What's more exciting than the NHL Playoffs? Well, NHL free agency certainly comes close.
In all seriousness, NHL free agency is one of the most anticipated times of the calendar year in hockey. Since the introduction of the salary cap era, the offseason has become an increasingly interesting process.
The list of available players during the 2011 NHL offseason has a handful of potential impact players, both in the free-agent and trade market.
Brent Burns and Bryan McCabe are big names available on the blue line, while Brad Richards and Alex Tanguay headline the forward group. Goalies Marty Turco and Corey Schneider could compel some clubs as well.
In any event, it's all speculation until we find out who re-signs and who gets tossed into the free-agent pool. For now, here is each team's most likely departure.
Pegging a departure for the Edmonton Oilers is tricky. They have most of their big names under contract through at least next season and should have the room to re-sign the few free agents that they have.
Andrew Cogliano is the one guy who could dawn a new jersey in the fall. The former first-round pick is a restricted free agent this offseason, and the Oilers may consider moving him if they get the right offer.
With just 35 points this past season and a minus-12 plus/minus rating, Cogliano has not made a strong case to stay in Edmonton.
The players let go from the Colorado roster will greatly depend on which players they are able to reel in from the free-agent pool and trade market.
If the Avalanche can land a capable starting goaltender one way or another, Peter Budaj could very well be shown the door, given his contract is expired.
However, another contributor with an expiring contract is Milan Hejduk. At 35 years old, the veteran can still produce. Plus, he must be hungry to win, and the Avs are not making another playoff run anytime in the near future.
After hearing his name thrown around in trade rumors a few months ago, Tomas Vokoun is set to hit the open market this summer.
Vokoun will be 35 in July and is going to be highly sought after by many teams both in the NHL and the Kontinental Hockey League.
While Vokoun has not ruled out the possibility of returning to Florida, one has to wonder where he fits in the rebuilding process. With his cap hit, and Jacob Markstrom behind him in the system, keeping Vokoun might not be the right move.
This will be one of the more intriguing story lines to follow when free agency opens up.
Doug Weight has had a prolific career in the NHL and deserves all the respect in the world. Unfortunately, he does not produce at the level he once did.
Weight is still a solid captain, but one has to think the Islanders will let him test free agency if he decides to continue playing.
One of the best American-born forwards of all time, Weight managed to play in just 18 games this season.
With the acquisition of Craig Anderson, the Pascal Leclaire era has come to an end in Ottawa. His contract is up this offseason, and unless he takes a significant pay cut, their is no way the Senators keep him around.
Leclaire has had trouble staying healthy throughout his career and has had very mediocre stats. Other than his one standout year in Columbus, Leclaire has done very little to attract attention in free agency.
Zach Bogosian, the third overall draft choice in the 2008 NHL Draft, has not lived up to expectations in Atlanta. With a cap hit of over $3 million, Bogosian should be able to manage a better plus/minus than minus-34.
The restricted free agent could draw some interest given his youth, and Atlanta probably wouldn't hesitate to move him for the right price.
Craig Rivet is not worthy of a roster spot by any means. Adding him on the waiver wire was a desperate move by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Luckily for the Jackets, the veteran's contract is up this season, and it makes no sense to bring him back for another year.
Since rejoining the Devils in 2008, Brian Rolston has failed to surpass the 40-point mark in a season. At 38 years young, Rolston simply isn't the player he once was, and his contract is expiring.
The Devils will be entirely focused on resigning Parise, making Rolston an after thought. He would have to take a significant pay cut to be able to stay in New Jersey.
It may be time for Rolston to call it quits.
The emergence of James Reimer was the biggest bright spot for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season. His play has made the services of Jean Sebastien Giguere more than expendable.
The soon to be 34-year-old Giguere is having sports hernia surgery this offseason and would be regulated to backup duty at best next year. Giguere has come around to the idea of being a backup, but his expired contract leaves Brian Burke and the Maple Leafs with no obligation.
The Minnesota Wild have made it evident that Brent Burns is available for trade. Burns is one of the 50 best players in the NHL and should bring in quite the return.
A towering presence on the blue line, Burns piled up over 40 points for the Wild this season.
The Wild are in search of a better presence up front and may have to give up Burns to get it.
Ty Conklin is the journeyman of NHL goaltenders, so it should come to no surprise that his contract is once again up.
Conklin is still one of the most dependable backups in the league and will definitely find a job in the NHL.
However, he is getting up there in age and may not see as big of a role these days. At 35 years old, Conklin can still start 20-30 games a season and get a .500 record.
Eric Cole is a long time Hurricane but could opt to hit the open market this offseason as his contract has expired.
Cole had a 52-point season and has a Stanley Cup to his credit. However, this was Cole's best season since '07-'08. Is it a coincidence that this past season was also his contract year? Doubtful.
Cole will cash in on the open market.
Bryan McCabe was one of the most disappointing acquisitions at the trading deadline. In his 19 games after joining the Rangers, McCabe had only six points.
Luckily for New York, McCabe's contract is up, and they can allow him to walk. He likely cost himself quite a bit of money with his late season play. However, McCabe is still a solid veteran leader on the blue line and will find a home.
Outside of Brad Richards, Alex Tanguay is the most prolific scorer in this free-agent class.
