The NHL’s best bargain contracts: Atlantic Division

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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.

New Jersey Devils – Zach Parise’s previous cap hit ($3.1M) was a true stroke of genius, but their current roster lacks many smart contracts. There was a point in which Martin Brodeur’s $5.2 million cap hit was a minor bargain considering his prestige, but it’s been a while since he’s been worth anywhere near that much.

Travis Zajac ($3.88M) – Could put up bonkers numbers on the Devils’ top line.

source: Getty ImagesNew York Islanders – A young team with some nice steals and a few embarrassing albatrosses.

Matt Moulson ($3.13M) – Moulson’s deal is a borderline bargain, but he has two straight 30+ goal seasons to his credit. There’s a good chance he’ll maintain that pace, so that’s a solid value for the Isles.

Frans Nielsen ($525K) – Nielsen generated some dark horse buzz for the Selke Trophy, yet he’s basically a minimum wage player. His bargain deal will run out after next season, so it will be interesting to see how long he’ll be underpaid. He’s one of the league’s biggest steals right now, though.

Evgeni Nabokov ($570K) – I’ve gone on record of saying that the Isles would get the most out of him if they simply let him be their top goalie, but even if they only get a little bit of a return via the trade route, he’s still a steal. Sure, his contract is funky because it was only originally meant to cover a few months, but it still counts.

Rick DiPietro ($4.5M) – Just kidding.

Honorable mentions: Michael Grabner (we’ll see if he’s a one-hit wonder), Mark Streit (big steal if health permits) and Al Montoya ($600K would be cheap if he is their full-time starter).

source: Getty ImagesNew York Rangers – Glen Sather’s been embarrassing himself with far less regularity lately.

Ryan Callahan ($4.27M) and Brandon Dubinsky ($4.2M) – They’re not the bargains they once were, but could be well-worth the money if their scoring numbers match their intensity for the length of their new contracts.

Marc Staal ($3.98M) – Not a bad price at all considering his importance to the Rangers’ defense.

Honorable mentions: Sean Avery (could actually be worth the trouble if he lines up with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik) and Brian Boyle (a nice bargain if his 21-goal year wasn’t a fluke).

Philadelphia Flyers – They basically got rid of some of their best bargains during the off-season, but do they still have a few steals on their roster?

Claude Giroux ($3.75M) – Even if Giroux might get exposed now that they’re counting on him a lot more than before, he’s still a big-time bargain at this price. The best part is that his outstanding value won’t run out until after the 2014-15 season.

Braydon Coburn ($3.2M) – Not a bad deal for a pretty talented (if easily forgotten) defenseman. The Flyers pay a lot for their defensive corps overall, though.

Honorable mention: Jakub Voracek (could be the next Ville Leino) and Wayne Simmonds (might not score much, but could play the role that Dan Carcillo was too much of a knucklehead to ever pull off).

source: Getty ImagesPittsburgh Penguins – A well-run organization that might kick themselves for signing most of their deals before all the loophole contracts started filtering through.

James Neal ($2.88M) – This choice is a leap of faith based on the kind of numbers he could put up skating alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

Kris Letang ($3.5M) – His numbers plummeted after Crosby and Malkin were out, but he’s a high-scoring blueliner when those two are healthy. It’s tough to argue with Letang at $2 million less than what Sergei Gonchar is making.

Honorable mentions: Jordan Staal (it’s tough to believe that his cap hit is evolving into a small bargain) and Brent Johnson (a cheap, dependable backup).

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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 James van Riemsdyks of the world.

Cullen signs with Wild, opting against retirement (and Penguins)

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Matt Cullen is going home, but that doesn’t mean that he’s retiring from hockey.

Instead, the Minnesota native decided to sign a one-year, $1 million deal with the Minnesota Wild. It’s unclear why, precisely, Cullen didn’t ink a deal to try to “threepeat” with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Wild note that his deal also includes $700K in potential performance bonuses.

This will be the 40-year-old’s second run with the Wild. His first run came from 2010-11 through 2012-13, where he appeared in 193 regular-season games and five postseason contests for Minnesota.

Cullen managed back-to-back 30+ point seasons with the Penguins while providing useful all-around play as a veteran center. If he can maintain a reasonably high level of play, this gives the Wild quite the solid group down the middle, even with Martin Hanzal gone.

