The 2013-14 NHL season is coming into sharp focus with the start of free agency at the end of the week.
Teams will be able to sign free agents on July 5. While the current crop of free agents don't appear to have the star power that last year's class had with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter (both signed by the Minnesota Wild), there are a number of big-name free agents who can make a big difference.
The free-agent class has been made more interesting by the compliance buyout of Vincent Lecavalier by the Tampa Bay Lightning and the possible return of former Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas.
Here's a team-by-team look at this year's class of free agents.
(Contract status of players mentioned courtesy of CapGeek.com.)
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, Matthew Lombardi, David Steckel and Radek Dvorak. Defensemen Toni Lydman, Jordan Henry and Nate Guenin.
Top Priorities: Selanne will either retire or return to the Ducks. The 42-year-old finished with 12 goals and 12 assists last season, a significant reduction from previous years. Koivu still may have a couple of productive years left. Toni Lydman is not a star on the blue line, but he is a solid defensive defenseman and the Ducks would have a hole to fill if he leaves.
What's at Stake: The Ducks had an excellent regular season as the second seed in the Western Conference. However, they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. They should be in good shape to repeat their regular-season success, but they could probably use a bit more scoring depth in the postseason.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Nathan Horton, Jaromir Jagr, Kaspars Daugavins and Jay Pandolfo. Defensemen Wade Redden, Andrew Ference and Aaron Johnson. Goaltender Anton Khudobin.
Top Priorities: Tuukka Rask is a restricted free agent and signing him to a new deal is Peter Chiarelli's top priority.
The Bruins did not lock up Horton during the season and he surprised the Bruins' brass when he told them he was going to exercise his free-agent rights and go to a new team, per The Boston Globe. Since it seems very unlikely that Horton will return, they could use a top-six right wing and they are talking to Vincent Lecavalier. Redden and Daugavins could be positive additions, but they are not priorities.
Jagr and Ference will not return. If Khudobin leaves, the Bruins will be vulnerable at the backup goalie position.
What's at Stake: The Bruins are a perennial power and should be an Eastern Conference contender once again if they can resign Rask and replace Horton.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forward Jochen Hecht. Defensemen Alexander Sulzer and Adam Pardy.
Top Priorities: The Sabres have no worries as far as their own free agents are concerned. If they don't sign Hecht, head coach Ron Rolston (above) will not be concerned. The key for the Sabres will be to sign one or two decent free agents so they can get more competitive after missing the playoffs each of the last two seasons.
What's at Stake: The Sabres are going through a retooling process. While they can play better next season, it will be difficult to make the playoffs in 2013-14. They should probably be looking at a return to the postseason in the 2014-15 season.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Roman Cervenka, Steve Begin and Brian McGrattan. Defenseman Anton Babchuk. Goaltender Leland Irving.
Top Priorities: The Flames are in the rebuilding process and having a solid defenseman like Babchuk would help them prepare for the 2013-14 season. None of the Flames' other free agents are key players, although Cervenka has some usefulness. General manager Jay Feaster would like to land one or two solid free agents as the Flames rebuild for the future.
What's at Stake: The Flames will probably have to go through a building process for at least two seasons. They finally acknowledged the need to tear it down in order to build it back up when they traded Jarome Iginla prior to the trade deadline. It will not be an easy process and Flames supporters will need plenty of patience.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Chad LaRose and Tim Brent. Defensemen Joe Corvo, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Bobby Sanguinetti. Goalie Dan Ellis.
Top Priorities: The Hurricanes had a terrific first half of the season before falling apart in the second half after goalie Cam Ward was injured. None of the Hurricanes' free agents are make-or-break players, although Corvo has a decent shot and Bergeron can also contribute. However, the Canes are going to want to upgrade their defense through free agency and Andrew Ference would seem to be a good fit for them.
What's at Stake: The Hurricane are a tough and competitive team. They need a healthy Ward in net and a solid backup. They should be able to compete for a playoff spot next season with just a bit of a free-agent upgrade.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Michal Handzus, Viktor Stalberg and Jamal Mayers. Defenseman Michal Rozsival. Goalie Ray Emery.
Top Priorities: The Blackhawks may have just won the Stanley Cup, but general manager Stan Bowman already made several big moves by trading Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik so he could have the cap room to sign Bryan Bickell to a new contract. If the Blackhawks don't sign Emery, they will need to find a competent backup who can take pressure off of Corey Crawford.
What's at Stake: The Blackhawks were thrilled with Bickell in the postseason and they didn't want to risk losing him through free agency. The Blackhawks would like to add some depth on defense if they can't bring back Rozsival.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Milan Hejduk, Chuck Kobasew and Aaron Palushaj. Defenseman Sean Sullivan.
