Free-agent class lacks star pupil

Yahoo Sports

It's Christmas in July. At least that's the way it looks on the NHL calendar for the league's 30 general managers.

Tuesday is when the free-agent flood gates swing wide open, and the money grab will start at noon in the east.

Players who have gained unrestricted free-agent status – age 27 or seven years of NHL experience and not under contract – are free to accept an offer from any team. It's time to hit the jackpot for most NHL veterans, but only time will tell if it was a wise investment by the courting team and a smart choice by the player.

This year's crop has players who have seen better days, and a number of others who could provide vital roles for contenders. Take the goaltending market this year. There's plenty of quantity, but where is the quality? There are no sure-fire No. 1 goalies on the list. Players who have held that position and are available include Jose Theodore, Cristobal Huet, Olaf Kolzig, Marc Denis, Ray Emery, Andrew Raycroft, Patrick Lalime, David Aebischer, Alex Auld and Ty Conklin. These are names a team shouldn't build a team around.

The headline defensemen include Brian Campbell, Wade Redden, Michal Rozsival and Rob Blake. The smart money might go to blueliners, including Brooks Orpik, Mark Streit, Dmitri Kalinin, Ron Hainsey, Brad Stuart and Jeff Finger. Recognizable names, but questionable returns, include Mattias Norstrom, Marek Malik, Dick Tarnstrom, Jason Smith, Bryce Salvador, Steve Montador and Jason Strudwick.

The big-name forwards are either leaning toward remaining with their current teams or pondering retirement. That group includes Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Mats Sundin. Two big names follow, Jaromir Jagr and Marian Hossa, then the drop-off is significant. Sergei Fedorov, Bobby Holik, Alexei Zhamnov and Doug Weight all made big money last season, but none appear particularly attractive.

That leaves Martin Straka, Brendan Morrison, Steve Rucchin and Bryan Smolinski as the next cut of potential targets. There are plenty of other names, and teams will certainly be looking for a diamond in the rough – Josef Vasicek, Byron Ritchie, Mark Hartigan? – but there's nothing that will turn a lot of heads.