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New Jersey Devils left winger Zach Parise. (Kathy Willens/AP)
New Jersey Devils left winger Zach Parise. (Kathy Willens/AP)

NHL free agents a thin crop this year Add to ...

We’ve long known that the NHL's free agency class of 2012 was going to be a weak one.

You only have to look around the league’s signings, where nearly every prominent young player has been locked into long-term deals the past few seasons, to realize that those who get to unrestricted free agency won’t be the stars.

There are a few exceptions, of course. Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Alex Semin, Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney are the headliners of this group, which includes a large number of depth players despite its lack of high end quality.

“It’s going to allow a couple of teams to [improve],” Leafs GM Brian Burke said last weekend of the free agent class. “It’s not a deep group. What’s happened is, in this system, everyone envisioned that liberalized free agency would allow teams to improve more quickly, but in response, teams have started locking guys up.

“So there’s some quality there, but it’s not a deep group.”

Not including the players who didn’t receive qualifying offers on Monday (as the names haven’t all been released), there are 145 players who played 20 or more games last season that are scheduled to become UFAs on Sunday at noon.

The positional breakdown of that group, via capgeek.com: nine of those are goaltenders, 49 are defencemen, 29 centres and another 58 are wingers.

Those UFAs make up 19.9 per cent of the league that played 20 games last season, a number that could grow slightly as more names join the list after not receiving qualifying offers. (It could also shrink if players sign to stay with their current teams.)

Add in the other 90 or so restricted free agents and about one-third of the league is without a contract for next season.

Over the rest of this week, I’ll have a breakdown of the best of this year’s free agent class, with a closer look at the top goaltenders, defencemen and forwards available to sign on July 1.

Given the current environment, it’s safe to say many on the low end of the salary structure will have a difficult time finding a home as younger, cheaper players take their roster spots.

Breaking down the free agents

Among players who played 20 games in the NHL last season, roughly 20 per cent will become unrestricted free agents on Sunday at noon

*- RFAs only an estimate due to some players not receiving qualifying offers

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