focus on improving his team's bottom-six depth and talent in the weak albeit deep free-agent class.
He has $8,991,191 of cap space to work with.
With an abundance of good young talent at the NHL level and in their prospect pool, the Blue Jackets are likelier to make a splash in the trade market than in free agency this summer.
The Montreal Canadiens rebounded from finishing last in the Northeast Division during the 2011-12 season to winning it last year.
The remarkable turnaround was a result of a healthy roster, a Norris Trophy-winning campaign by P.K. Subban, strong goaltending and impressive rookie performances by Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk.
With $9,024,167 in cap space, general manager Marc Bergevin must consider re-signing depth forward Colby Armstrong, who is a UFA. He should also think about saving some of that money for next summer, when important players such as Subban, Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin, Lars Eller and captain Brian Gionta all become free agents.
If the Canadiens are unable to sign UFA Vincent Lecavalier, it wouldn't be surprising if Montreal made no major moves in the offseason. This wouldn't be a bad course of action given the team's impressive amount of young talent and prospect depth.
A first-round exit was not what the St. Louis Blues were expecting in 2013 after shocking everyone by winning the Central Division in 2011-12.
This will be an expensive summer for the Blues if they are to keep their top free agents, a list that includes star defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, veteran blueliner Jordan Leopold and top-six winger Chris Stewart.
St. Louis has $15,825,000 in cap space to keep its best players and make a few upgrades via trade or in the free-agent market.
The No. 1 weakness for the Blues to address is the lack of an elite goal scorer because the team scored just 10 goals in its six-game quarterfinal defeat to the Los Angeles Kings.
The New York Rangers should improve under new head coach Alain Vigneault, who will likely get rid of the rigid defense-first system that former bench boss John Tortorella employed and let the team open up a bit offensively to score more goals and create more chances.
Deciding to not buy out veteran forward Brad Richards maintains the team's strong depth down the middle and gives him another chance to prove he's still a top-six forward.
With $14,155,833 in cap space, general manager Glen Sather must re-sign key RFAs Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh, who are two of the team's best players and young talents to build around for many years.
Looking into new contracts for elite goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and captain Ryan Callahan should also be considered, as both players will become UFAs after the 2013-14 season.
New York is just a few upgrades (top-six forward, physical defenseman) away from being a top Stanley Cup contender in 2013-14.
The Toronto Maple Leafs always play a big part in the offseason given their status as a major-market team with deep pockets and a willingness to win championships.
This will be a very important summer for the Leafs because they have a number of key free agents to re-sign, including Clarke MacArthur (UFA), Tyler Bozak (UFA), Nazem Kadri (RFA), Joe Colborne (RFA), Jonathan Bernier (RFA), Cody Franson (RFA) and Carl Gunnarson (RFA).
The team's two best players, star winger Phil Kessel and No. 1 defenseman Dion Phaneuf, have just one year left on their contracts and it would be wise of general manager Dave Nonis to determine their futures with the Leafs as soon as possible.
With $15,445,833 in cap space, expect Toronto to be active over the next few weeks.
The San Jose Sharks had an impressive 2013 season that ended with a tough loss in Game 7 of the second round to the Los Angeles Kings.
The bright spot of the team's season was the impressive performance of goaltender Antti Niemi, who led the league in wins and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.
Re-signing superstar forward and future face of the franchise, Logan Couture, to a five-year, $30 million contract after the playoffs was a great move. General manager Doug Wilson also had a good 2013 draft with the extra picks he acquired at last year's trade deadline.
With just $2,643,333 in cap space, San Jose doesn't have much flexibility to make an impact in free agency, but there aren't too many weaknesses on its roster to address.
Expect 2012 first-round pick Tomas Hertl to make his NHL debut and challenge for a top-six forward role next year.
The Anaheim Ducks were one of the most improved teams in 2013, winning the Pacific Division and being the only team to never lose against the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks (3-0 in the regular season).
General manager Bob Murray did most of his offseason work before the trade deadline by re-signing superstar forwards Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf to eight-year contracts worth over $8 million per season.
Murray has $7,490,833 in cap space to re-sign veteran forwards David Steckel, Matthew Lombardi, Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne. If one, two or three of these players leave via free agency, the Ducks will need to fill their holes on the third and fourth lines with young prospects and inexpensive veterans.
With that said, Anaheim already has a strong roster for next season and will be a top contender to win the Western Conference.
The model franchise of the NHL enjoyed a successful 2013 season in what was supposed to be a "bridge year" following the departures of captain Nicklas Lidstrom and veteran defenseman Brad Stuart.
