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10 free-agent forwards who figure to be popular

by Adam Schwartz
Since the rule changes that were made for the 2005-06 season, the NHL has placed a larger importance on offense. The four semifinalists in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs -- Pittsburgh, Detroit, Carolina and Chicago -- showed the value of an up-tempo attack and the need to keep the pressure on the opposition.

That kind of pressure takes offensive talent, and there's plenty of that available in this year's crop of free-agent forwards when July 1 arrives. Here's a look at 10 of the top potential unrestricted free agents:

Mike Cammalleri -- Cammalleri had the best season of his career in Calgary, complementing Jarome Iginla. The 26-year-old center, whose strength is his one-timer, finished with 39 goals, including 19 on the power play, one short of League leader Alex Ovechkin. The Flames are likely to have a hard time squeezing Cammalleri's salary under the cap -- meaning that his phone should start ringing early and often when free agency begins.   

Marian Gaborik -- There's no doubt that Gaborik can put the puck in the net. The hard part for the speedy Slovak scorer is staying on the ice. Back and hip injuries limited Gaborik to just 17 games for the Minnesota Wild this past season. Injury woes are nothing new to Gaborik, who played just 48 games in 2006-07 because of a groin strain. If Gaborik can prove that he's both healthy and as potent as he was before 2008-09 (42 goals in 2007-08), the team that signs him is going to have one of the NHL's best pure goal scorers. Gaborik has scored 30 goals five times and 40 goals once in the seven seasons in which he's played more than 45 games.

Brian Gionta -- Gionta is the shortest player on this list -- he's generously listed as 5-foot-7. But he plays bigger and isn't afraid to go to the tough areas of the ice. Gionta made a name for himself by setting New Jersey's single-season record by scoring 48 goals in 2005-06, but has seen his production drop off since then, scoring no more than 25 goals in the last three seasons. He's played his entire career in New Jersey.

Martin Havlat -- Havlat was a major reason for Chicago's resurgence this past season, rebounding from injuries to lead the team in assists (48) and scoring (77 points), then adding 15 points in the playoffs. But with young stars like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane coming up on the end of their rookie contracts, the Hawks may be hard-pressed to give Havlat the type of contract he'll want. Despite Havlat's obvious offensive upside, he is considered somewhat of an injury risk because he played just 109 combined games in the three seasons prior to 2008-09.

Marian Hossa -- Hossa was the prize of last summer's free agency shopping blitz when he turned down long-term offers to take a one-year contract with Detroit in hopes of adding a Stanley Cup to his resume. It didn't happen -- the Pittsburgh Penguins, his former team, knocked off the Wings in seven games. Hossa is arguably the best forward on the market again this summer after a 40-goal season with the Wings, but he's coming off a Final in which he was held without a goal. Still, he had 18 goals and 41 points in 43 games in the last two playoffs -- and at 30, he figures to have several more productive seasons ahead.

Alexei Kovalev -- When Bill Guerin won the Cup with the Penguins this spring after going Cup-less since his rookie season in 1995, it must have given Kovalev some hope. Like Guerin, Kovalev won the Cup as a rookie in 1994 (with the New York Rangers) and hasn't won it since. Kovalev is a dynamic offensive talent and a wizard with the puck on his stick, but he's 36 and is clearly on the downside of his career. That is not to say he's over the hill -- Kovalev scored 35 goals and 85 points in 2007-08 and had 26 goals and 65 points during an inconsistent season in 2008-09.

Saku Koivu -- Koivu has been the Canadiens' captain since 1999, but at 34, he may have reached the end of the road in Montreal. Koivu is invaluable in the faceoff circle -- he's had a percentage of better than 52 percent in each of his last five seasons. Few players have worn the bleu, blanc et rouge more proudly or given more of themselves to the franchise than Koivu, and it will be interesting to see what he and GM Bob Gainey decide to do. Koivu's younger brother Mikko is the captain of the Minnesota Wild.

Alex Tanguay -- Like Cammalleri, Tanguay is a creative offensive talent. He came to Montreal on Draft Day in 2008 for a first-round pick and was having a solid season before a separated shoulder essentially ended his year. Of the three Montreal forwards on this list, Tanguay is by far the youngest at 29. Despite the injury, Tanguay still scored 16 goals and added 25 assists in 50 games. He's also no stranger to postseason success -- Tanguay won the Cup in 2001 with the Avalanche in just his second season in the League and scored twice in Game 7 of the Final against the Devils.

Daniel and Henrik Sedin -- Daniel is the goal-scorer and Henrik is the playmaker of the twins, who've spent their eight NHL seasons with the Vancouver Canucks and have expressed a desire to stay together -- which could limit their options. Daniel is coming off a 31-goal, 82-point season and was the Canucks' lone 30-goal scorer in 2008-09. Henrik had 22 goals and 60 assists to match his brother with 82 points. The two sides have been talking, but working out a deal could be complicated because of the money needed to keep the duo together.

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