The NHL is moving into the most exciting part of the season. The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin Wednesday, and all 16 participants have been determined.
The only thing left to decide is the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. If the Boston Bruins beat the Florida Panthers in the final game of the regular season, they will win the Atlantic Division and the No. 1 seed in the East. If they don't, that honor goes to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But once the two-month grind of the playoffs is over, teams will start preparing for free agency and the draft. This year, there are numerous big-name free-agents available, and John Tavares of the New York Islanders is the top prize.
He is a brilliant center who is capable of helping a good team become a great one and tops our list of the 10 most attractive free agents for the upcoming signing season. Free agents will be able to be signed July 1.
Top Free Agents
1. C John Tavares, New York Islanders, 84 points
2. D John Carlson, Washington, 68 points
3. LW James van Riemsdyk, Toronto, 54 points
4. LW Evander Kane, San Jose, 54 points
5. RW James Neal, Vegas, 44 points
6. D Mike Green, Detroit, 33 points
7. RW Ilya Kovalchuk, KHL, 65 points
8. RW Mark Stone, Ottawa, 62 points
9. C Paul Stastny, Winnipeg, 53 points
10. RW Rick Nash, Boston, 34 points
The 27-year-old Tavares is one of the most creative and valuable players in the league, and he has given the New York Islanders an identity throughout his career. Tavares should be able to earn a contract in the $10 million-per-year range. New York may have missed its opportunity to re-sign him, but the team is not giving up yet.
The Islanders would be wise to pitch him their best deal between now and July 1 and then hope he elects to stay with the team. If he opts to go elsewhere, he would be a top option for a number of teams, even though he will come with a hefty price tag.
Tavares did a good job of avoiding the subject of his impending free agency during the season. That will change shortly.
"I will start to think about it more and more in the days and weeks after the season," he said, per Allan Kreda of the New York Times. "Once the season is over and you take some time not to think about hockey for a few days, it gives you a chance to get a better sense of why things ended up the way they did."
The Ontario native would seem to be a natural fit for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and that team would surely be in the lead for his services if the Islanders can't resign him.
John Carlson is a fine defenseman who is capable of carrying the puck up the ice, avoiding big hits in the neutral zone, setting up his teammates or taking big shots himself.
Carlson is often overshadowed on the Washington Capitals because of Alex Ovechkin's presence, and he is not a game-changer like his teammate. However, when opponents are putting pressure on the Caps, Carlson can turn a scramble situation around with his ability to weave up the ice and make a play.
The Caps lost defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to free agency a year ago, and losing Carlson this year would hurt. They should make a pitch for him, but so should a number of other teams. Teams like the Montreal Canadiens, Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks are among those who should be interested in acquiring his services.
James van Riemsdyk
James van Riemsdyk is an excellent asset for the Maple Leafs, but if they are going to make a strong move for Tavares, they may have to let the high-scoring forward pass through their grasp.
After scoring 29 goals last year for the Leafs, he improved on that figure with 36 goals this season. The 28-year-old excels around the net, as he has excellent hand-eye coordination that allows him to tip pucks or jump on rebounds to fire the puck into the net quickly.
Look for offensively challenged teams like the Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks to show interest in JVR.
Evander Kane is something of an enigma because he is big, strong, fast and dangerous when he is in a positive situation and happy. That was not always the case during stops with the Atlanta Thrashers, Winnipeg Jets and Buffalo Sabres.
He welcomed the switch to the San Jose Sharks at the trade deadline this season, and he produced nine goals and five assists in 17 regular-season games with the Sharks. He checks in at 6'2" and 212 pounds, and he can be one of the biggest hitters in the league.
Kane has been a 30-goal scorer with a physical presence during his NHL career, and he deserves strong consideration. Teams like the Red Wings, Blues and Canucks could use his services.