Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne

The NHL’s best bargain contracts: Central Division

The hockey world tends to focus on the most regrettable contracts rather than the best ones because let’s face it: it’s more enjoyable to make fun of Brian Campbell‘s deal than to linger on Dustin Brown‘s bargain contract. That being said, clever GMs deserve credit for either finding the right timing to sign a player, judging their value better than most or simply fostering a climate in which a player will take a pay cut. This series of posts will take a look at every team to see which (if any) players deserve to be called bargains.

Notes: entry-level deals don’t count because they have built-in maximum levels. “Loophole” contracts will be considered, but they won’t receive as much consideration because of their inherent salary cap dishonesty. Bought out players will be considered for their current cap hits. I also think $6 million is a reasonable – if arbitrary – cutoff point for a true bargain player.

Chicago Blackhawks – Sure, they lost a lot of talent because of cap moves, but how are they looking after getting rid of Soupy and stashing Cristobal Huet in Europe?

Marian Hossa ($5.25M) – This deal would be even better if it wasn’t a cheater contract, but how many teams are jealous that Chicago signed him to this deal? 28 or 29?

Patrick Sharp ($3.9M) – His cap hit will jump to what might still be a a bargain level of $5.9 million after next season, but he remains at his highway source: Getty Imagesrobbery rate for one more season.

Andrew Brunette ($2M) – I get the feeling he’s going to be a nice fit in the Windy City.

Bryan Bickell ($541K) – Could be useful, but it’s all about his sheer cheapness.

Duncan Keith ($5.54M) – Something tells me that Don Meehan won’t mention Keith’s name during Shea Weber’s next contract discussions. This is another cheater deal, but can you blame the Blackhawks?

Sean O’Donnell ($800K) – The Blackhawks made a handful of low-risk, medium-reward signings during this off-season and O’Donnell is one of them.

Honorable mentions: Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane – two great players, but it just feels weird to call them full-on bargains at $6.3 million per year … so they’re honorable mentions.

Columbus Blue Jackets – They wildly overpaid in some areas this summer, but where do they stand on pure cap hits?

Jeff Carter ($5.27M) – I agree that he’s one-dimensional, but the guy can score goals. Lots of them. So paying him this much isn’t outrageous.

Honorable mentions: Sammy Pahlsson (because Earl Sleek has brainwashed me into thinking he’s a force) and Derick Brassard (he seems talented enough to take advantage of the team’s offensive improvements if he can stay healthy).

source: APDetroit Red Wings – This team is like a steady stream of steals, right?

Johan Franzen ($3.95M) – Franzen is extremely injury-prone, but a terrifying offensive force when healthy.

Daniel Cleary ($2.8M) – Is Cleary the most underrated forward in Detroit?

Tomas Holmstrom ($1.88M) – If the league kept better track of how many goals are scored because of his obstructive butt, his impact would receive its proper due. I was surprised that some other team didn’t at least try to drive up his price during his last free agent window.

Darren Helm ($912K) – He has some flaws, but his speed and versatility are an asset at this bargain basement price.

Niklas Kronwall ($3M) – Injuries have been a worry here and there, but his scary hits and strong offense make him a steal at this price.

Jimmy Howard ($2.25M) – Another enviable steal by the Red Wings; his stats might be hit-or-miss sometimes, but he’s proven himself to be at least the team’s short-term future in net.

source: APHonorable mentions: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom – Again, I’m just trying to keep things reasonable by excluding guys above $6 million. Every team in the NHL would trip over their own feet to pay any one of these three their current salaries, so they absolutely deserve to be mentioned.

Nashville Predators – A salary cap storm is coming to Tennessee, but next season still includes some bargains.

Ryan Suter ($3.5M) – He doesn’t get half the publicity that Shea Weber receives, but he’s either equally important or just a few strides behind his hard-shooting partner in crime.

Pekka Rinne ($3.4M) – In his short time behind the wheel in Nashville, he’s been legitimately elite. Maybe he benefits from the defense in front of him, but he deserves credit for putting together a great run so far.

Honorable mentions: Sergei Kostitsyn and Patric Hornqvist – they aren’t perfect players, but the Predators need them to score on a level that far exceeds their paychecks.

source: APSt. Louis Blues – How many steals can this “sleeper team” produce?

Chris Stewart ($2.88M) – Stewart is a big, reliable goal scorer at a dirt cheap price. He could score even more regularly this season since it will be a contract year.

T.J. Oshie ($2.35M) – His current rate almost seems like a slap on the wrist for his lower moments last season. I expect a very nice year from Oshie in 2011-12.

Patrik Berglund ($2.25M) – Berglund is quietly becoming a consistent 20-goal scorer in the NHL.

Honorable mention: If David Perron is healthy, he could be another nice steal on a team that doesn’t have many bad contracts. It would be sad (but not surprising) if his concussion issues continue, though.