The Detroit Red Wings upset the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the playoffs and nearly upset the No. 1-ranked Chicago Blackhawks in the second round, losing in overtime of Game 7 after giving up a 3-1 series lead.
General manager Ken Holland re-signed starting goaltender Jimmy Howard before the playoffs, then re-upped superstar forward Pavel Datsyuk after the postseason with a three-year extension.
With $8,207,121 in cap space, his next challenges are to keep rookie forwards Joakim Andersson (RFA), Gustav Nyquist (RFA) and Damien Brunner (UFA).
Re-signing those young players may result in veterans Dan Cleary and Valtteri Filppula leaving via free agency, but no team replaces talent better than Detroit.
If the three youngsters are re-signed, the Red Wings will be a dark horse to win the Eastern Conference next year.
The Pittsburgh Penguins' amazing season ended in disappointing fashion when they were swept out of the Eastern Conference Final by a physical, deep and experienced Boston Bruins team.
Pittsburgh scored only two goals in the third round, which was shocking considering the amazing collection of offensive skill the team had up and down its roster.
General manager Ray Shero has a lot to do this summer with many notable free agents to speak with, including Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke, Craig Adams and Douglas Murray. He has only $7,876,667 in cap space to work with.
It wouldn't be surprising if Iginla and Morrow leave via free agency, especially since they could probably make a lot more money by signing with different teams as UFAs.
Coming into the offseason, Shero's highest priority was determining the future of Norris Trophy finalist and No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang. According to Renaud Lavoie of RDS, the two sides have reportedly agreed to an eight-year deal worth $58 million. Letang's current deal expires after next season.
Despite the liklihood of losing some important veterans from its 2013 roster, Pittsburgh will once again be a top Stanley Cup contender next year.
After winning the Stanley Cup in 2011-12, the Los Angeles Kings were unable to successfully defend their title because they faced an amazing Chicago Blackhawks team in the Western Conference Final and had many important players battling through tough injuries in the playoffs.
To return to the Stanley Cup Final, general manager Dean Lombardi must re-sign two key defensemen. Rob Scuderi is a UFA and an integral part of the team's blue line with his shot-blocking and penalty-killing skill. Rookie Jake Muzzin, who was quite impressive last year, is an RFA.
With only $6,638,106 in cap space, Lombardi doesn't have much financial flexibility this summer. As a result, veteran forwards Dustin Penner and Trevor Lewis may leave the team in free agency.
Even if they lose a couple of players from the 2013 team, the Kings will still be a championship contender because of the team's goaltending, top-six talent and deep blue line.
The Boston Bruins' magical season didn't have a happy ending after the team gave up a 2-1 third-period lead with two minutes left in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, allowing the Chicago Blackhawks to win their second championship in four years.
Despite the difficult ending to the season, there is a lot for Boston hockey fans to look forward to in the near future.
The Bruins still have great forward depth, especially down the middle. On the blue line, Boston has more depth and talent than any NHL team, with veterans Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid in additon to young defensemen Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski.
With Andrew Ference told he won't be brought back and winger Nathan Horton looking to explore free agency, additional cap space will become available to re-sign RFA goaltender Tuukka Rask, who could earn as much as $7 million per season in his next contract.
General manager Peter Chiarelli has $5,153,690 in cap space, plus an additional $4 million if the team puts veteran forward Marc Savard on long-term injury reserve.
If Chiarelli re-signs Rask and adds a goal scoring winger to his lineup this summer, the Bruins will be the favorites to win the Eastern Conference next season.
The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in six games over the Boston Bruins and have a better chance to repeat than any defending champion since the Detroit Red Wings became the last team to win back-to-back titles in 1997-98.
Most of this year's championship team will return in 2013-14, excluding forwards Dave Bolland (traded to Toronto) and Michael Frolik (traded to Winnipeg).
Free-agent goaltender Ray Emergy (UFA), center Michal Handzus (UFA) and winger Viktor Stalberg (UFA) also might not come back.
Unlike the team's last championship summer in 2010, general manager Stan Bowman doesn't have to totally remake his third and fourth lines due to salary-cap problems.
Not only does his team have strong depth at forward and on the blue line, top prospects and young NHLers Teuvo Teravainen, Brandon Pirri, Jeremy Morin and Jimmy Hayes will also make a stronger impact next year by providing bottom-six scoring and grit.
The Blackhawks have elite forwards (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa), All-Star-caliber defensemen (Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook), an elite coach (Joel Quenneville) and strong prospect depth.
This franchise is well-positioned to win more Stanley Cups over the next five years.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Finals.