NEW YORK - It's been a long, tiring, contentious offseason in the XHL. But now after the uncertainty of the past few months, the league is finally ready to proceed towards the start of the 2015 season.
Before that happens, however, some big names need to decide on their futures.
Free agency for the 2015 XHL season will kick off Monday at 12 PM Eastern with the opening of the 48-hour exclusive negotiating window for restricted free agents. Once that window closes, the window for unrestricted free agents will open at 12:01, and it will be open season for a number of teams in the hopes of bringing marquee talent to their cities.
Among some of the players available:
Derek Roy - The analytics darling, Roy wracked up a ton of shot attempts and put up extremely respectable offensive numbers for a mediocre Detroit team. With Mike Commodore already franchised in Motown, it will be tough for the Cougars to keep him while attempting to stay under the salary cap.
Eric Staal - One of the best players in XHL history over his first ten seasons, Staal has seen his stock drop recently thanks to a number of trades. But the elder Staal brother is only 29 and showed a lot of potential with an Empire team that was fighting hard for the playoffs at the end of the season. New York has interest in bringing him back, but the Empire have a lot of other areas to take care of first, meaning that he could be headed elsewhere.
Derek Krestanovich - Krestanovich has been one of the best, most consistent players in the XHL for the last few years, and still has plenty in the tank as he heads to free agency. Dallas has Brett Lebda franchised, and they may not have the cash reserves to retain him, so expect an intense bidding war for the man called "Kresty."
Jarome Iginla - There will be no $18M per year deal for Iginla this time around, but his veteran presence and his ability to continue to chip in offensively will be a welcome addition for a number of teams at what could be an extremely affordable price.
Nicolas Corbeil - A player regularly seen as one of the best in the league in Greensboro, Corbeil struggled at times in limited playing time with the Jets last year. Expect Corbeil to get a big-time contract and first or second-line minutes in his new home.
Michael Ryder - Brad Richards is franchised in Montreal, so Michael Ryder could be the next Moose to leave town. A consistent point-producer, Ryder should find a home easily in any number of cities.
Mike Cammalleri - Cammalleri struggled to find ice time on a stacked New Orleans team last year after being traded from Edmonton, but he will likely be able to get a solid contract as he hits free agency for the second time in his career.
Pekka Rinne - There are a number of quality goalies available in free agency, but few are more intriguing than the veteran Rinne. Still only 32, Rinne has been buried behind J.F. Berube and Joe Cannata in Quebec, and given the right situation, has a chance to flourish in a new city.
Willie Mitchell - Don't let his age scare you. Despite clocking in at 37 years of age, Mitchell continues to stand out as one of the most consistent defensemen in the league. And with a thin crop of blueliners in free agency this year, expect him to cash in big time if Ottawa opts not to use the franchise tag on him.
Andrei Markov - A big part of the Oakland Seals' miracle run to the XHL Cup Finals, Markov can still play at 35 and provides a booming shot that would be a welcome addition to many power plays throughout the league.
Bobby Ryan - With Patrick Sharp having been franchised, the Smugglers will have a tough time keeping Ryan in house, as he is expected to garner a significant amount of interest from multiple teams.
Henrik Zetterberg - Franchised last year, Los Angeles will have to take their chances in attempting to retain their star winger, as he is also expected to be one of the hottest commodoties in the league.
Tomas Plekanec - Hampered by injuries last season, Plekanec showed when healthy that he is one of the most exciting players in the league. With Danny Briere franchised, San Diego could have a difficult time keeping their number one center in tow.
Free agency is often the most exciting time of the XHL calendar, and with so many huge names out there this season, there's sure to be a lot of excitement in the coming days.
2014 XHL FREE AGENCY
Monday, January 20, 12 PM Eastern - Restricted free agency exclusive window opens
Wednesday, January 22, 12:01 PM Eastern - Unrestricted free agency window opens