Looking Ahead at the Best Players in the 2014 NHL Free Agent Class
The 2014 NHL free agency class is set to become one of the best in years, and there are a number of players such as Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller and Phil Kessel who could hit the open market.
There are also some other players who could be in a position to get paid. But who are the best players that could hit the market?
Niklas Hjalmarsson is a two-time Stanley Cup winner who has morphed into an anchor on the Chicago Blackhawks blue line. Hjalmarsson is a sizable defender that can play big minutes, and he is also a gritty player that brings toughness.
The Blackhawks have a couple of important decision to make about their future, and there will be no shortage of potential buyers if Hjalmarsson hits the market.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin
The Sedins are a package deal, and it could get interesting if the two brothers hit free agency next July. Most teams probably have enough cap space to add one of the superstar forwards, but adding both would be a major stretch.
Because they will be forced to alter their playing style this season, there is reason to believe that the two could hit free agency. Their new bench boss John Tortorella is going to demand more out of them, and these veterans may decide that they want to play their game instead.
It will be interesting to see what happens as the season progresses, but the Sedins are definitely two of the biggest potential UFAs of the 2014 market.
The San Jose Sharks recently locked up Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, but will they attempt to re-sign their captain before next offseason? Thornton is still one of the NHL's top veteran centers, and he is on pace to enter the Hall of Fame upon retirement.
"Jumbo" Joe probably has at least three or four good years left, and he could be an attractive free agent in July of 2014.
Marian Gaborik is a talented sniper who is primed to have a big year with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He is entering an "up" year, and is playing for a new contract. If you take a look at Gaborik's career stats, you will see that his production usually fluctuates year to year.
On the open market, the repeat 40-goal scorer could earn a sizable contract even though his prime years are behind him. Gaborik is still a solid secondary scoring threat as long as he can remain healthy.
Paul Stastny is a talented center who will become a free agent next summer. The 27-year-old pivot has been a staple of the Colorado Avalanche's roster for the past few years, but he will become a free agent because of the team's extreme depth at center.
Stastny can score goals and set up teammates with crisp passes, and teams could get lucky by signing him while he is still in his prime.
Dion Phaneuf is a physical defenseman that is known for his hulking physique and his ability to intimidate. He has been a solid blueliner for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he is entering the final year of his contract.
The Maple Leafs likely will look to save money if they decide to re-sign Phaneuf, but he could always look for a bigger price tag via free agency. If Phaneuf becomes available, there are a number of teams that would salivate at the possibility of adding a bruising top-four defender.
Phil Kessel is young, talented and entering his prime. He has recorded 30 goals or more in multiple seasons, and he is primed to become a rich man very soon.
The Toronto Maple Leafs would be wise to build their team around their budding superstar, but Kessel ultimately could opt to become a free agent. No matter what happens between now and July, Kessel is going to break the bank financially.
Dan Girardi is a classic "rags to riches story," and he could finally hit the jackpot in July of 2014.
Girardi was undrafted, but he got his break after he signed a minor league contract with the New York Rangers.
He eventually rose through the ranks and earned the reputation for being one of the league's toughest and strongest defenders. Year after year, Girardi throws caution to the wind when blocking a shot, but he recently decided to wear a visor to protect his eyes.
The 28-year-old defender is a true iron man, and if he hits free agency he will be one of the top defenders on the market.
Patrick Marleau is one of the greatest players in San Jose Sharks history, but this could be his last year in black and teal. The team is starting to shift in a direction that relies on its youth, and Marleau likely wants to win a Stanley Cup before he retires.
He is still pretty young for a league veteran, and he would be the perfect "final piece" for a team that is serious about contending for the Cup.
Thomas Vanek is entering the second half of his career, and he still has a bevy of untapped potential. It has been a long time since Vanek has played with a decent supporting cast, and he could thrive in an environment where he doesn't have to completely shoulder the load.
He is a solid two-way threat when on the ice and a great candidate for teams to target at the trade deadline this season.
Matt Moulson has quietly become one of the Metropolitan Division's top goal scorers, and he has great chemistry with superstar John Tavares.
The New York Islanders have finally found a combo that works, and it is one that they can take to Brooklyn as they attempt to become a bona fide Stanley Cup contender.
It is insinuated that Moulson is simply a by-product of Tavares, but Tavares doesn't help Moulson hit the net with pinpoint accuracy. On the free-agent market Moulson would be a solid secondary prize, and he would become a very rich man.
Jason Pominville is a skilled scoring forward who was traded to the Minnesota Wild at this year's trade deadline. Pominville gained notoriety with the Buffalo Sabres for his ability to score goals, hit and play an effective two-way game.
The Wild winger is similar to Ryan Callahan—another 2014 UFA—in playing style, but his scoring prowess gives him an edge of the Blueshirts captain. While he may not hit as much as Callahan, he has redeeming two-way qualities.
Teams are always looking to bolster their rosters with players who can score and hit, so there will be no shortage of teams interested in Pominville next July.
Henrik Lundqvist could become the highest paid goalie of all time if he becomes a free agent next July. He is bound to get paid by the Rangers, but he'd make even more money on an open market.
Every team in the NHL would attempt to free up space to sign him, but odds are the New York Rangers will lock him up very soon. Lundqvist is the team's franchise player and superstar, and there would be riots in New York if he were allowed to sign elsewhere.
The Rangers starter could become one of the franchise's best players if he remains a lifelong Ranger, and re-signing him is a top priority for general manager Glen Sather.
Ryan Miller is one of the NHL's top goalies, and he is likely going to become a free agent. The Buffalo Sabres don't look like they will be a top team this year or next, and no one would fault Miller if he decided to leave.
He has been more than faithful to the Sabres since his career started, and deep down Miller probably wants to win. The Sabres starter has a number of solid years left, and he shouldn't waste them on a team that will struggle to be competitive.