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Rick Zamperin: NHL teams set to spend big as free agency looms

Columbus Blue Jackets' Artemi Panarin is among the marquee free agents in 2019. AP Photo/Derik Hamilton

July 1 not only marks the 152nd anniversary of Canadian Confederation it is the most exciting day of the National Hockey League’s off-season.

NHL free agency opens on Monday at noon ET and there is an intriguing list of players who are set to hit the open market.

Toronto’s Mitch Marner, Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine, Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk and Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen are likely going to be the restricted free agents who will cash in with the biggest contracts – from their own teams – or via an offer sheet from another club.

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But when it comes to the bulging group of unrestricted free agents, who are the top five available players?

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5. I’m a huge fan of San Jose centre Joe Pavelski, and even though he’s about to turn 35, he is attracting a lot of attention around the league — and rightfully so.

4. I have to have a defenceman on my list, and with apologies to Toronto’s Jake Gardiner, that spot goes to Tyler Myers of the Jets. Myers is still in his prime at 29 and is a big, coveted right defenceman.

In what may be a first in free agent history, Columbus owns the top three impending free agents.

3. Centre Matt Duchene can be a top line point-getter on many teams, but I think is better suited centering the No. 2 hole.

2. Who needs a goalie? Sergei Bobrovsky is the best available netminder and while his possible destinations may be limited, he is better than most starters in the league when he is on his game.

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1. It’s going to be interesting to see how much money teams wave at Blue Jackets’ left-winger Artemi Panarin, a point-a-game guy who is one of the NHL’s most exciting talents when he doesn’t take nights off.

Where all these players end up landing remains to be seen, but I can promise you one thing: the dollar signs that we will be seeing come Monday are going to make our heads spin.

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