Ranking the Biggest Difference-Makers Available in 2013 NHL Free Agent Market

Nicholas Goss@@NicholasGoss35Correspondent IJuly 3, 2013

Ranking the Biggest Difference-Makers Available in 2013 NHL Free Agent Market

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    NHL teams are now allowed to meet with free agents of other teams, but no contracts can be signed until Friday when the free-agent market officially opens.

    General managers normally don't have this window of time to talk with players and agents before the start of free agency. This will allow teams to better game plan for Friday and assess which players would best fill the holes and weaknesses on their roster.

    There aren't any young, franchise-caliber talents (such as Zach Parise and Ryan Suter from 2012) in this year's class of UFAs, but there are many veterans available who would add important depth to the teams that sign them.

    Let's look at the biggest difference-makers in the 2013 UFA class.


    Note: All salary information via CapGeek. The following players were not considered for this list because I would be surprised if they don't re-sign with their current team: Daniel Alfredsson (OTT), Damien Brunner (DET), Patrik Elias (NJD), Teemu Selanne (ANA), Rob Scuderi (LAK).

7. David Clarkson

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    New Jersey Devils winger David Clarkson is one of the top free agents because of his impressive goal-scoring ability and physical style of play as a power forward capable of excelling in a top-six role.

    He followed a breakout 30-goal season in 2011-12 with 24 points (15 goals, nine assists) in 2013. Clarkson will likely be a 20-plus goal scorer for another three or four years, and because those players are hard to find, expect several teams to be interested in signing him.

    One concern about Clarkson is his inconsistency. He had stretches of one goal scored in 19 games during the 2010-11 season, one goal in 12 games in 2011-12 and repeated his 2010-11 streak this past season.

    Clarkson may be one of the most overrated players on the free-agent market, but when he's on top of his game, the goals start to pile up and opposing teams find it quite difficult to play against him. In a free-agency class lacking elite talent, expect at least one team to be willing to overpay for Clarkson's services.

    Teams that Should Pursue Clarkson: Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, New Jersey Devils

6. Mike Ribeiro

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    Washington Capitals veteran Mike Ribeiro would be a perfect addition to teams that need a second-line center capable of consistently producing on the power play.

    The 33-year-old center led the regular season in power-play points (27) and assists (21). He tallied 49 points in 48 games and his exceptional playmaking skills help raise the offensive production of the wingers around him.

    Ribeiro has scored at a rate of 0.70 points per game or better for the last seven seasons. This kind of consistency is very valuable to teams.

    For a team that's only one or two pieces away from contending for a championship, Ribeiro should be a top priority in free agency. He's an ideal No. 2 center and has plenty of productive years ahead of him.

    Teams that Should Pursue Ribeiro: Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Islanders, Winnipeg Jets, Nashville Predators, Florida Panthers

5. Tim Thomas

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    Tim Thomas is the best goaltender available on the free-agent market. The only problem is that he took the entire 2013 season off to focus on, as he put it, the "three F's" of friends, family and faith.

    But according to his agent, Bill Zito, Thomas "asked [him] to explore possible options for next season." Pierre LeBrun of TSN reported on Wednesday that "three teams have reached out to Tim Thomas' camp so far."

    Thomas is now 39 years old and probably not in the best hockey shape, but he would still be a significant upgrade for a number of teams that believe they are a better goalie away from making a serious run at a Stanley Cup championship.

    As a two-time Vezina Trophy winner who also has a Conn Smythe Trophy from leading the Boston Bruins to the 2011 Stanley Cup title, Thomas has plenty of playoff experience and a proven record of postseason success.

    The biggest concern with Thomas is him becoming a distraction because he's not afraid to publicly speak about his political views, and he has written several of those messages on his Facebook page. General managers will have to determine if his performance would make up for any possible distractions he may create.

    Teams that Should Pursue Thomas: Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Edmonton Oilers

4. Nathan Horton

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    Nathan Horton will test the free-agent market following three successful seasons with the Boston Bruins.