Top Priorities: The Avalanche are building a talented and young offensive team. However, they could use a lot of help on defense. If general manager Joe Sakic is going to help his team improve in the offseason, he needs to make a couple of additions to his blue line.
What's at Stake: The Avs are probably not going to be a playoff team this year. Sakic must try to improve blue-line play and goaltending if the Avs are going to become a playoff contender in 2014-15.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Vinny Prospal, Blake Comeau and Nicholas Drazenovic. Defenseman Adrian Aucoin. Goalie Michael Leighton.
Top Priorities: The Blue Jackets took care of their top priority when they signed Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Getting Prospal back would help them continue to improve after his 12 goal, 18 assist season. Team president John Davidson also needs to sign at least two outside free agents to keep the team on the right track.
What's at Stake: The Blue Jackets were a miserable franchise in 2011-12 and they took a huge step up the ladder in 2013. That's a solid achievement, but the Blue Jackets must sustain their improvement if they are going to get to the playoffs this year or next.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forward Eric Nystrom. Defenseman Jordie Benn.
Top Priorities: The Stars were unable to make any progress under Joe Nieuwendyk, so they jettisoned their former hero and brought in Jim Nill from the Red Wings to turn things around. Nill has a solid understanding of priorities and expect him to rebuild the Stars' defense before he turns his attention to the offense. That does not mean he won't sign any free-agent forwards, but they will be players who can play the 200-foot game. Nystrom and Benn are not priorities.
What's at Stake: The Stars would like to return to the playoffs, but the important thing is building a foundation this season so they can launch an offensive to the postseason in 2014-15.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Valtteri Filppula, Danny Cleary and Damien Brunner. Defenseman Ian White.
Top Priorities: The Red Wings have been one of the elite franchises in the NHL and their free agents are all players who can contribute. While it's unlikely that general manager Ken Holland can keep all four unrestricted free agents listed above, they all would help the Wings succeed in 2013-14.
Holland will also go after top-name free agents on July 5, and after losing out on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter last year, he may not be denied this year. Vincent Lecavalier could be one of his priorities.
What's at Stake: The Red Wings were supposed to have difficulty last year with the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom, but they won a playoff round and pushed the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to overtime of the seventh game. The Red Wings need to have a positive free-agent signing period in order to remain competitive as they move to the Eastern Conference.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Ryan Jones, Lennart Petrell and Jerred Smithson. Defensemen Ryan Whitney, Theo Peckham and Mark Fistric. Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.
Top Priorities: New general manager Craig MacTavish needs to concentrate on making his team bigger and stronger up front and bringing in some size and skill on the blue line. He also may want to look at the goaltending situation.
There are no doubts about Edmonton's young talent, but they need size, strength and maturity if they are going to become a playoff team this season.
What's at Stake: The Oilers are loaded with young players who can score, but they have to establish a winning identity by playing with more toughness and grit. MacTavish must help them get there this season.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forward Stephen Weiss, Peter Mueller and Jack Skille. Defenseman Tyson Strachan. Goalie Jose Theodore.
Top Priorities: The Panthers are probably not as bad as the team that finished dead last in the Eastern Conference last year, but general manager Dale Tallon has a ton of work to do. While Tallon will do it the right way and build through the draft, he needs to bring in talented free agents who can score. Weiss is a solid player, but he could be high on the priority list for several teams and it may be difficult for Tallon to retain him.
What's at Stake: Tallon is a confident man who believes the Panthers are on the right track. He needs to improve the team a bit so they can make a solid jump in 2014-15.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Dustin Penner and Brad Richardson. Defenseman Rob Scuderi.
Top Priorities: The Kings know that Penner will give them a great effort once they get to the postseason, but he is not a consistent regular-season player. Scuderi is a solid defensive defenseman. General manager Dean Lombardi knows that Scuderi is the more consistent and important player.
What's at Stake: The Kings have one of the most talented teams in the Western Conference and should be a solid playoff team again next year. If they can sign Scuderi and an outside free agent, they should be in good shape for 2013-14.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Matt Cullen. Defenseman Brett Clark.
Top Priorities: The Wild made their big moves last year by bringing in Parise and Suter. They have $2.45 million in cap room at this point, so that means they will have a difficult time adding an impact player through free agency. Cullen scored 27 points in 42 games last year and he would help the Wild if they can retain his services.
What's at Stake: The Wild did most of their work last year when they brought in two superstars. Parise and Suter must continue to develop and become more dominant in the second year of their partnership in Minnesota.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Michael Ryder, Colby Armstrong, Jeff Halpern and Petteri Nokelainen. Defenseman Yannick Weber
Top Priorities: The Canadiens said they are not planning to bring Ryder back even though he is a sniper who could help them score clutch goals. The other free agents are not priorities.
The Canadiens are interested in adding size and strength in the future so they can compete with the bigger and stronger Boston Bruins on more even terms.