Considering the fact that Calgary is not quite ready to compete for a Stanley Cup, it makes sense for Tanguay to test his value with a contending team.
Tanguay can definitely still play in the NHL, as evidenced by his 70-plus points in '10-'11. He will be a hot commodity in July.
Finally, we arrive at the star of the 2011 NHL free-agent class: Brad Richards.
The Dallas Stars have centered the focus of their entire offseason on resigning Brad Richards, and with good reason. When healthy, Richards is one of the most prolific playmakers in the entire NHL.
Furthermore, Richards is as valuable to the Dallas Stars as any other play is to his team.
If the Stars don't secure an owner and find the money to re-sign Richards, the Maple Leafs, Rangers and Bruins will all be in the running for the Canadian center.
Steve Montador became increasingly useless for the Buffalo Sabres this season.
He took penalties and blew continuous coverages in the defensive zone in the first round of the NHL Playoffs.
Montador is now a free agent, and Buffalo should make little effort to retain his services.
It truly is sad, but Paul Mara is nearing the end of a wonderful career. The man with the best beard in the NHL has become increasingly in effective in the last five seasons and could use a change of scenery.
In addition, Montreal's cap situation this offseason is a messy one. Therefore, re-signing Mara would be a waste of cap space.
The Marty Turco experiment in Chicago was far from successful. Aside from his antic on Chicago's bench, he brought little to the team this season. The emergence of Corey Crawford only furthers Turco's lack of value to this team.
The Blackhawks can find a cheaper alternative to back up their young stud in net.
Another aging veteran with an expiring contract is Michael Handzus of the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings have to retain Doughty and Wayne Simmonds as well, so there may not be room for Handzus.
Handzus's chance of returning the roster lies in his willingness to take a pay cut. The soon to be 34-year-old Handzus still has some game, although he saw a slight decrease in production this season.
Handzus wants to stay in L.A. He has to make it happen.
After having another 40 point season, Eric Belanger will most likely seek a raise from his current 750,000 dollar cap hit.
Unfortunately, the Coyotes have bigger fish to fry during the offseason. Ed Jovanaski, Radim Vrbata, and Keith Yandle will take priority over Belanger.
Not to mention Belanger is getting up there in age and is an expendable piece to this roster.
The Nashville Predators do not have a ton of free agents to attend to this offseason. One player that they could afford to let go is Marcel Goc.
Steve Sullivan and Shane O'Brien are more valuable going forward for Nashville than Goc, who only managed 24 points this season.
Jarkko Ruutu rendered himself useless upon being traded to the Anaheim Ducks. In 23 games with the Ducks, Ruutu only mustered two points.
The Ducks have very little use for Ruutu, and his expired contract will more than likely not be renewed this offseason.
In addition to his ineffectiveness, Ruutu will be 36 years old in August. It's time for Anaheim to move on.
Marc-Andre Bergeron is not earning his keep on the blue line. In 23 games, Bergeron managed to get only eight points for the Lightning.
He is a young, talented defenseman, but his lack of production and ability to stay healthy does not warrant a contract extension.
This may come as a surprise, but Tomas Kaberle may have been a very expensive rental for the Boston Bruins.
His play has not been up to snuff, and the Bruins are struggling to make progress on his contract negotiation. Kaberle is a decent puck mover, but he has not been so valuable on the back end.
I would not be surprised if the Bruins let him walk.
The best American forward of all time is slowly sputtering towards the end of his career. Upon leaving the Dallas Stars, Modano was only able to put up half of the points that he had in '09-'10.
Mike Modano might be able to snag a one-year contract, but it will not be in Detroit.
Ian White was bounced around the league this year, playing for three different teams and being mediocre with each of them
Now that his contract has expired, White can expect to dress for his fourth team in the past two seasons.
White is by no means a bad defenseman. However, he is the type of player who is easily replaced, and San Jose will realize that.
Alexei Kovalev has moved into the twilight of his career. Unfortunately, Kovalev refuses to acknowledge this and has become a bit of a nuisance.
The two main reasons Kovalev will be playing elsewhere next season are the fact that he is over 35 years old, and his contract has expired.
He does not fit the mold of what the direction the Pittsburgh Penguins are heading.
Nikolai Zherdev firmly entrenched himself in Peter Laviolette's doghouse. With the recent struggles of the Flyers, Zherdev will more than likely be on his way out of Philly in one way or another.
The Flyers are pressed tight for cap space, and Zherdev's $2 million contract does not fit into the equation.
Meanwhile, the Flyers have an abundance of talent at forward, so Zherdev's offensive capabilities are not needed for Philly.
Marco Sturm is no more than a role player for the Washington Capitals, and with their recent elimination, Sturm will most likely be sent packing.
Another playoff failure could mean a bit of house cleaning for the Washington Capitals. Sturm is aging and has an expiring contract. Are you sensing a theme here?
This is the last possible offseason the Vancouver Canucks will be able to get any value for Cory Schneider.
Sitting behind Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider was effective in relief duty this season but deserves a shot at a franchise goaltending role.
The Canucks could get a king's ransom for Schneider, who offers immense upside between the pipes. He will be one of the more sought after players in the entire league this offseason.
Watch this one closely.