As the NHL regular season begins to wind down, it's time to start looking forward to the offseason. It should be a summer with a much greater sense of normalcy without a potential work stoppage hanging over every move a team makes.
A quick glance at the potential class of free agents reveals a group that features more depth than star power. Teams looking for upgrades on their second through fourth forward lines should be able to find a player who fits their system. Not so much when it comes to a top-line superstar.
With that in mind, let's examine the top three forwards that could hit the open market after the lockout-shortened campaign comes to an end.
1. Jarome Iginla
Iginla spent his entire NHL career with the Calgary Flames until he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the trade deadline. The Penguins are gearing up for a run at the Stanley Cup and he was the best rental player available.
The veteran winger has tallied two points in five games since the move to Pittsburgh. The stats that teams will be looking at in the offseason are his more impressive career numbers. He scored at least 30 goals in 11 straight seasons before the lockout derailed his streak.
Regardless of what happens the rest of the season with the Penguins, Iginla will be a coveted commodity. He still has plenty of offensive ability at age 35 and possesses the leadership qualities every title-hopeful team is looking for.
2. Valtteri Filppula
After a career-best season that saw him score 66 points, Filppula is one of the many players who haven't played up to their usual standards following the work stoppage. He has just 14 points in 32 games and sports a minus-five rating.
Ultimately, it shouldn't have a major impact on his market value. There are a lack of reliable centers in the league, which makes even the second-tier ones that hit free agency carry a lot of value. The Detroit Red Wings star won't be any different.
Filppula is an ideal second-line center. He's a solid playmaker, as illustrated by his 43 assists last season, and there's still a sense he hasn't reached his peak. Detroit will probably fight to keep him, but he would be a good addition for a lot of teams around the NHL.
3. David Clarkson
Clarkson struggled to establish a role for himself in his first couple years with the New Jersey Devils. Then, last season, he broke out to the tune of 30 goals while still maintaining the physical presence that made him tough to play against.
He's maintained that scoring touch with 13 goals in 40 games this season, which should give confidence to other teams that it wasn't a fluke. When you put it all together, he's a player who can play in any situation and is seemingly just reaching his peak.
Just as importantly, his ability to play several different roles means he would still hold solid value even if he isn't scoring 30 goals per season. Low-risk players like that carry added worth because it makes them far less likely to become a total bust.