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Kovy is this year's marquee unrestricted free agent

by Adam Kimelman
That sound you hear is the clock counting down, ticking off the seconds until the 2010 free agent market opens.

For 30 NHL teams, it's like waiting for the mall to open on the biggest shopping day of the year. Some clubs will sprint for the up-scale stores, while others will dig through the bargain bin to fill out their wish lists.

Here are the seven players likely to drive the market:

Ilya Kovalchuk -- How much is a 27-year-old left wing with six straight 40-goal seasons under his belt going to be worth on the open market? Well, we're about to find out. The Devils want him back, but the price could be too much. Is L.A. an option? The Kings could use another big-time scorer and are reportedly set to make an offer. It will be fascinating to watch the Kovalchuk sweepstakes.

Sergei Gonchar --
He has been the Penguins' best defenseman and power-play quarterback since signing a five-year contract in 2005. Gonchar, 36, reportedly would like stay in Pittsburgh with another multi-year deal, but as of now that hasn't been arranged. He made $5 million per season over the last five seasons when he put up 259 points in 322 regular-season games, plus another 44 points in 60 playoff games. Contract talks are reportedly ongoing.

Dan Hamhuis -- At 27, the former Nashville blueliner could be the most desirable defenseman available. The Flyers traded Ryan Parent and a late-round draft pick for his negotiating rights, and when they couldn't get a deal done, shipped him to Pittsburgh for a 2011 third-round pick. Talks with the Penguins reportedly are proceeding, but it's unlikely a deal happens prior to the start of free agency. Lost behind Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, Hamhuis is a reliable defensively, can play lots of minutes and join the rush when the chance presents itself. Plus, in six seasons, he missed a total of nine games.

Paul Martin -- Could Martin follow Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski out of New Jersey at the first chance at unrestricted free agency? He's a solid all-around defenseman, but playing in New Jersey and in front of Martin Brodeur, his overall value never really has been discussed. He's just 29, has three 30-point seasons, and despite playing just 22 games in 2009-10, had 11 points and a plus-10 rating. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello remains interested in signing Martin to a long-term contract, but he might get some competition.

Anton Volchenkov -- The elite stay-at-home defenseman available July 1 will get top dollar from some team, but it likely won't be Ottawa. He reportedly turned down a five-year, $20 million contract proposal after the Olympics, and it would be surprising to see the Senators' offer go up. A 6-foot-1, 226-pound tank, he's been in the top 10 in blocked shots five straight seasons and in 2009-10 had a career-high 4 goals.

Evgeni Nabokov --
All we know for sure is that Nabokov's 10-season run in San Jose is over, as Sharks GM Doug Wilson publicly proclaimed he would not be offering Nabokov a new deal. Nabokov is equally lauded for his outstanding regular seasons -- three straight 40-win seasons -- and blamed for the Sharks' yearly postseason disappointments. However, this past spring he led the Sharks to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2003, and he was fourth in the playoffs with a 2.56 goals-against average. Philadelphia reportedly has received permission to negotiate a deal with the 34-year-old, but a pre-July 1 agreement is doubtful. He made $5 million last season, but with a glut of goalies on the market and teams having seen far-below-elite netminders lead their teams to the Cup Final this past spring, it's likely he'll have to take some kind of pay cut.

Marty Turco -- Another goalie who definitely will have a new team next season, as Dallas already has said it won't offer him a new deal. Philadelphia also reportedly has shown interest, but like in Nabokov's case, he might have to take less money than on his previous contract. Turco and Nabokov have similar career records, but also have had similar playoff flops -- in five playoffs as the starting goalie, Turco guided the Stars out of the first round just twice. However, he's a bulldog in net and was one of the most popular players in the Dallas locker room. He would be an excellent mentor for a team with a young goaltender.

Contact Adam Kimelman at
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