As July slowly creeps toward August, the work of the National Hockey League slowly is revving its way to full speed for another season.
For players, that means returning to their home cities and scraping away the offseason rust. For coaches, it's time to break out the playbook and start drawing up drills and line combinations.
For general managers, however, their work is never really done. There's always some tinkering of the roster, and player evaluation is a 365-day-per-year process. And just like most years, there remain players on the open market as training camps loom ever closer.
The list of remaining free agents includes future Hall of Famers, former All-Stars, team captains and Stanley Cup winners.
Among the biggest names remaining among free-agent forwards are a pair of aging veterans who might have enough left in them to benefit some team thanks to their experience and talent.
Former New York Rangers captain Chris Drury was bought out of his contract after an injury plagued 2010-11. But, if healthy, his resume of big-time performances speaks for itself. A nine-time 20-goal scorer, he owns a Calder Trophy and a Stanley Cup and has 89 points in 135 playoff games. If Drury is healthy, he could add a solid third-line presence to a young team.
Another player who went through the buy-out process after a disappointing season was J-P Dumont. The right wing, 33, slumped to just 10 goals in 70 games this past season for the Nashville Predators, a personal full-season low. However, Dumont has scored at least 20 goals five times, and after five seasons in Nashville, perhaps a change in scenery could rejuvenate him.
Two-time Stanley Cup champion Cory Stillman also is among the players looking for a job. The 37-year-old forward had 49 points last season. Twenty-one of them came in his final 16 games after returning to the Hurricanes at the trade deadline.
Among the available defensemen are Bryan McCabe, who in his long career has won a number of awards and honors, but the one escaping him is a Stanley Cup. He had just 6 points in 19 late-season games with the New York Rangers, but he still has the smarts and know-how to quarterback a power play -- 74 of his 145 career goals have come on the man-advantage.
If offense isn't what a team needs, there certainly are good candidates that fall into the stay-at-home defenseman category.
Brent Sopel had an underrated role in the Blackhawks' run to the 2010 Stanley Cup as a shot blocker and penalty killer, and those are two skills that every team needs to win a championship. Sopel won't play in a team's top pair, but would make a solid third-pairing player for any team.
The same could be said for Scott Hannan, who filled a defense-first role in Washington most of this past season. Hannan, 32, was fifth on the Caps with 122 blocked shots and played 78 games. He's no goal-scorer, but he's reliable and durable -- he's played at least 75 games in each of his 10 full seasons.
Teams looking to fill a spot in net could turn their gaze to Ray Emery. A medical marvel for overcoming a career-threatening hip injury, Emery returned to win 7 of 10 games for the Ducks last season, and started five of the Ducks' six playoff games. At 28, Emery is young enough to have a few more solid seasons, and he has extensive playoff experience, dating to when he backstopped the Ottawa Senators to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final.
While Emery dealt with a serious injury, the issues have been more of the nagging variety for 2001 first-round pick Pascal Leclaire, who has played more than 35 games in a season just once (2007-08). He appeared in 54 games and had by far his best season -- 24 wins, .919 save percentage and a 2.25 goals-against average. However, he's played just 60 games in three seasons since then due to an assortment of lower-body injuries. If Leclaire can stay healthy, there's little doubt he could help a team -- however, his health is a big if.
The 30 general managers know just who remains available, and, no doubt, have their scouts out searching and looking for anyone who could help fill out their team's roster.
Their work never is done.