The free agency period begins Friday July 1, and with the recent trend of signing players to lengthy contracts and coveting young prospects, some teams don't have a lot of wiggle room.
Add to that teams who are committed to spending just barely above the salary cap floor, and it can be a complicated situation.
Some players may have to adjust their salary expectations downward for these reasons, and sometimes because of their own age and declining play.
The players on this list aren't guaranteed to leave their most recent teams, but wherever they end up it will be for a reduced rate. Included is their position, age and 2010-11 rate of pay.
Jason Arnott, C, 36, $4.5M
2010-11: 73 GP, 17 G, 14 A, 31 PTS, -6 rating
Arnott is 37 in October and is coming off the least productive season of his career. Putting the most positive spin on his last season, his numbers may have been impacted by playing on a lousy Devils club, and he was clearly rejuvenated by the move to Washington (13 points in 20 games).
Tim Connolly, C, 30, $4.5M
2010-11: 68 GP, 13 G, 29 A, 42 PTS, -10 rating
Connolly has played 141 games the past two seasons for Buffalo, which has got to have some general managers thinking about when the other shoe is going to drop, given his post-concussion problems and other nagging injuries.
His current contract was a two-year offering, following his injury-plagued three-year term which averaged $3 million.
He's a centre, but his face-off numbers have been pedestrian the past two seasons. He'll latch on somewhere given his passing and puck handling abilities, but likely at a modest (for an NHL player) rate.
Simon Gagne, LW, 31, $5.25M
2010-11: 63 GP, 17 G, 23 A, 40 PTS, -12 rating
Gagne and his agent would do well to target serious playoff contenders if he doesn't head back to the Tampa Bay Lightning. He's built on his reputation for showing up in crunch time the past two seasons with 14 goals and 24 points in 31 playoff games. Dogged by nagging injuries in three of the last four seasons, he finished with 17 goals and 23 assists in the past two seasons. While the league is reportedly moving towards a more balanced schedule, it will be interesting to see if he prefers to stay in the East.
Roman Hamrlik, D, 37, $5.5M
2010-11: 79 GP, 5 G, 29 A, 34 PTS, plus-6 rating
Inclusion on this list is an indictment for some players, but not for this guy. Sure, he's not quite the player anymore who in no small part helped Dion Phaneuf get his (only ever?) Norris Trophy nomination five years ago. But he's been durable, plays on the power play, blocks shots, and even drops the gloves every once in a while.
The mind warp is that come this season he'll have spent more than half his lifetime as an NHL player.
Scott Hannan, D, 32, $4.5M
2010-11: 78 GP, 1 G, 10 A, 11 PTS, plus-4 rating
You will likely deduce a popular theme from this list, and the free agent crop as a whole: Veteran guys —many of them gritty — who can help teams who are seeing their defence corps get radically younger compared to the pre-lockout norm. Part player, part mentor, if you will.
Hannan, therefore, will engender much interest if he doesn't return to the Capitals.
Ed Jovanovski, D, 35, $6M
2010-11: 50 GP, 5 G, 9 A, 14 PTS, plus-4 rating
It will be fascinating to see what Jovanovski fetches on the open market, with it unlikely the cash-challenged Coyotes will bring him back. He's a known quantity, providing toughness, hard hits and a decent amount of production from the back end, but were the last two years an indication his body is breaking down after years of tough toil? He played 116 regular season games the last two years, compared to 162 in the previous two years in Arizona.
Tomas Kaberle, D, 33, $4.25M
2010-11: 82 GP, 4 G, 43 A, 47 PTS, plus-4 rating
Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli hasn't closed the book as of draft weekend on Kaberle, who struggled in his new environment after 12 years or so in Toronto. Anyone who didn't just parachute into Boston's games during the playoffs will know that the Bruins moved the puck around on the power play much better with him than without him early in the season. The results weren't there, but much of that blame falls on the forwards not burying their chances. And he led all Bruins in power-play points in the playoffs (albeit with just five) and played 82 games for the seventh time in his career.
While Kaberle presents a skill set the Bruins don't have otherwise, the situation is complicated by the fact that Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference are all under contract for at least two more seasons. Boston will probably not able to offer Kaberle what he could make in a few other cities, but maybe he's developed the taste for actually winning.
Alex Ponikarovsky, LW, 31, $3.2M
2010-11: 77 GP, 7G, 17 A, 24 PTS, minus-5 rating
Ponikarovsky managed to turn conventional thinking on its ear. So many former Toronto Maple Leafs over the last two decades blossomed once they left the Centre of the Hockey Universe.
But Ponikarovsky went from scoring once every three to four games in his Toronto prime to once in every 10 games since his departure some 16 months ago. To wit: nine goals in 92 regular season and playoff games with Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. And it's not like he can leverage himself as a timely goal scorer, with just three goals and 10 points in 38 career playoff games.
Michael Ryder, RW, 31, $4M
2010-11: 79 GP, 18 G, 23 A, 41 PTS, plus-2 rating
There are at least two factors that could see Ryder return to the Bruins — his longstanding relationship with coach Claude Julien, which predates their time in Boston — and the fact he's one of the few forwards on the team with a legitimately sneaky shot. But he disappears for games at a time, and after scoring over 20 goals four times in his first five seasons has not reached that standard in the past two.
Tomas Vokoun, G, 34, $6.3M
2010-2011: 57 GP, 22-28-5, 6 SO, 2.55 GAVG, .922 SV
Vokoun is a polarizing figure when it comes to hockey opinion makers. Many point to his largely impressive stats while toiling for mediocre versions of the Florida Panthers, and previously, the Nashville Predators.
For others, it's hard to shake the fact that in three of the past four seasons, once the calendar has hit February, you start to see more three-or-more goal-against games dotting his ledger. He has just five playoff games to his name despite eight seasons as a starter.
Regardless of which camp you subscribe to, it would be shocking to see someone pay him close to what he's earned the past couple of years.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere, G, 34, $7M
2010-2011: 33 GP, 11-11-4, 6 SO, 2.87 GAVG, .900 SV
Is it possible that if Giguere wants to continue his career he'll have to sign a tryout contract just before training camp? While it's nice to speculate that if healthy the veteran could be a nice complement with a young No. 1 goaltender, you come up against cold hard facts: He hasn't been healthy, and he hasn't gone into a season with a backup's mentality in over a decade.
GALLERY: 2011 NHL free agents