    The former No. 3 overall draft pick developed a reputation as a clutch playoff performer in Boston with six game-winning goals (two of which were in a Game 7) in two playoff runs that ended in the Stanley Cup Final. In 43 career playoff games (all with Boston), Horton has tallied 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists) and an astounding plus/minus rating of plus-31.

    The two concerns with Horton are inconsistency during the regular season and a shoulder injury that bothered him in the Bruins' playoff run this past spring.  He has also suffered two serious concussions since the 2011 playoffs, which could scare teams that are thinking about pursuing him in free agency.

    With that said, Horton is a legitimate power forward who excels in a top-six role and comes up big in the postseason. He has also scored 20-plus goals in each of the six seasons in which he's played 65 or more games.

    There aren't many players like that available, which will make Horton a wealthy man when his new contract is finished.

    Teams that Should Pursue Horton: Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals

3. Stephen Weiss

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    If not for a wrist injury that forced him to miss the final two months of the regular season, Florida Panthers center Stephen Weiss would have been a popular name at the trade deadline.

    As the beginning of free agency nears, Weiss will be among the most sought-after centers on the market. Entering the shortened 2013 season, the 30-year-old center had tallied 49 points in four straight seasons and scored 20 or more goals in three consecutive seasons.

    Weiss is a quality playmaker, a good goal scorer and someone capable of playing a major role on the power play (six seasons of four-plus power-play goals). He also provides clutch scoring, evidenced by his 17 game-winning goals from 2007-08 through 2011-12.

    Despite his injury issues last year, Weiss has been a pretty durable player recently. Before that, he hadn't missed more than eight regular season games since 2005-06.

    As a second-line center also capable of playing first-line minutes, Weiss is one of the best options for teams needing more depth and playmaking skill down the middle. He's been consistently productive offensively with the Panthers despite not playing with many talented players during his tenure with the club.

    Teams that Should Pursue Weiss: Boston Bruins, Vancouver Canucks, Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Islanders

2. Danny Briere

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    As a top-six center with an impressive playoff resume and quality leadership skills, expect Danny Briere to be a coveted free agent when the market officially opens on Friday.

    TSN's Pierre LeBrun has reported that "aside from Montreal, other teams with interest in Briere include I believe Nashville, NYI and NJ, among others."

    Briere has tallied 109 points (50 goals, 59 assists) in 108 career playoff games and also has Stanley Cup Final experience. In addition to his goal-scoring ability, he also has great vision, strong playmaking skills, power-play ability (102 career goals on the man advantage) and a high hockey IQ. He is also a tremendous leader from his wealth of experience as an alternate captain in Philadelphia.

    The only concern with Briere is his ability to stay healthy consistently. He missed 14 games in the shortened 2013 season and has missed a total of 91 games over the last five years. He also hasn't played an entire 82-game season since 2003-04.

    As an offensively skilled veteran still motivated to win the first Stanley Cup of his career, Briere will have plenty of suitors in free agency.

    Teams that Should Pursue Briere: Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators, New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens

1. Jarome Iginla

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    Jarome Iginla's pursuit of a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins was a failure, as they were knocked out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference Final against the Boston Bruins, the team that the 36-year-old veteran turned down before the trade deadline.

    In 44 games between the Calgary Flames and Penguins last season, Iginla tallied 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists) and had a plus/minus rating of minus-five.

    Despite his age, Iginla is still a quality goal scorer who could find the back of the net 20-plus times in a normal 82-game season as a top-six forward. He would also add tremendous depth to a championship-caliber team needing a third-line winger for increased offensive production from the bottom-six forwards.

    He's also one of the sport's best leaders and someone highly motivated to capture the first Stanley Cup of his Hall of Fame worthy career.

    As a veteran player who plays a power-forward type of game, scores goals consistently and excels on the power play, Iginla should be one of the most sought after free agents if he chooses not to re-sign with Pittsburgh and test the market.

    Teams that Should Pursue Iginla: Boston Bruins, Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings


    Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft.