NHL Players with Expiring Contracts Who Have a Lot Left to Prove in 2014-15

Tom Urtz Jr.@@TomUrtzJrContributor IFebruary 7, 2015

NHL Players with Expiring Contracts Who Have a Lot Left to Prove in 2014-15

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    The March 2 trade deadline is approaching, and there are numerous decisions to be made. Teams need to determine whether or not they are buyers or sellers, and general managers need to decide what they will do with players who have expiring contracts.

    Players like Cody Franson, Mike Green and Antoine Vermette will draw interest no matter what, but there are others who don't have the same luxury.

    The above are examples of high-profile players who are well on their way to earning new contracts from their current teams or in free agency, but others have a lot of work to do before July 1 rolls around. There is no better time than the present to address this interesting topic, so here are the players with the most work to do before their contracts expire.

Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers

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    The New York Rangers need to think long and hard about whether or not they are going to re-sign Mats Zuccarello. He could be a valuable asset, even though he's having a down year, as Zuccarello has done little to warrant a raise.

    He sits with 27 points in 47 games, which is a pretty disappointing stat line for the Rangers' 2013-14 leading scorer.

    "Frodo from Modo" tallied 59 points last season, and his points-per-game average is down 0.20 this season. Zuccarello currently makes $3.5 million, but that number is expected to rise because he has been a 50-point player.

    The Rangers could have a major cap crunch on their hands, and for that reason Zuccarello needs to prove that he is truly worth keeping over someone such as Carl Hagelin.

Paul Martin, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Paul Martin is set to become a free agent, and at this point there is no guarantee he will be re-signed. Martin was a consistent offensive producer earlier in his career, but his points-per-game average has dropped rapidly over the last few seasons.

    It was 0.68 in 2012-13 and 0.38 last season, and it is currently 0.28. With a bevy of defensive prospects in the Penguins system as competition, Martin will need a strong second half to prove that he is a valuable defenseman worth signing for top-four duty.

Curtis Glencross, Calgary Flames

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    This season has been one of the Calgary Flames' best in years, and it has come at a time in which one of their better players has struggled a bit. Curtis Glencross has eight goals and 26 points in 44 games, and his points-per-game average of 0.59 is down from last season.

    Currently injured, Glencross is a 32-year-old forward who makes $2.55 million this season, but he could command a raise in free agency to become a top-nine player on a contender.

    However, the Flames are trending up as young players like Johnny Gaudreau lead the way, so there is a chance the team would feel comfortable letting Glencross walk.Β He's been a decent secondary producer for a number of years, but he has to prove he's worth keeping.

Matt Beleskey, Anaheim Ducks

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    Prior to this season, Matt Beleskey had 35 goals in 264 games, but this season he's scored 20 goals in 51 games. The newly minted 20-goal scorer could be in high demand if he hits free agency, but there's a chance that Anaheim would want to retain its budding left winger.

    However, Beleskey needs to prove that he's really a talented offensive player and that this isn't just a flash-in-the-pan season. He is entering the later part of his career, and it is unlikely that he will be getting much better over the next few years.

    If Beleskey can show some consistency during the second half, it will legitimize his success and make him worth signing.

Martin St. Louis, New York Rangers

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    Martin St. Louis is starting to show his age this season, and he's trending down from last season. While St. Louis' 37 points in 49 games this season appear to be a good stat, he has only one point in his last five games and five points in his last 10 games.

    His points-per-game average is also down 0.22 from last season, something that has to be taken into consideration because of the Rangers' impending cap crunch. It is understood that St. Louis is posting amazing numbers for a near-40-year-old, but that may not matter to the Rangers given their situation.

    If he is willing to take a pay cut from his current $5.625 million salary, there will be an opportunity for the Rangers to keep him, but he may not want to do this as one of the top offensive players hitting the market.

    St. Louis needs to prove that he can still be a productive everyday playerβ€”and not just a player whose various hot streaks carry his full-season totals.

Brad Richards, Chicago Blackhawks

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    At the age of 34, Brad Richards' best days are clearly behind him, but he's been a good fit for the Chicago Blackhawks while playing sheltered minutes. Richards has 29 points in 48 games, and his points-per-game average is down only 0.02 despite the fact that he is playing four fewer minutes a game on average.

    Richards is making only $2 million this year, and that's a bargain considering what he made before he was bought out by the New York Rangers.

    The 2004 Conn Smythe winner could stand to earn a nice new contract on the open market, but with a stronger second half, he could prove to the Blackhawks that he can be a good fit next season. Either way, Richards has a lot of work to do to prove that he should be considered a top free-agent priority.

Michael Ryder, New Jersey Devils

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    The New Jersey Devils are unlikely to make the playoffs, and it is conceivable that they will attempt to deal as many free agents as possible. For that reason, Michael Ryder has a lot to prove for the rest of the season.

    The veteran winger needs to prove both to New Jersey and to the rest of the league that he can still keep up and be a reliable offensive contributor.

    The 34-year-old's production has been trending down over the last few seasons, and before hitting free agency, he needs to do all that he can to make sure he collects a reasonable paycheck for the 2015-16 season.

    Someone I missed? Drop a line in the comments section and tell me what player has something to prove for the rest of the season.

    Stats via Hockey-Reference.comΒ unless otherwise indicated.