The NHL free-agent signing period begins on July 1, and unlike previous years where the talent available has been thin, there is likely to be a franchise player available to the highest bidder with superstar forward Steven Stamkos eligible to hit the open market.
It is not often that a player that good finds his way to free agency, and unless the Lightning are able to get him to sign a new deal before then, he is going to become one of the most sought after free agents in recent league history.
When you look at the available players, he is clearly on a different level than everybody else.
From there, things take a big drop and you start getting into players that carry a bit more risk.
Here we take a look at the different tiers of free agents that are likely to be available.
The franchise player
Stamkos might be one of the biggest -- if not the biggest -- players to ever hit the free-agent market when you combine his talent, skill, production and the fact he is still only 26 years old. Even though most scorers tend to peak around their mid-20s, that doesn't mean they immediately stop being productive. Stamkos may have already played his most productive hockey in the NHL (he is probably not going to be a 60-goal scorer again), and there is always a concern when you are paying players top dollar for what they already did for somebody as opposed to what they might do for you, but he is still going to be a constant threat to score 35-40 goals for the foreseeable future.
He is one of maybe three or four players in the NHL right now that are actually capable of doing that on a yearly basis.
He will -- and should -- be compensated as such, and there will be no shortage of teams interested, whether it is Toronto, Detroit, Buffalo or even a return to Tampa Bay.
The potential difference makers
The Rangers may not have fully appreciated what he can do, but few defensemen in the NHL can impact a game the way Yandle can with the puck on his stick. He is one of the most productive defensemen in the league -- and has been for several years -- and is the type of defender teams should be looking for in today's NHL.
His negotiating rights now belong to the Florida Panthers following a trade.
Update: Yandle has signed a seven-year contract with the Panthers. He is now off the market.
Over the past three years Okposo has averaged around 65 points per 82 games, which is absolutely first-line production in the NHL. He has skill, plays a physical game and is still fairly young as far as free agents are concerned.
But there are some concerns.
The first is that even though 28 is young for most UFA's on the open market, it is still probably past the point of his peak production in the NHL. There is also the fact his production does drop a little when he is away from John Tavares. Instead of a 65-point player, maybe your expectations for him in a new setting are more in the 50-55 range. Which is still very good.
Timing is everything, and Eriksson had one of his best seasons at the absolute perfect time just before he is eligible to hit unrestricted free agency in a market that is once again short on impact players. His numbers from the 2015-16 season were fantastic -- 30 goals and 33 assists for the Bruins. Those numbers are also a pretty sudden reversal from the steady decline he had been in over the previous four years. At age 31 you probably should not expect him to be quite as good going forward, but even if he isn't he should still be good enough to be a nice top-line addition.
Alex Goligoski is similar to Yandle in the sense that people tend to spend more time focussing on the things he does not do as opposed to the things he does do. He will get crushed for a turnover or not being physical enough, but he is almost always a net positive based on what he does on the ice. He is an extremely durable player (he has missed just three games over the past four years while playing more than 22 minutes a night) that can score, get the puck out of the defensive zone and help drive possession.
His negotiating rights currently belong to the Arizona Coyotes after a recent trade as they try to sell him on the idea of perhaps being the long-term partner for Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Update: Goligoski is officially off the market after signing a five-year contract with the Coyotes.
The overvalued players
Fact: Milan Lucic is a really good hockey player that every team could use because he does a little bit of everything.
He can score, is one of the most physical players in the league, and consistently has strong possession numbers. He has something that everybody in hockey -- both new school and old school -- can like and appreciate, and because of that, I initially had him in the difference maker category.
But even with all of that, the legend of Milan Lucic seems to be greater than what you are actually getting on the ice. The name and reputation from his Boston days as the focal point of the recent "Big Bad Bruins" sometimes seems to carry more weight than the actual play on the ice.
He is a great complementary piece and a very good player. He is not the focal point of a team. I worry teams will pay him like the latter.
Like Lucic, Backes is a useful player that can be easy to overvalue because of the intangibles he provides.
It's not that those things don't matter, but when you're working in a salary cap league and only have so much money to work with you simply cannot make mistakes. Backes may be a fine leader, a great teammate and somebody willing to challenge the other team's best player or captain, but you cannot ignore the reality that he is 32 years old and is likely to be a 45-50 point player -- at best -- right now. And one whose production is only going to drop in the coming years.
Today's good leader and teammate is tomorrow's bad contract you have to give up a useful asset in order to dump.
Playing the the past six years in Atlanta and Winnipeg has made it easy to overlook just how good he has been throughout his career. He has been a steady a 25-goal, 50-point player with strong possession numbers and a good two-way game. If he played in a better situation during his prime years he would probably be a bigger name in the NHL. He was supposed to be one of the pieces that put the Blackhawks over the top this past season following a pre-deadline trade, but it never quite worked out that way for him or the team.
The question mark for Ladd is the same as a lot of the players in this section: Even though he can still be a useful player, his best days are behind him as he is now on the wrong side of 30.
One of the biggest mistakes NHL teams tend to make is overreacting to what happened in a short playoff run. It could be giving up on an otherwise productive player that went cold, or giving too much money to an average player that ended up getting hot at the right time.
Troy Brouwer could easily fall into the latter category based on what he did this postseason for the Blues where he scored eight goals and added five assists in 20 playoff games. He is not going to be that player over 82 games.
He is more likely to be the 40-point, below 50-percent Corsi player he has been over the past three years.
The player looking for the right situation
Campbell is a tough one because even though he can still be an impact player, he is not going to work for everybody and there are only a limited number of teams that are going to be in the market for him.
For most of his career he has been the type of player that if nobody knew how much money he made he would probably get the credit he has always deserved for being a top-pairing defenseman. He is still a strong top-pairing defender and can help pretty much any team in the league. The only negative with him as a free agent is the age. He just turned 37 so he is not a long-term solution. A contender looking for a short-term solution in their top four -- if Campbell is willing to come cheap -- is the ideal situation.
Somebody like, say, his former team in Chicago.
The goalie market is a tough one, not only for teams trying to trade one (Pittsburgh? Tampa Bay?), but also for free agents on the open market. It's tough because there just are not that many teams looking for a starter. Pretty much everybody has a good one that they are committed to long-term. That is a problem for somebody like James Reimer. Throughout his career he has shown flashes of being a full-time starter, but also has yet to play more than 40 games in a single season.
It's not that Boedker doesn't have any value, it's just that his value is very limited to one specific area: The power play. That is a nice asset to have, but given how little impact the power play tends to have in the NHL anymore (because teams just don't get enough opportunities), 5-on-5 scoring should still be the priority. Boedker tends to fall behind in that area. Of the 264 forwards that have logged at least 2,000 minutes of ice-time over the past three years, he is 184th in terms of points per 60 minutes.
Staal has been a great player in the NHL for a long time, but how much does he have left at this point?
He seemed to be a shell of his former self this past season (by far the worst season of his career), seeing a stunning decline in pretty much every category across the board. He is going to be 32 years old at the start of the season and there is little to indicate that sudden decline is going to reverse itself.
Russell was somewhat of a hot commodity at the trade deadline because he is viewed as a defensive defenseman and one of the best and most willing shot-blockers in the NHL.
Shot blocking is a fine skill to have, and if you can prevent a puck from getting to your goaltender, you should do it. But if it is the best skill a player has and is the first thing that is mentioned when talking about him that is probably a bad sign. Russell seemed to be a weak link on the Dallas blue line in the postseason after coming over in a trade from Calgary