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July 1 speculation heats up

Ryan Suter and Zach Parise played together for the USA at the 2010 Olympics and are now the two biggest UFAs available July 1. (CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP/Getty Images)

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Ryan Suter and Zach Parise played together for the USA at the 2010 Olympics and are now the two biggest UFAs available July 1. (CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP/Getty Images)

The NHL's unrestricted free agent period opens this weekend and that has fuelled speculation over the destinations of the available talent in a shallow UFA pool.

Topping the list is New Jersey Devils left winger Zach Parise, who the Devils hope to re-sign before July 1. Parise is expected to discuss strategy with his agent this week and while Parise said his first choice is to remain a Devil, he will field offers from rival clubs, then allow the Devils the opportunity to match or beat the best one.

Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record reported the Devils, despite rumors of financial difficulties, expect to make a competitive offer to Parise, but they might also have to demonstrate they can maintain a competitive roster around him.

This summer's other impact UFA is Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter, who has informed Nashville management his intention is to test the market.

That doesn't guarantee Suter is a goner. It's believed he, like Parise, intends to consider offers from rival teams, then allow the Predators an opportunity to make a counter-bid.

Suter is what Josh Cooper of The Tennessean called “a mid-west guy who likes the anonymity of playing in Nashville,” which would give the Predators the edge over their rivals.

Parise and Suter are expected to be courted by star-studded teams such as the Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins, the latter having cleared cap space last weekend for an anticipated plunge into the UFA pool.

The Minnesota Wild, with roughly $20 million in cap room, are also expected to make serious bids to Parise and Suter.

Though the Wild lack star power and last made the playoffs in 2008, they are banking on their geographic location to woo the pair. Parise was born and raised in Minnesota and lives there in the off-season, while Suter is a native of neighbouring Wisconsin.

A wild card is the Dallas Stars. Owner Tom Gaglardi informed the Dallas Morning News he hasn't set a budget yet for the team, but insisted the club would be “in there on any player” in this summer's market.

After Parise and Suter, however, the depth in talent drops sharply.

The best available forwards include Alexander Semin (Washington), P-A Parenteau (Islanders), Jiri Hudler (Detroit), Shane Doan (Phoenix) and 40-somethings Ray Whitney (Phoenix) and Jaromir Jagr (Philadelphia).

Defensemen include Dennis Wideman (Washington), Matt Carle (Philadelphia), Jason Garrison (Florida) and Filip Kuba (Ottawa).

Plenty of decent backup goaltenders are available, such as Winnipeg's Chris Mason, Florida's Scott Clemmensen and the Rangers' Martin Biron.

New Jersey's long-time netminder Martin Brodeur is also a pending UFA, but no one seriously believes he'd consider signing with anyone other than the Devils.

Former Anaheim Ducks defense prospect Justin Schultz is an intriguing option, as it's rare a promising youngster like him becomes available via free agency. He's expected to attract considerable interest around the league and will likely be snapped up on the opening day of the free agency period.

Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News, Kukla's Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.

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