We are barely into the 2011-12 season, but that doesn't mean that teams aren't thinking ahead to next summer when a fresh crop of free agents become available.
Some free agents will be allowed to walk away with little or no repercussions, others will be victims of rebuilding or salary cap restraints, but there are those that should be signed by their current team, no matter what.
What follows are the 10 free agents (restricted and unrestricted) to be that need to be signed right now, and not just to a one-year extension, these players must be secured with long term deals.
Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber is a Norris Trophy winner in the making. Weber and the Preds went to arbitration this past summer where he was awarded a one-year $7.5 million contract. When his one-year deal runs out he will once again become a restricted free agent.
The problem the Preds have is that the team's pockets are not very deep and Pekka Rinne and Ryan Suter also have contracts that expire at the end of this season. If the team cannot get the 26-year-old Weber under a long term deal they run the risk of another team coming in with a front loaded offer sheet that they may not be able to match.
While offer sheets are rare in this day and age, so are defenseman with the talents of Weber. An offer sheet would at least net the Preds a handful of draft picks, a worse case scenario would be signing Weber to another $7.5 million deal next summer and then losing him via unrestricted free agency the following year.
The Preds and Weber need to sit down and talk. If he wants to remain with the team for the long haul they need to come to an agreement on a long term deal as soon as possible. If there are any questions about his future plans, however painful it may be, they will need to trade him.
Preds fans have to be hoping for a long term signing, the rest of the league's general managers hope for just the opposite.
Zach Parise has a one-year deal worth $6 million with the New Jersey Devils. When that deal expires, the Devils captain will become an unrestricted free agent.
Parise is in an interesting situation. He only played 13 games last season before a season ending knee injury put him on the shelf. In the two years prior he missed one game, putting up 94 and 82 points in those seasons.
If Parise comes out of the gate hot this season, his asking price may be too high for the Devils who have saddled themselves with Ilya Kovalchuk's contract. Sure, both Parise and the team have said all the right things regarding his future with the Devils, but would you expect them to say anything else at this point?
Parise's situation is one that could get very interesting.
When the Montreal Canadiens traded away Jaroslav Halak it became clear that they were pinning their hopes on Carey Price becoming their goaltender of the future. Price did not disappoint after getting that vote of confidence, putting together a record of 38-28-6 last season.
The question at the end of this season will be how will the team treat the 24-year-old netminder? His current deal pays him $3 million this year, 20th among all goalies. With his save percentage and goals against average both in the top 10 in the NHL last season, you can bet he will be looking for a nice raise more indicative of his talents.
Pekka Rinne will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. In his time with the Nashville Predators he has put together a record of 95-54-18 and proven to be remarkably consistent, winning 29, 32 and 33 games in his three seasons between the pipes for the Preds.
Last season, the 28-year-old netminder finished second in Vezina Trophy voting, losing the prize to the Boston Bruins Tim Thomas.
Rinne's salary this season will be $4 million, putting him 14th among all NHL goalies. If the Predators hope to keep him for another contract, expect them to pay in the $6-$6.5 million range for Rinne's services, a number that may be prohibitive for the small market Predators.
Tuukka Rask is very likely going to be the goaltender the Boston Bruins go to once Tim Thomas' time between the Bruins pipes has run its course.
In 2009-10 Rask wrestled the starting job away from Thomas, going 22-12-5 and posting a goals against average of 1.97.
Rask's will become a restricted free agent at the end of this season when his $1.5 million deal expires. The Bruins starter, Thomas, is under contract until 2012-13, but if the team truly wants to go with Rask when Thomas' career comes to a close, they will need to lock him up now.
This one may come as a surprise to those outside of Tampa Bay. For a long time the name Steve Downie was synonymous with thugish play, he was, pure and simple a dirty player. Since being moved to Tampa Bay he has mostly shed that tag, making more headlines for his friendship with Steven Stamkos than for his questionable antics on the ice.
Downie will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season with a reasonable $1.9 million contract. Downie is in a good spot with Tampa Bay, playing for a solid management team and having one of the brightest stars in the NHL, Stamkos, to grow with. Keep in mind that Downie, despite his history, is only 24 years old.
The Lightning would do well to lock up the former first round draft pick and Downie would be advised to sign with the Bolts instead of looking for greener pastures elsewhere.
The Predators top defensive pairing of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber is arguably the best duo in the NHL. The problem the Preds have is that Suter, Weber and netminder Pekka Rinne all have contracts expiring at the end of this season. Couple that with the fact that the team does not have a limitless supply of cash and one would not be out of line thinking that something may have to give in Nashville.
Suter will become an unrestricted free agent when his $3.5 million deal expires. Suter will be a more cost effective signing than Weber, but his upside is not as high as Weber's.
If there was one GM to watch over the course of this season it would be Nashville's David Poile.
If you look at the Philadelphia Flyers defensive depth chart you will find that the two players in front of the 26-year-old Braydon Coburn, Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, are getting a little long in the tooth. Pronger is 37, while Timonen is 36. It does not take much to figure out that Coburn, at this moment, is the future of the Philadelphia blueline.
If the Flyers believe that he will be the man to anchor their defense for years to come, they would be well served to lock him up to a long term deal before his current $3.4 million deal runs out at the end of this season and he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
David Krejci had a hell of a run in the playoffs last season, scoring 12 goals and adding 11 assists in 25 games. His playoff goal total was one more than he scored in 75 regular season games. However, in those regular season games he had 49 assists, ranking him 10th in the NHL.
So, what does that leave you with? A center that can dish the puck during the regular season while elevating his game during the playoffs. Krejci is exactly the kind of player that most teams dream about having on their roster.
Krejci will be a restricted free agent when his $4 million deal expires at the end of this season.
Mike Green was limited to 49 games with the Washington Capitals last season and his puck moving skill from the blueline was sorely missed. In his 2008-09 and 2009-10 campaigns, Green was practically a point a game player while still registering a solid plus-23 and plus-39.
If Green can remain healthy and replicate those numbers, he needs to be signed long term, before his $5 million deal expires and he becomes a restricted free agent.