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.

Under Pressure: Keith Yandle

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 30:  Keith Yandle #93 of the New York Rangers skates against the Washington Capitals in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 30, 2015 in New York City.  Capitals defeated the Rangers 2-1.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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This is part of Florida Panthers day at PHT…

After a 2015-16 season that saw the Panthers take a huge step in their development and surprisingly win the regular season Atlantic Division crown, they spent the summer loading up their roster in an effort to become a Stanley Cup contender. The centerpiece of that roster movement was the seven-year, $44.45 million contract they gave defenseman Keith Yandle after acquiring his free agent negotiating rights from the New York Rangers.

Yandle can be a bit of a polarizing player because of his style of play.

Statistically, he is one of the most productive defenders in the NHL and is pretty much a lock for at least 45 points every season.

But he also isn’t a player that is viewed as a true shutdown defender, and instead is looked at as one that needs to be in more of a sheltered role to really excel. That can lead to scrutiny and criticism when he isn’t putting points on the board. That always seemed to be the case during his 103 regular season games with the Rangers, a team that never fully seemed to embrace the positives he brings to the ice.

If he is going to face any pressure in Florida it is probably going to be the result of that reputation, as well as the $44 million price tag he carries.

That type of salary brings a lot of high expectations.  It is going to be especially true in Florida because the Panthers lost perhaps their most reliable defenseman over the summer when Brian Campbell left in free agency to return to the Chicago Blackhawks. Campbell played a ton of big minutes and was a rock alongside Aaron Ekblad on the team’s top pairing over the past two seasons. That is a big hole to replace in the lineup, and with Yandle’s salary there is going to be an expectation for him to be one of the top guys on the blue line.

The problem with that is Yandle is the type of player that tends to stand out no matter what he does, and that isn’t always a positive for defensemen.

When he is at his best, he is making an impact with the puck and creating offense. A lot of offense.

But when he makes a mistake, whether it is a turnover or simply getting beat in the defensive zone, as defenders that play his style of hockey do from time to time, it will stand out like a sore thumb. And even though the positive play usually outweigh the mistakes, the mistakes are usually the ones that get most of the attention.

Yandle is a very good player and the Panthers are a better team with him on the roster. He is the type of mobile, puck-moving defensemen that is starting to reshape the way teams think about and build their defense. But as he experienced in New York after the Rangers gave up a huge return to acquire him in a trade from the Arizona Coyotes,  the cost to acquire him might create level of expectation that will be difficult, if not impossible, to reach.

Sidney Crosby named captain of Canada’s World Cup team

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after their 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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After leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup victory in 2016, Sidney Crosby has been named the captain of team Canada for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Hockey Canada made the announcement on Thursday morning.

Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews and Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber, also long-time members of Team Canada in international competition, will serve as the assistant captains.

Crosby has won gold with team Canada at various tournaments, including the 2015 World Championship (where he also served as captain) and the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics.

He is also a two-time Stanley Cup champion in the NHL with the Penguins, serving as captain on their 2009 and 2016 championship teams.

Crosby had a slow start to the 2015-16 season and through the first two months was posting some of the worst numbers of his career. But following the in-season coaching change and a new-look roster around him he quickly climbed the NHL’s scoring leaderboard and finished the season with 85 points in 80 games, good enough for third best in the league. He also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

In 31 games for Team Canada at the World Championships and Olympics, Crosby has scored 17 goals and recorded 17 assists.

The World Cup of Hockey takes place in Toronto between September 17 and October 1.

Looking to make the leap: Michael Matheson

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24:  Michael Matheson #56 of the Florida Panthers skates against the New York Islanders in Game Six of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 24, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders won the game 2-1 in double overtime to win the series four games to two.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This is part of Florida Panthers day at PHT…

The Florida Panthers have been building a pretty impressive roster in recent years, introducing a young core that includes Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, Vincent Trocheck and Aaron Ekblad into the NHL. They are helping the Panthers not only be a competitive team right now, but also a team that has the potential to do something special in the not-too-distant future.

Looking to join that young core group of talent is 22-year-old defenseman Michael Matheson, the No. 23 overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft.

Other than five games at the AHL level in 2014-15, the 2015-16 season was pretty much Matheson’s first full year of pro hockey after playing his college hockey at Boston College.

He spent most of the year playing for Portland in the AHL where he recorded 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 54 games, a performance that earned him an opportunity to play three regular season games at the NHL level and five of the Panthers’ six playoff games where he recorded an assist.

He made perhaps his strongest statement after the season ended when he represented Canada at the World Championships and was one of the most productive defensemen in the tournament with six points (two goals, four assists) in 10 games.

The Panthers have done a lot of work to their blue line over the summer, losing Brian Campbell to free agency while also adding veterans Keith Yandle, Jason Demers and Mark Pysyk. With Ekblad and Alex Petrovic also returning it is definitely going to be a little crowded on the blue line, but Matheson had a promising 2015-16 season and should have an opportunity to crack the lineup and compete for playing time.

Panthers trade Dave Bolland, Lawson Crouse to Coyotes

SUNRISE, FL - OCTOBER 27:  Dave Bolland #63 of the Florida Panthers looks on during a game against the Colorado Avalanche at BB&T Center on October 27, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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It’s Florida Panthers day at PHT so it’s only fitting that they would start the day by completing a trade, which they did on Thursday morning by sending veteran forward Dave Bolland and 2015 first-round draft pick Lawson Crouse to the Coyotes in exchange for two draft picks.

As part of the deal the Panthers will get a 2017 third-round pick and a conditional 2018 second-round pick. ESPN’s Craig Custance reports that 2018 second-round pick will become a third-round pick if Crouse does not play in Arizona this season.

“We are very pleased to acquire Lawson,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka said in a team statement. “He’s a big, physical, power forward who is a strong skater with good hands. Players of his caliber and profile are extremely hard to find.”

The key to this deal for Florida is, obviously, dumping the remainder of Bolland’s contract and clearing a significant amount of cap space both this year and in the future. Bolland’s deal still has a salary cap hit of $5.5 million per season for another three years. Since signing the five-year, $27 million deal in free agency before the start of the 2014-15 season, Bolland has played in just 78 games for the Panthers and scored only seven goals.

At the time of the contract Bolland was just one year removed from scoring the game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup Final for the Chicago Blackhawks, while his injury the following year was looked at as a costly blow to a Maple Leafs team that fell apart in the second half of the season. So even though his overall production throughout his career didn’t really match the hype or the interest, he was still able to get a huge deal in free agency.

It has been an extremely costly contract for the Panthers, and the price became even steeper on Monday when they had to give up a prospect that was the No. 11 pick (Crouse) in the draft just last year to get rid of it.

And that is what makes the deal worth it for Arizona.

The Coyotes are pretty much buying a top prospect, and adding to an already deep pool of young players, for the price of taking on another contract that has almost no value to anybody else in the league. They picked up a first-round pick from the Detroit Red Wings earlier this summer for taking the final year of Pavel Datsyuk’s contract after he left the NHL to play in Russia, and last year made a deal with the Philadelphia Flyers to take on the remainder of Chris Pronger‘s contract. Because the Coyotes are so far below the league’s salary cap they are able to take on these deals without much of an issue and use them to keep adding young talent to a fast improving team.