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Feel free to point out any glaring omissions or faulty inclusions. Again, remember: players on their entry-level deals don’t count, so that’s why you won’t see the Alex Pietrangelos of the world.

Click here for the Atlantic Division version.

Flames healthy scratch slumping Bennett

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Sam Bennett #93 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Buffalo Sabres during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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The tough times just got tougher for Sam Bennett.

Bennett, the fourth overall pick in 2014, will be a healthy scratch tonight when the Flames host the Preds at the Saddledome, head coach Glen Gulutzan announced.

The 20-year-old is in the midst of an awful slump. Bennett hasn’t scored a goal since Dec. 27 and is pointless in his last 10 games — not the kind of production the team was anticipating, especially after he scored 18 goals and 36 points in his rookie campaign last season.

“It’s frustrating when you’re not producing,” Bennett said earlier this week, per the Calgary Sun. “I want to contribute offensively. But just playing the right way is my main focus. Hopefully, I keep getting chances and eventually one has gotta go in.”

Micheal Ferland will move into the lineup to replace Bennett, and veteran Matt Stajan will be bumped up to the third-line center spot as a result.

Given his pedigree and draft position, expectations for Bennett are pretty high. Calgary anticipated he’d be part of the young, talented forward group that carries the load offensively, alongside the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk.

And to be fair, Bennett did have a decent start to the year, with 12 points through his first 24 games.

But it’s been tough sledding ever since.

The Kings need more from their ‘top guys’

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Anze Kopitar #11 of the Los Angeles Kings reacts to a missed chance during a preseason game against the Arizona Coyotes at Staples Center on September 22, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Darryl Sutter wants more from his “top guys.”

In the wake of last night’s 3-2 loss to the Sharks, the Kings’ head coach was no doubt referring to the likes of Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik, each of whom has just four goals this season.

Though Gaborik did manage to score last night, Kopitar didn’t. The captain has just one goal in his last 16 games. And for $10 million a season, it’s not enough to be good defensively.

“You need those top guys to make a difference,” said Sutter, per LA Kings Insider. “You’re going to be in one-goal games, lots of ‘em. How many have we had this year? I mean, how many times? I bet I’ve already pulled the goalie more times ever than I have ever, so that means you’re one goal down. It means that you need your top guys to make a difference there.”

Jeff Carter (23 goals) and Tanner Pearson (14) are the only Kings with double-digit goal totals this season. And with no Tyler Toffoli, it’s even more important that Kopitar and Gaborik start chipping in more regularly.

Gaborik’s produced lately, with three goals in his last six games. That needs to continue, and Kopitar needs to find his scoring touch.

The Kings (22-19-4) kick off a five-game road trip Saturday in Brooklyn. After 45 games, they’re barely hanging on to a wild-card spot, with Vancouver, Nashville, Dallas, and Winnipeg all within striking distance.

It’s worth noting that only four teams have fewer regulation victories than the Kings have (12). If not for their 9-1 record in overtime, they might really be in trouble.

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Seth Griffith is on waivers….again

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 29:  Seth Griffith #24 of the Florida Panthers takes a shot on Al Montoya #35 of the Montreal Canadiens during a game  at BB&T Center on December 29, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Seth Griffith is on waivers again.

The 24-year-old forward has only managed five assists in 21 games for the Florida Panthers since being claimed off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Leafs had claimed Griffith off waivers from Boston at the beginning of the season.

A prolific scorer at the AHL level (he had 77 points in 57 games for Providence last season), Griffith has just six goals and 10 assists in 58 career NHL games.

Griffith has been a healthy scratch the past three games for the Panthers.

Rowe says no timeline on Barkov, who could be out a while longer

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 17:  Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers celebrtaes his goal at 1:11 of the second period against the New York Islanders during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 17, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Aleksander Barkov was only supposed to miss 2-3 weeks with a then-undisclosed injury.

That timeline was provided almost three weeks ago, and Barkov still isn’t back playing for the Florida Panthers.

Today, interim coach Tom Rowe provided an update, and it wasn’t good news. Rowe told reporters on a conference call that there’s no timeline for Barkov’s return. He then dropped an even bigger bomb, admitting there’s concern that both Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau could have season-ending injuries.

The Panthers are still hopeful that Huberdeau will be back by early March. The 23-year-old hasn’t played at all this season after suffering a skate laceration in the preseason. His original timeline was 3-4 months.

The Panthers’ frustrating season continued last night in Edmonton, where they lost 4-3 in overtime on a Connor McDavid goal with 2.6 seconds remaining. Though they’re only one point back of a playoff spot, the closest two teams they’re chasing, Toronto and Ottawa, each have five games in hand.

It’s estimated that Florida (20-18-9) will need to go in the neighborhood of 20-10-5 down the stretch in order to make the playoffs. And that will obviously be a lot tougher to accomplish without two of the team’s best forwards — if, indeed, Barkov and Huberdeau are sidelined for much, or even all, of the remaining schedule.