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NHL gets ready for free-agent frenzy

by John Kreiser

Canadians and Americans are getting ready for national holidays and the start of summer. But there won't be a lot of barbeques and parties among NHL front offices this weekend -- not with the start of free agency set for Sunday.

Dozens of players will become restricted or unrestricted free agents, eligible to sign with a new team at noon ET on July 1. For a lot of hockey fans, it's like Christmas in July, as they wait to see who their teams will sign to fill holes -- some of them left by players opting to join other teams.

Here are five things to keep in mind as we get ready for the start of free agency:

1. The NHL and the Players Association have announced that the salary cap for 2012-13 will be $70.2 million (though that could change under a new collective bargaining agreement). The cap for 2011-12 was $64.3 million.

2. Several players who would have drawn plenty of interest signed before reaching free agency. The most recent include defensemen Hal Gill, who stayed in Nashville, and Dennis Wideman, who signed with Calgary after the Flames acquired his negotiating rights from Washington. Others include Blake Comeau (Calgary), Scott Nichol (St. Louis) and Shane O'Brien (Colorado).

3. The highest-scoring forward available as an unrestricted free agent is Ray Whitney, who put up 77 points for the Phoenix Coyotes in 2011-12. Zach Parise (69 points for New Jersey) is second, followed by PA Parenteau (67 points for the Islanders).

4. The free-agent defenseman with the most points is Ryan Suter of Nashville (46 points), followed by Matt Carle, who had 38 points for Philadelphia this past season. Jason Garrison, who had 16 goals for Florida, is the top goal-scorer among the available blueliners.

5. Both of New Jersey's goaltenders are available as free agents. Martin Brodeur, who has spent his whole career with the Devils, reportedly has hired an agent and could be moving on at age 40. His backup, Johan Hedberg, had 17 wins during the regular season, tied with Jonas Gustavsson for second-most by a free-agent goaltender behind Brodeur's 31.

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