The age-old theory that NHL fans and analysts toss around is that when a player is in the last year of their contract, they finally start to produce those career-type numbers you had hoped to see for the entire duration of that contract.
Whether it be a final run at the Stanley Cup, a bounce-back year from injury or just the need to prove themselves, here's five soon-to-be free agents who all need huge years.
We all know "The Finnish Flash" Teemu Selanne will not be playing anywhere else except Anaheim if he does decide to play another season after this summer. That, however, is a huge "if."
It will all depend on how this season goes.
Selanne showed last season he has all the offensive power to still make it happen at this late stage in his career, racking up 31 goals and 80 points in 73 games with the Ducks. At age 41, Selanne is hoping he can make one more magical run toward Lord Stanley's Cup.
The Nashville Predators are in one of the biggest pickles of all-time. Next summer, general manager David Poile is tasked with signing Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne and Ryan Suter, while still maintaining a competitive club for the following season.
There is a slim to none chance that the Preds let Rinne, the 2011 Vezina Trophy nominee, walk after his stellar play led them to their first playoff series in franchise history.
Weber, Nashville's captain and star defenseman, will only be a restricted free agent this coming summer, so fortunately for Nashville, even if he signs an offer sheet with another team, they will be compensated very handsomely.
That leaves Ryan Suter.
Suter, the 26-year-old alternate captain, has surely proven his value with the Predators. A regular on the power play alongside Weber, Suter will need a career year or else he may find himself the odd man out, either by the trade deadline or in free agency next summer.
Dustin Penner was once a 32-goal scorer with the Edmonton Oilers, but he has struggled since that season in 2009-10 to regain that form.
The Los Angeles Kings acquired Penner at the trade deadline last year for a first-rounder in the 2011 draft, a conditional second-round pick in the 2012 draft, and a prospect.
He didn't do as much as the Kings had hoped in their playoff run, however, tallying two points in six games with a minus-three rating.
Now, battling injury early in the season, Penner needs an enormous year if he hopes to have multiple suitors next summer. It's almost inevitable he'll be taking a considerable pay cut though, wherever that may be.
Alexander Semin has played incredibly well for the Capitals since his tenure there. Last season, however, the Caps expected a little more out of him, along with everyone else. Twenty-eight goals and 54 points in 65 games is not a bad season by any means, but when you're Alex Semin, it is, especially after scoring 40 goals and 84 points in 73 games the season prior.
After signing a mere one-year extension in January of this year, the Caps have Semin under an extremely watchful eye.
Even if his final line at the end of the season is somewhere between the totals of his last two years, his agent will surely demand a raise. Semin may just wind up elsewhere next summer, but regardless of where he plays, he has to be on top of his game for that to happen.
There's a lot of factors in play here for New Jersey Devils' star Zach Parise.
First, there's the awkward situation with arbitration this past summer. The Devils were barely able to avoid going to arbitration with Parise, signing him to a one-year extension worth $6 million.
The Ilya Kovalchuk deal adds another interesting dynamic. With him locked up for life, virtually, the Devils are stuck in a rut. They can't really afford to pay Parise similar money, when he certainly deserves it, and still expect to fill out the roster with a competitive bunch.
Then there's the captaincy issue. The Devils just named Parise their captain for this 2011-12 season. Is that a sign they have every intention of extending him longer in New Jersey? Depending on how the Devils are doing, the other option would be to trade him at the deadline, but him being named captain adds an interesting dynamic to the entire situation.
Next, the injury situation for Parise was a tough one last year. Limited to only 13 games, he suffered a knee injury that set him back drastically. When he finally came back at the end of last season, he missed the last four regular season games with knee problems again.
Although he looks good at the start of the season, he badly needs a comeback season for the Devils or any other team to justify spending big money on this pending free agent.