What's at Stake: The Canadiens had an excellent regular season, but they started to leak goals in the final quarter of the season. That continued in the postseason. While much of that is on goalie Carey Price, the Canadiens need more depth and strength on defense.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Brandon Yip and Chris Mueller. Goalie Chris Mason
Top Priorities: The Predators feel like they picked up a sensational young player when they drafted Seth Jones with the No. 4 pick in the first round. Now they need to add some offensive players through free agency. The Predators tied for 29th in scoring with an average of 2.27 goals per game.
General manager David Poile must make a couple of moves in free agency to improve the offense if the team is going to contend for a playoff spot in 2013-14.
What's at Stake: The Predators were in a state of shock after losing Ryan Suter in free agency last year and they never recovered. They can't live in the past any longer and they must find a way to score and play competitively after a poor 2013 season.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Patrik Elias, David Clarkson, Steve Sullivan, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Tom Kostopoulos. Defenseman Marek Zidlicky.
Top Priorities: The Devils face a critical free-agent signing period. If they lose Clarkson, that will hurt them badly and Elias's departure would also be a big problem. The Devils will be in trouble if they can't sign both of those players.
What's at Stake: The Devils have been able to bounce back from poor years throughout Lou Lamoriello's tenure. That may be difficult this year since the Devils have financial issues that have dogged them for the last few seasons.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Marty Reasoner, Brad Boyes, Keith Aucoin and Jesse Joensuu. Defenseman Radek Martinek. Goalies Tim Thomas and Nabokov
Top Priorities: The Islanders received a shot in the arm from their second-half surge that saw them earn a playoff spot. They would be well-advised to retain Reasoner, Boyes and Martinek if they are going to continue their growth. They also need a ton of help in goal. While several other teams are likely to go after Thomas, he would be a great fit for this team on the rise.
What's at Stake: The future looks bright for the Islanders thanks to the presence of superstar John Tavares and their coming move to Brooklyn. It is important for them to continue to grow and avoid any backsliding.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forward Ryane Clowe. Defensemen Roman Hamrlik, Michael Sauer, Steve Eminger and Matt Gilroy.
Top Priorities: The Rangers are not going to bring back Clowe and that's a good sign for this team that needs help on offense. Clowe is a hard working hustler with limited offensive gifts. The Rangers need to find more forwards who can put the puck in the net. Clowe would not help them in that area. The defensemen are role players and not priorities.
What's at Stake: The Rangers are trying to change their culture and they want to build a strong offensive team. They are not going to eliminate their defensive identity, but they need more offense.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Daniel Alfredsson, Guillaume Latendresse and Peter Regin. Defensemen Mike Lundin and Andre Benoit.
Top Priorities: The Senators overcame a series of serious injuries to make the playoffs and then beat the Montreal Canadiens in the opening round last year. They should be in a good position to improve, but general manager Bryan Murray would be well-advised to add offensive talent.
That does not necessarily mean bringing back Alfredsson. If they choose to let Alfredsson go, that would represent a huge emotional move for the franchise and they would also need to find someone who can step into the leadership void.
What's at Stake: The Senators are moving in the right direction under Murray and head coach Paul MacLean. Adding a solid offensive player would make their job much easier and keep this team on track towards contending in the Eastern Conference.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Simon Gagne, Jody Shelley, Mike Knuble and Adam Hall. Defensemen Matt Walker, Kurtis Foster and Kent Huskins.
Top Priorities: The Flyers need to improve their defense and goaltending during the offseason. They already traded for Islanders defenseman Mark Streit and signed him to a new deal, and they certainly have their eyes on improving their goaltending. The Flyers would seem to be a strong landing spot for Tim Thomas, who is exploring his options for the 2013-14 season and could return to the NHL.
What's at Stake: The Flyers may have been the best team not to make the playoffs last year. They can remedy that situation and become instant Eastern Conference contenders with an excellent offseason. General manager Paul Holmgren must continue to address his team's weak spots.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Boyd Gordon, Kyle Chipchura, Alexandre Bolduc and Chris Conner. Goalie Jason LaBarbera
Top Priorities: None of the Coyotes' free agents are game-changing players. The Coyotes may be just hours away from getting a read on their future and whether they will play in the desert any longer. Once they know that, general manager Don Maloney will be able to start making moves that will help this team return to a more competitive position. The Coyotes averaged 2.52 goals per game and need help on the offensive side.
What's at Stake: The Coyotes will either stay in Phoenix with a (likely) new owner or move to a new city. If they stay, they need to have a strong team to attract fans. If they move to Seattle or Quebec City, they will likely have a grace period before they are expected to win.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke and Craig Adams. Defensemen Douglas Murray and Mark Eaton.
