NHL Free Agents 2014: Breaking Down Top Forwards on Market

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistJune 25, 2014

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 13:  Marian Gaborik #12 of the Los Angeles Kings celebrates with the Stanley Cup after the Kings 3-2 double overtime victory against the New York Rangers in Game Five of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center on June 13, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Who cares if that LeBron James fellow or that Carmelo Anthony guy are opting out of their contracts? Here, we've got NHL fever. 

And thus, let's focus on a few of the forwards that, if they hit free agency, will be the cream of the crop in this year's market. From a playoff hero to a scoring machine and everything in between, let's break down the top forwards in this year's free-agency class.
 

Paul Stastny 

DENVER, CO - APRIL 17:  Paul Stastny #26 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the Minnesota Wild in Game One of the First Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Pepsi Center on April 17, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. Stastny scored the game tying a
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The jewel of this free-agency class looks as though it will be Colorado Avalanche center Paul Stastny. It's not hard to see why—he notched 60 points in 71 games this season and has scored 70 or more points three times in his career. 

Of course, the Avs aren't keen to see him go, even if they likely don't want to pay him what he'll garner on the free-agent market. Star forward Nate MacKinnon, in particular, was vocal in his desire for Stastny to stay, via Adrian Dater of the The Denver Post:

I just don't want it to happen. I don't want Pauly to go. He was a huge part of our team. He took all the biggest faceoffs, probably got to see the other teams' top lines all season and still had 60 points in (71) games. He's definitely one of our top players and we need him, plain and simple.

I'm young, but I realize it's a business. You can't play forever, and you have to be fair. He's going to be fair to the Avalanche and the Avalanche are going to be fair to him. In my head, it's just a matter of time before it gets done, and hopefully it can.

That might be a bit idealistic in this case, but the Avs and Stastny certainly seem like a good fit. He was a huge part of their 112-point season, so losing him would represent a step backward for the team.

 

Thomas Vanek

NEW YORK, NY - MAY Thomas Vanek #20 of the Montreal Canadiens plays the puck against the New York Rangers during Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final in the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 29, 2014 in New York City. Range
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Who exactly is Thomas Vanek?

Is he the guy who scored 40 goals twice between 2006 and 2009, or the player who hasn't scored 30 or more goals since the 2010-11 season? Is he the player that bounced around between three teams this past season, or the guy who came up big for the Montreal Canadiens in the postseason, with 10 points in 17 games? 

Is he an old 30, or a young 30? 

There are a lot of questions. One would imagine at least one team will be willing to pay to find out. Keep in mind, his 68 points this past season were the fourth most of his career. It certainly seems like he's got some more good hockey in him. 

 

Marian Gaborik

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 04:  Marian Gaborik #12 of the Los Angeles Kings kneels on the ice against the New York Rangers during Game One of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Staples Center on June 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How
Harry How/Getty Images

Like Vanek, Gaborik is a player who used a strong finish to the regular season and a big postseason to make himself more valuable on the free-agent market. Gaborik was brilliant in the Los Angeles Kings' run to their second Stanley Cup title in the past three years, scoring a league-leading 14 goals and adding eight assists. 

That likely made him some money. Of course, the Kings are going to try to keep him around, but they may need Gaborik to take a slight discount to do so. It remains to be seen if he's open to the idea.

Pierre LeBrun of ESPN has more:

Interesting indeed.

 

Ryan Callahan

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 1:  Ryan Callahan #24 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates his goal against the Montreal Canadiens at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on April 1, 2014 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Ryan Callahan does a little bit of everything for a club. He scores goals, he works on both ends of the ice, kills penalties and is a great leader. What will be interesting is how teams view his postseason, when he was pointless in four games for the Tampa Bay Lightning and was a minus-two in total. 

How will teams view that showing? Is Callahan starting to show signs of wear and tear? Is he unable to shoulder the burden and ice time he once could?

Big questions, certainly. Callahan checks off every intangibles box, but that might not be enough to earn as big of a paycheck as he might be expecting. 

 

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