The next phase in the run-up to the 2015-16 season begins at noon ET on Wednesday, when the unrestricted free agent signing period begins.
The list of unrestricted free agents grew to include forwards Mike Richards, PA Parenteau, Cody Hodgson and Viktor Stalberg in the past few days. Richards cleared unconditional waivers and had his contract terminated by the Los Angeles Kings. The others cleared waivers and were bought out.
Meanwhile, forwards Jay Beagle (Washington Capitals) and Drew Stafford (Winnipeg Jets), goaltender Antti Niemi (Dallas Stars) and defenseman Adam McQuaid (Boston Bruins) were re-signed prior to reaching free agency. Niemi had his rights traded to the Stars from the San Jose Sharks during the 2015 NHL Draft.
Here are the 20 best unrestricted free agents (in alphabetical order) expected to be available when the market opens Wednesday:
Note: All previous cap charges according to war-on-ice.com.
FRANCOIS BEAUCHEMIN, ANAHEIM DUCKS
Previous cap charge: $3.5 million
The Ducks acquired Kevin Bieksa from the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, an indication that Beauchemin won't be back. Beauchemin was the Ducks' No. 1 defenseman last season based on his ice time (22:44 per game). He had 23 points in 64 games, a plus-17 rating and a 50.51 shot-attempts percentage (SAT). He also had nine assists in 16 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He 35 years old and still can be a valuable top-four defenseman on most teams.
MATT BELESKEY, ANAHEIM DUCKS
Previous cap charge: $1.35 million
Beleskey likely will get a significant raise because of the career-best 22 goals he scored in 65 games with the Ducks last season. There is a risk, however, because he hasn't proven himself during a stretch of multiple seasons. His 22 goals doubled his previous career high, and he had a 15.2 shooting percentage, also a career high. He had 33 more shots on goal than the 2013-14 season but scored 13 more goals.
CHRISTIAN EHRHOFF, PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Previous cap charge: $4 million
Ehrhoff is a valuable defenseman, but he's coming off a concussion that ended his season March 24. He had 14 points in 49 games and averaged 21:45 of ice time, third on the Penguins. It was somewhat surprising that he signed a one-year contract last summer. The thought at the time was that he could parlay it into another big contract. Now he might have to sign another one-year contract.
ERIC FEHR, WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Previous cap charge: $1.5 million
Fehr proved himself as a capable third-line center with the Capitals. He had 19 goals and 14 assists in 75 games. He played in shorthanded situations, won 52.0 percent of his faceoffs and had a 50.48 shot-attempts percentage (SAT) while playing a shut-down role against the opposition's top line on many occasions. He had surgery on his elbow earlier this month but is expected to make a full recovery in time for the start of the 2015-16 season.
CODY FRANSON, NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Previous cap charge: $3.3 million
Franson is 27 and a right-shot defender, and those are two pluses for him. He didn't deliver as the Predators hoped he would after they acquired him from the Toronto Maple Leafs in February. He had four points in 23 games and two points in five playoff games. Franson shouldn't have any problems finding a team and a fair contract because of his age, the fact that he's a righty, and his offensive skills.
MICHAEL FROLIK, WINNIPEG JETS
Previous cap charge: $3.3 million
Frolik could be one of the most serviceable and durable forwards available. He had 19 goals and 42 points in 82 games with the Jets last season. He has proven his ability to play on any line and he's missed four games in the past three seasons. He helped the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2013 with 10 points in 23 playoff games in a fourth-line role. He's 27.
MIKE GREEN, WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Previous cap charge: $6.083 million
Although his ice time dropped and he played on the third pair with Washington this season, he remained a strong possession player and valuable on the power play. He is 29 years old and has played in 575 regular-season games. He is helped by the fact that he's a righty. Jeff Petry's contract with the Montreal Canadiens (six years, $33 million) could be a comparison.
PAUL MARTIN, PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Previous cap charge: $5 million
Martin might be more cost effective than Green and he might be able to deliver more in an all-around package. He can play upwards of 23 minutes per night, skate on both special-teams units and in a top-pair role, and be effective in every area. The Penguins have a glut of young defensemen and a need to spend money on a top-six forward or two.
MICHAL NEUVIRTH, NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Previous cap charge: $2.5 million
The Islanders should be interested in re-signing Neuvirth, but it benefits him to test his value. The Sharks, Calgary Flames and Buffalo Sabres still need help in the goaltending department. The question is if Neuvirth is worth $2.5 million again. In five games in New York after getting traded from the Sabres, he had a .881 save percentage and a 2.94 GAA. But he had a .918 save percentage in 27 games with Buffalo before the trade.
