The free agent class of 2012, both restricted and unrestricted, will present a fascinating set of circumstances in front of general managers all over the NHL. Coupled with the league's need for a new CBA, this could be a summer that is either incredibly painful or overwhelmingly thrilling for many cities.
However, between now and the first of July, every team has time to evaluate the players on their rosters that will need a new contract and will make a decision regarding the future of that player with their organization.
This list presents the player that each team must keep with a new deal at all costs this summer. Some are obvious, others aren't. But all are players that are vital to the health of their organizations moving forward.
A case could be made that, free agent or not, Selanne's one of the few players they need to keep on this roster, period.
He's the face of the franchise and a class act. The Ducks are lucky to have him in the locker room and on the ice, and in spite of the Ducks' pathetic start to the season, he continues to be fun to watch.
Most of the other free agents-to-be have already been taken care of in Boston, and while the hearts of Bruins fans might say Shawn Thornton, Boychuk is a really good player they need next season.
Quietly, he's one of the more effective checking line centers in the league. He's outstanding in the faceoff circle and plays a very physical game.
Olli Jokinen? Lee Stempniak? Maybe we should wait and see what free agents-to-be are acquired during the rest of the season before saying the Flames should keep someone.
Tuomo Ruutu will get some attention, and he should. But he might become a valuable trading piece if the season continues down the drain in Carolina.
McBain's a young RFA this summer, and the Canes need to lock up somebody to secure the future on their blue line.
The core is locked up long-term in Chicago, and they've got kids coming who will replace guys like Andrew Brunette, Daniel Carcillo, Sean O'Donnell, Sami Lepisto and Jamal Mayers. Oh, and they've got a lot of cap space to play with too.
The Avs have three forwards, two defensemen and two goalies on their NHL roster right now that have a contract next season. That's it.
So while Duchene (who will be a restricted free agent) certainly needs to be re-signed, the organization will also need to hand out some new paper to guys like Erik Johnson, Kyle Quincey, David Jones and even players like Kevin Porter and Brandon Yip.
Unless they're going to go big in free agency, keeping Sanford as an adequate goaltender is a wise move. Based on how their team has played this year, there really isn't another player they "must" keep.
The guy Dallas must give a long-term deal to this summer in Dallas is Benn. He's quickly developing into one of the better young forwards in the game, and he undoubtedly is the centerpiece of their future in Dallas.
He'll be a restricted free agent finishing his entry-level deal. He needs to get paid.
Jiri Hudler is playing fairly well, and Tomas Holmstrom is a good veteran to have around, but the cost of Abdelkader for what he provides the team makes him an asset the Red Wings will likely keep.
Inexpensive, quality veterans are the foundation of winning teams, and Abdelkader is that guy in Detroit.
The Oilers will need to make decisions on Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth this year, but all three might move on. Dubnyk is in position to get a multi-year deal and take over the top of the depth chart from Nikolai Khabibulin for the coming seasons next year.
Jason Garrison will need new paper, but it's becoming evident that Versteeg is every bit a top-six forward in the NHL and could quickly become the face of the Panthers' franchise. Maybe once he gets paid he'll get his haircut?
Muzzin is a good, young defenseman who won't turn 23 until February, but he'll be a restricted free agent this summer as his entry-level deal expires.
Like the Blackhawks, the Kings have most of their core locked up and don't figure to be running to get guys like Dustin Penner and Willie Mitchell back in the mix when they could be replaced by a prospect for less money.
The top prospect who would step in for one of the departing veterans would be Muzzin, who could be on the blue line in LA before the end of this season.
Brodziak scored his team-leading 11th goal on Wednesday night and has emerged as one of the best offensive players on the Wild roster. He's only making $1.15M this year, making him one of the better values in the league. That, of course, will change in July when he gets paid.
Montreal only has 12 players on their NHL roster under contract next year, with the two notable RFAs being Price and P.K. Subban.
Of those two, however, Price is clearly the priority. The Canadiens chose him over Jaroslav Halak to be the man between the pipes and will now be asked to make that commitment concrete financially this summer.
Shea Weber and Ryan Suter...right?
If the question is who must the Preds bring back, the realistic answer is Blum. In the real world, the likelihood that both Weber and Suter are back in Nashville is slim, so we'll let management pick between them.
But Blum, a really good-looking young defenseman who, like Weber, will be a restricted free agent this summer, is the key man to bring back on the blue line. Assuming the Preds lose one of their big guns, Blum is the guy they'll need to fill that role in 2012-13.
