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Offense is the objective as free agency opens

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

COLUMBUS, Ohio - There aren't many dull moments when it comes to the so-called "frenzy" of the NHL's free agency period. That much, we can all agree on.

And it's not just the day itself (July 5 this year, after a condensed NHL season pushed everything back a few days) that causes so much excitement and anticipation. It's also the days leading up to the opening of free agency, with at least one major trade finalized before the floodgates open. We saw that yesterday with the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars doing business on a multi-player deal which sent Tyler Seguin to the Stars, and 30-goal guy Loui Eriksson to Beantown.

Fireworks are commonplace this time of year and the NHL rarely disappoints in supplying its own.

We're a few hours from the official opening of unrestricted free agency, but the past two days have served a purpose for several teams in the market for top players. The NHL's new collective bargaining agreement allows for a 48-hour interview period for free agents, in which they can visit their suitors and further explore opportunities they may have on the open market.

While teams and free agents can not agree to terms or sign contracts during this period, a lot of work can be done to determine potential fits for both parties.

The Blue Jackets aren't the only club in the hunt for scoring, but there's a decent-to-good market in free agency. Ideally, they would like to add a top-six forward with offensive punch and size to play on either wing, giving them a pretty solid 1-2 tandem on the wing with Marian Gaborik.

GM Jarmo Kekalainen said the Blue Jackets had multiple discussions prior to and at the NHL Draft in hopes of adding a scorer via trade, but the prices and available players did not make sense for them. They now turn to free agency with approximately $8 million in room under the salary cap after the signing of Blake Comeau earlier this week.

"If we would’ve gotten a deal done at the draft for a scorer, we’d probably be done right now," Kekalainen told "But we don’t, so now we move to next stage which is free agency. A lot of things can still happen in trades coming up, and we still need a big piece for our team.

"We want to address the scoring and add some offense, so that’s our next goal."

Who are the biggest names on the market? Let's have a look.

David Clarkson (NJ) - Undrafted after four years in the Ontario Hockey League, Clarkson began to make a name for himself after joining the Devils organization. Not normally known as a goal-scorer, Clarkson netted 30 goals in 2011-12 and added 15 in the abbreviated 2012-13 campaign. His combination of size, grit (usually a 100+ PIM guy) and scoring has made him a top target on the free-agent market.

Nathan Horton (BOS) - The prototypical power forward; Horton has size (6-foot-2, 229 lbs.) and gets to the net to score greasy goals, but also has a strong wrist shot and natural goal-scoring instincts. He had a tremendous playoff run in 2013 with the Bruins, tallying 19 points in 22 games and was a +20. Horton has scored 20-plus goals six times in his NHL career and posted back-to-back 62 point seasons in 2006-07 and 2007-08.

Valtteri Fippula (DET) - An intriguing option for teams looking at offense and versatility up front, Filppula has played all three forward positions during his time with the Detroit Red Wings and has a wide-ranging skill set that has him on many teams' radar. The question mark on Filppula is whether he can put up numbers like he did in 2011-12: 23-43-66 in 81 games, or is he more likely to be on a lower average points-per-game pace? That's the unpredictability of free agency at its finest.

Mikhail Grabovski (TOR) - The Maple Leafs cleared cap room by using their second compliance buyout on Grabovski yesterday, instantly upgrading the free-agent market for centers. Grabovski has been a No. 2 or No. 3 center in Toronto for the past few years, but has the potential to play a larger role in a different environment. Could he be a full-time No. 2 center? That's likely to be the scenario he's looking for with his next contract, and there's no mistaking that he can produce offense: he put up 51 points in 2011-12 and 58 the year prior, and has scored 20-plus goals three times in his five years with the Maple Leafs.

Stephen Weiss (FLA) - Weiss has spent his entire NHL career with the Panthers, but it appears his days in south Florida may be coming to an end. Weiss will test the free agent market and figures to have several suitors; as an offensive (top-6) center, Weiss should have a handful of teams showing interest and giving him the opportunity to get back to producing points at a solid pace. The previous year was not a pleasant one, as Weiss put up just four points in 17 games before missing the remainder of the season due to injury. He's coming off a six-year, $18.6 million deal with the Panthers.

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