Top Priorities: The Penguins added Iginla, Morrow and Murray in an effort to secure the 2013 Stanley Cup, but those plans fell apart when they were swept in the Eastern Conference Final by the Boston Bruins. The Penguins would like to retain Dupuis and Cooke. Iginla may not fit in their price structure. Morrow and Murray appear to have slowed a step.
What's at Stake: The Penguins may have lost four straight to the Bruins, but they still have a roster loaded with talent. General manager Ray Shero doesn't have to panic, although he might be wise to consider an upgrade in goal because Marc-Andre Fleury is not dependable and Tomas Vokoun is ordinary. They may want to look at Tim Thomas.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forward Jamie Langenbrunner. Defensemen Jordan Leopold and Jeff Woywitka
Top Priorities: The Blues have become one of the toughest and most determined teams to play against and that has led to two consecutive excellent regular seasons. It has not led to playoff success. If the Blues are going to take that next step, they will need to add another goal scorer in free agency.
What's at Stake: The Blues are at the cusp of greatness, but they need to prove themselves in the playoffs. If that doesn't happen this year, there could be some disillusionment with head coach Ken Hitchcock, who was seen as something of a miracle worker a little more than 12 months ago.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Scott Gomez and Tim Kennedy. Defenseman Scott Hannan. Goalie Thomas Greiss.
Top Priorities: The Sharks may have rebuilt Gomez's self-esteem following his buyout by the Montreal Canadiens, but he is not a priority player. Hannan has size at 6'1" and 225 pounds, but he's not a quality puck mover. The Sharks could use some additional scoring on offense and more talent on the blue line.
What's at Stake: The Sharks still depend on Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, but those two have never helped them get out of the Western Conference playoffs. It's difficult to see that changing any time soon.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Benoit Pouliot and Pierre-Cedric Labrie. Defenseman Mathieu Roy. Goalie Mathieu Garon
Top Priorities: The Lightning have a boatload of offensive talent even though they have bought out Vincent Lecavalier. They still have Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis and they drafted explosive Jonathan Drouin. The Lighting needs to improve defensively if they are going to get back to the playoffs after a two-year absence.
What's at Stake: The Lightning lost their focus and ability to finish games the last two years. They have a young goaltender in Ben Bishop who appears talented, but if Steve Yzerman is not convinced in his ability, then he may want to pursue Tim Thomas.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Clarke MacArthur and Tyler Bozak. Defensemen Ryan O'Byrne and Mike Kostka.
Top Priorities: The Maple Leafs got over one hump by getting to the playoffs, but their horrific seventh-game, third-period collapse will haunt them. They need to get tougher and more confident, and that means they must improve on the blue line. General manager Dave Nonis needs to make that his priority. He would like to keep Bozak, but that is not the most important thing at this point for the Leafs.
What's at Stake: The Maple Leafs are at a very critical point in their development. They seem to have enough offense, but if they are going to escape their nightmarish finish, they need to add player who can bring leadership and accountability to the locker room.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Derek Roy, Manny Malhotra, Mason Raymond, Maxim Lapierre and Steve Pinizzotto. Defensemen Andrew Alberts, Derek Joslin and Cam Barker.
Top Priorities: The Canucks have not been the same team since losing to the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the 2012 playoffs. They need to regain the edge that allowed them to get to the seventh game of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Raymond and Lapierre are edgy players, but they have lost some of their effectiveness. Roy lacks the grit the Canucks need.
What's at Stake: Hiring John Tortorella seems to be a desperate move for this team and trading Cory Schneider seemed to be another move in the wrong direction for general manager Mike Gillis. He may need a miracle to turn the Canucks back in the proper direction.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Mike Ribeiro and Matt Hendricks. Defenseman Tom Poti.
Top Priorities: Ribeiro had a fantastic season (13 goals and 36 assists) for the Capitals last year and they want him back. They were negotiating with him during the season, but they were unable to come to an agreement. Ribeiro wants the best deal he can get, so he may leave unless the Capitals are willing to pony up. Hendricks is a good-effort player with limited skills.
What's at Stake: If the Caps can bring back Ribeiro, they should have a balanced offense. If he doesn't return, the Caps will be too dependent on Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Head coach Adam Oates does not want a team that is top heavy and he needs general manager George McPhee to bring Ribeiro back.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Forwards Nik Antropov, Kyle Wellwood, Mike Santorelli and Antti Miettinen. Defensemen Ron Hainsey and Grant Clitsome. Goalie Al Montoya.
Top Priorities: The Jets have probably seen enough of Antropov, who can skate and make moves, but rarely plays with consistency. Hainsey is a solid and intelligent defenseman. If the Jets lose him, that would weaken their back-line defense. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff needs to find some more scoring.
What's at Stake: The Jets have been welcomed with open arms back to Winnipeg, but fans want to see a playoff team as they prepare for Season Three in the 'Peg. They need to make a couple of top free-agent signings for that to happen.