Not exactly a free-agency frenzy

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:55 PM ET

Since the league turfed Ilya Kovalchuk’s crazy contract, things have been slow on the NHL market.

Don’t expect it to get much busier as we creep closer to training camps.

It’s not that the Kovy sweepstakes ruling scared anyone

in their efforts to remain conscious of the salary cap, it’s just that the remaining unrestricted free-agent market is full of the elderly, unable or injured.

Topping the list of available veterans ready to play for the highest bidder are guys like Paul Kariya, Bill Guerin, Owen Nolan, Mike Comrie and Miro Satan.

Kariya is 35, made $6 million last season and scored 18 goals and 43 points in 75 games with the St. Louis Blues while coming back from a pair of hip surgeries.

Not exactly a guy you want to open your wallet for. Aging and injury prone, he’ll still find a home. But he’ll have to be willing to take a pay cut.

Guerin turns 40 this year, and is unemployed despite scoring 21 goals and putting up 45 points with the Penguins last year.

Teams may fear his production came from playing with a cast of young stars in Pittsburgh and will be tough to duplicate anywhere else.

Although millions of young men are jealous of Comrie getting hitched to Hilary Duff this week, NHL clubs aren’t lining up for his services.

Sidelined by a nasty bout with mono — Duff is turning 23 this fall, so feel free to insert your own kissing disease jokes here if you must — the soon-to-be 30-year-old Comrie only managed to suit up for 43 games with the Edmonton Oilers in 2009-10.

He did score 13 times and totalled 21 points in little more than half a season, but teams are playing things safe when it comes to contracts these days.

Uncertainty over the next CBA and cap or budget restrictions have led to shorter terms on deals this summer — blockbusters like Kovalchuk’s are the absurd exception — and more and more NHL GMs are looking toward their farm systems to fill out their

bottom six forward ranks.

Some clubs are already over the $59.4-million cap ceiling (you can go 10% over during the off-season) and others battle budget restrictions imposed by owners unwilling to spend cash they have no guarantee of recovering.

Elite players ultimately get their cheques written regardless of the tightening noose of the salary cap era.

But there are no elite players outside of Kovalchuk remaining.

For every aging player like Kariya, Guerin, Nolan, Satan, Slava Kozlov, Darcy Tucker or Petr Sykora, there’s an equally risky UFA with too many question marks to take a chance on at the moment.

Jose Theodore, Vesa Toskala and Ray Emery aren’t far removed from starting status between the pipes, but all are looking for a new team late this summer.

Defenceman Willie Mitchell’s concussion problems have knocked him out of the picture.

Even the younger members of the unrestricted market sit and wait for a spot to open up, the dollar offers to increase, or their desperation level to rise above their egos.

Before the cap came in, a guy like Lee Stempniak surely would have been snapped up by now.

He also would have been horrifically overpaid.

The 27-year-old scored 28 goals last season under the final year of a deal that came with a cap hit of $2.5 million.

He’s likely looking for significantly more on his next deal ... so he waits.

So does one of the most intriguing names on the market in Maxim Afinogenov, who plummeted from stardom in Buffalo the first couple of post-lockout seasons before a comeback campaign with the Atlanta Thrashers that saw him post 24 goals and 61 points in his first 82-game year.

The fact the 30-year-old Russian speedster is still unsigned while plugger Sean Bergenheim found himself a new team Tuesday is further proof the cap has changed the way most teams do business.

And business isn’t going to pick up until bargains for bigger names get better come September.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca


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