JOHNNY ODUYA, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Previous cap charge: $3.375 million
Arguably nobody enhanced their value more during the Stanley Cup Playoffs than Oduya. He was effective and played significant minutes (24:45 per game), especially in the final two rounds, to help Chicago win the Stanley Cup. Oduya is a two-time Cup champion who is 33 years old. He would be a good fit for a team that moves the puck well and has young defensemen who can skate, such as the Stars and Florida Panthers.
PA PARENTEAU, MONTREAL CANADIENS
Previous cap charge: $4 million
Parenteau is a free agent because the Canadiens bought out the final season of his contract Monday. He had eight goals and 22 points in 56 games with Montreal last season. Parenteau's had two consecutive down years, and that could be good news for the team that signs him. He'll likely come at a decent price and he has the potential to score 20 goals if paired with the right center. He could be one of the top bargain signings.
KARRI RAMO, CALGARY FLAMES
Previous cap charge: $2.75 million
The Flames have Jonas Hiller signed for one more season at $4.5 million, so if Ramo wants a raise of any sort it might be the end of his tenure in Calgary. The Flames also have Joni Ortio. If they deem Ortio ready to become the full-time backup to Hiller, it makes Ramo expendable. They also could try to get a cheaper backup to compete with Ortio. Ramo has been average in Calgary with a 32-24-7 record, a 2.63 GAA and a .911 save percentage in two seasons.
MIKE RIBEIRO, NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Previous cap charge: $1.05 million
Ribeiro is coming off a strong rebound season with the Predators after a tough finish with the Arizona Coyotes on a personal and professional level that led to a buyout of his contract. He had 62 points, including 47 assists, in 82 games to help Nashville reach the playoffs. General manager David Poile said Ribeiro turned down a contract offer from the Predators last week, according to The Tennessean, but that doesn't mean he's done with them.
BRAD RICHARDS, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Previous cap charge: $2 million
Richards delivered what was asked of him in Chicago and he's getting his name engraved on the Stanley Cup again because of it. He had 37 points in 76 games, and 14 points in 23 playoff games. Patrick Kane said on the ice after winning the Cup that he hopes Richards stays in Chicago. Richards would like that, but the Blackhawks have cap concerns.
MIKE RICHARDS, LOS ANGELES KINGS
Previous cap charge: $5.75 million
He might be the most talked about player on the market because of how he got there, why he got there, what he's already done in his career and what he potentially still has left. Richards is a free agent because Los Angeles terminated his contract Monday "for a material breach of the requirements of his Standard Players' Contract," the Kings said in a press release. Richards won the Stanley Cup twice with the Kings, but his production deteriorated and he spent part of 2014-15 in the American Hockey League. He's 30 years old and had 16 points in 53 NHL games last season.
ANDREJ SEKERA, LOS ANGELES KINGS
Previous cap charge: $2.75 million
The Kings need a player like Sekera, especially with Robyn Regehr's retirement and the cloudy future of Slava Voynov. They also traded a conditional first-round draft pick and a prospect to get Sekera from the Carolina Hurricanes prior to the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline. The hope was Sekera would help the Kings make the playoffs. He had one goal and three assists in 14 games, but they couldn't get in.
JIRI TLUSTY, WINNIPEG JETS
Previous cap charge: $2.95 million
Tlusty hasn't come close to producing the way he did in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, when he had 23 goals and 38 points in 48 games for the Hurricanes. He has 61 points in 140 games since. However he's 27 and has shown an ability to produce when paired with an elite center (Eric Staal with the Hurricanes). He could be a productive second-line forward on a team that needs help in that area. The Penguins are one of those teams, and GM Jim Rutherford was the Hurricanes' GM when Tlusty had his best seasons.
ANTOINE VERMETTE, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Previous cap charge: $3.75 million
Vermette was a healthy scratch to start the playoffs, but he delivered once he got in the lineup. Three of his four goals were game-winners, and two of them were in overtime. He also won 58.9 percent of his faceoffs, the best percentage for any player who went beyond the second round. Whether he redeemed himself enough to land a lucrative, multiyear contract remains to be seen. It's unlikely he'll be back in Chicago because of the Blackhawks' cap issues.
JOEL WARD, WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Previous cap charge: $3 million
Ward can play a power game on any line. He's a constant net-front presence and a threat to score 20-plus goals. He had 19 last season after scoring 24 on 18.0-percent shooting in 2013-14. He is 34 years old. He'll be a valuable signing for any team.
JUSTIN WILLIAMS, LOS ANGELES KINGS
Previous cap charge: $3.65 million
Williams is one of the most intriguing free agents because of his playoff success. He is a three-time Cup champion and won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2014. He is one of the most clutch playoff performers in NHL history with a League-record 14 points in Game 7s. His seven goals in Game 7s are tied with Hockey Hall of Fame forward Glenn Anderson for the most in League history. His teams are 7-0 in Game 7s. He had 41 points in 81 regular-season games.