10 NHL Players to Watch in Their Contract Years

Riley KuftaContributor IIIAugust 22, 2013

10 NHL Players to Watch in Their Contract Years

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    We may still be in the offseason prior to the 2013-14 season, but it's not too early to start talking about which NHL players are entering the final year of their contracts—players who could be in line for pay raises and possibly new destinations. 

    The following are 10 players to keep an eye on, as they'll be putting everything on the line in their contract years. 

10. Jonas Hiller

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    Jonas Hiller has been the starting goalie for the Anaheim Ducks for five seasons now. While his numbers have been steady, they haven't really improved in that time. 

    Last year, Hiller's role took a hit as his he split time with rookie netminder Viktor Fasth. Fasth finished the season with a .921 save percentage and a 2.18 GAA. 

    Hiller will need to prove his worth and out-play Fasth this time around if he plans on re-signing in Anaheim. Otherwise, he could be one of many big names hitting the free-agent market. 

9. Joe Thornton

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    The San Jose Sharks have disappointed in the playoffs time and time again over the years as their core has aged. 

    With the emergence of Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, it is possible that one of the "core" Sharks will be playing his final year. 

    If the Sharks can't reach an agreement with captain Joe Thornton before the end of the season, he could end up seeing big offers from numerous sources before we know it. 

8. Marian Gaborik

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    Marian Gaborik is earning the big bucks at $7.5 million per year. We all know the talent is there, but the result isn't always as hoped. 

    Now in the final year of his contract, Gaborik will need his A-game if he wants to avoid a pay reduction. 

    It's also worth noting that this will be his first full season with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He may not wish to return to them anyway. 

7. Ryan Callahan

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    This year marks the final year of Ryan Callahan's contract with the New York Rangers. It's hard to imagine the Rangers letting a player like this go, but I can think of 29 other teams that will be licking their lips with checkbooks in hand just in case. 

6. James Reimer

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs made an interesting move this summer, acquiring Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings. 

    James Reimer has had a tough time proving himself as a starting goalie, with his season ending in very unspectacular fashion in the first round of the playoffs. 

    This is his last chance, or he could be heading elsewhere. 

5. Andrei Markov

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    There's no doubting Andrei Markov's talent, but it's hard to ignore his delicate history. Markov maintained his health last season after playing in just 20 games in the two seasons prior. 

    With defenders like P.K. Subban, Alexei Emelin and Josh Gorges on the roster, Markov will have to put up the numbers in games played and points in order to make his re-signing a priority.

    The Montreal Canadiens are unlikely to take the gamble on Markov again, but someone will step up to the plate. 

4. Ales Hemsky

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    Much like Andrei Markov, we all know Ales Hemsky has the talent to earn the big bucks; it's his health that's the problem. 

    The Edmonton Oilers have positioned themselves well to become one of the best young teams in the league. As that happens, there will be less and less room for the fragile Hemsky. 

    This is his chance to show the rest of the league what he can do. 

3. Dany Heatley

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    Who comes to mind when you think of someone in line for a demotion? 

    That's right, Dany Heatley.

    Prove us wrong, Dany—or you could find your picture next to Jonathan Cheechoo's in the book of "once-upon-a-times."

2. Ryan Miller

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    Ryan Miller's story is certainly an interesting one. Once thought of as the best goalie in the league, Miller is now having a tough time securing a job as a starter, let alone with the league's elite. 

    I guess that's what a run from Milan Lucic can do to you. 

    Perhaps he'll be able to improve his performance now that his $6.25 million salary is on the line. 

1. Jaroslav Halak/Brian Elliott

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    Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott share one spot on this list, because there is only one spot on the team. 

    They're both world-class goaltenders; both finished atop the league two seasons ago in all categories, and both saw their numbers drop off last year. 

    It will be an interesting season in St. Louis, but only one goalie will get the green light to extend his stay. 

     

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