Among all of the forwards on the Devils' NHL roster right now, only Ilya Kovalchuk is signed after the 2012-13 season. So whomever the Devils decide to sign this summer will directly impact their 2013 free-agent class, which includes Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac, Jacob Josefson, Mattias Tedenby and Adam Henrique.
A good first step to keeping their nucleus together would be a long-term deal for their captain.
The commitment made to Rick DiPietro, and his inability to play for very long without an injury, makes it critical that the Islanders keep Montoya around as an insurance policy.
There are concerns with their roster, but the biggest is the play between the pipes. Montoya needs to stay.
The Rangers really don't have a lot of big-time problems coming this summer. Wojtek Wolski and Sean Avery can walk, and the team will honestly get better, and the rest of the Rangers' core is locked up already. If there's anyone the Rangers would want back, it's Del Zotto.
Karlsson's coming off his entry-level deal and is restricted, so a fair deal should keep him on an improving blue line in Ottawa. He's getting a lot of votes for the All-Star Game and should be locked up by the Sens soon.
The situation after the 2011-12 season is a big question mark right now.
The Flyers are systematically locking up all of their key players as this season rolls along, and one would have to think the next restricted free agent-to-be that gets paid is Voracek. He was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Jeff Carter to Columbus and has tremendous upside.
With Claude Giroux missing because of a concussion, and the cloud that puts over any organization (ask Pittsburgh), keeping Voracek is probable.
With news that Chris Pronger is also suffering from concussion problems, Matt Carle might not be too far away from Voracek. The list of medical issues ailing Pronger is getting longer, and he isn't getting any younger. There might be two players the Flyers need to find a way to keep this summer.
No matter where the Coyotes call home next year, Doan has been the face of that franchise for years and needs to remain their leader.
Ray Whitney is a nice veteran, but he should be dealt by the deadline. Daymond Langkow is nice, but he probably isn't worth his $4.5M cap hit. And guys like Adrian Aucoin and Taylor Pyatt just aren't part of a winning formula in the NHL at this point.
The question is whether or not the classy Doan wants to move with this franchise yet again and continue not winning somewhere else.
Somebody picked a good year to get off to a hot start!
Neal has carried the Crosby-less and, at times, Malkin-less Pens in the early going this year, and he'll be a restricted free agent this summer. The Pens will also look to keep Eric Tangradi, but the key free agent in their organization is Neal.
There really isn't a name among the free agents-to-be in San Jose that screams, "Sign me." Torrey Mitchell? James Sheppard? Brad Winchester? Andrew Murray? Jim Vandermeer?
If any of these guys walked away, the Sharks wouldn't suddenly fall to the bottom of the Western Conference. In fact, the Sharks have seven forwards, five defensemen and two goalies on their NHL roster signed through next year.
Up front, the Blues will have two young forwards who will be restricted free agents: Chris Stewart and T.J. Oshie. Both of them will be names to watch as this season continues, because they could either see a deal early or find a ticket out of town.
The Blues have battled into playoff contention since the coaching change, so it will be interesting to see how the contract status of these two young forwards is treated by the organization.
After locking up Victor Hedman to a multi-year deal, there really isn't a player in the final year of a contract that's a must for Steve Yzerman to bring back in Tampa.
In fact, if the Bolts continue to struggle, some of those guys in walk-years might start walking via trade before the organization has to make a decision on their contract.
Unless Joey Crabb or John-Michael Liles decides to suddenly have a career year, there's only one guy the Leafs will want to bring back: Grabovski.
The question isn't as much who but how.
With 16 players occupying roughly $55M, the Canucks might have to become creative to find a way to fit a commitment of nearly $10M to the goalie position into their budget. But the play of Schneider this year has shown that he can be the No. 1 guy in Vancouver, and they might be better off in the long run handing him the job.
But, again, the question is how...
Carlson is a young and restricted defenseman, which makes him both affordable and controlled. He's also one of the bright up-and-coming blue line players in the league and has played well for the Caps this season.
If Alexander Semin, Mike Green and Dennis Wideman all walk away, the Caps could replace them with the over $15M in cap space they would have.
Part of that replacement would be Carlson being locked up for the next few years. Considering how this season has gone to date, some players leaving might not wait for the end of the year.
Kane has come on as one of the good, young scorers in the league this year and is certainly earning a healthy raise when his contract needs to be looked at this summer.
Johnny Oduya will also be a consideration in Winnipeg, but Kane's the kind of player that keeps butts in the seats.