Oilers ink Draisaitl to monster eight-year, $68 million deal

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The Edmonton Oilers have locked up their cornerstone players for the foreseeable future.

They didn’t come cheap.

Just weeks after signing Connor McDavid to a eight-year, $100 million deal, the Oilers signed fellow forward Leon Draisaitl to an eight-year, $68 million deal. The contract carries a $8.5M average annual cap hit and, combined with McDavid’s $12.5M, will now cost the Oilers $21M annually through 2025.

McDavid certainly warranted his payday. The same can be said of Draisaitl.

The 21-year-old just wrapped his three-year, entry-level deal, and couldn’t have done so in finer fashion. Draisaitl enjoyed a terrific season, platooning between the second-line center position and the wing alongside McDavid, and finished with 29 goals and 77 points.

Then, the playoffs happened.

Draisaitl had a terrific postseason, racking up six goals and 16 points in 13 games. At the time of elimination he was sitting second among all scorers — trailing only Evgeni Malkin — and was downright brilliant in Edmonton’s seven-game loss to Anaheim, finishing with 13 points.

More to follow…

 

Report: Vegas among teams in on Pens draftee Byron

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Will Butcher isn’t the only college free agent garnering interest in free agency.

University of Maine senior Blaine Byron, Pittsburgh’s sixth-round pick in ’13, has passed on signing with the club and can now ink with a team of his choosing. Per The Hockey News, the four “lead suitors” for Byron are Vegas, New Jersey, Ottawa and Buffalo.

Byron, 22, is coming off a great year. He racked up 18 goals and 41 points in 36 games, finishing tied for 18th in the country in scoring. It’s unclear where he would’ve fit in the Pittsburgh organization, though, and one has to think the signing of Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese might’ve played a factor in his departure.

In a recent Tribune-Review piece, Byron did make a list of the club’s top-20 prospects, coming in at No. 17.

Yesterday, Butcher — the reigning Hobey Baker winner — announced that he wouldn’t sign with Colorado, the team that drafted him four years ago. Instead, Butcher will parlay a successful senior campaign at Denver University into interest on the open market.

Under Pressure: Barry Trotz

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This post is part of Capitals Day on PHT…

When the Capitals hired Barry Trotz three years ago, they said he was “the only coach we coveted,” calling him “an ideal fit to help lead our club.”

And in many ways, Trotz has been an ideal fit. He’s led to the club to consecutive Presidents’ Trophies, racking up 156 wins over the course of three seasons. He won the 2016 Jack Adams as coach of the year. Players have performed exceptionally well on his watch: Braden Holtby won his first-ever Vezina, Alex Ovechkin racked up a pair of Rocket Richard trophies and both Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov were named All-Stars.

Despite all this, Trotz is now coaching for his job. Essentially.

A string of disheartening playoff failures — each more painful than the last — have put him in an uncomfortable and pressure-packed situation. He’s heading into the the last of his four-year deal with no contract certainty beyond.

Yes, it’s true Caps GM Brian MacLellan didn’t make any changes with Trotz or to his coaching staff following the Game 7 loss to Pittsburgh.

But MacLellan didn’t offer an extension, either.

Brian Burke once likened this scenario to being a lame duck. Trotz refused to see it that way, insisting that he wasn’t worried about the spot he was in.

“No,” he told CSN Mid Atlantic in June, when asked if not having a contract changes his approach at all. “It has 0.0 effect on me, actually. Not at all. I think it might have [had] an effect 10, 12 years ago for me. Not now. It has zero effect.

“I’m not worrying about that at all.”

This is pretty much on par with Trotz’s messaging from the moment Washington crashed out of the playoffs. While his players were visibly dejected and downright hurt during locker clean-out day, the 55-year-old was upbeat.

Defiant, almost.

Trotz talked about how the team’s window wasn’t closed, and how it would eventually “break through that barrier.” He suggested “laughing at the past” could “ease us into the future.”

The assembled media took note of this, which contrasted the vibe of his visibly distraught players. So it was asked — why did he seem more upbeat than his players?

From the Washington Post:

“Put it this way — I haven’t slept in two friggin’ days. To say that I don’t feel very distraught, that really sort of angers me, because talk to my family to see if I’m distraught.

“I have to be positive in terms of, ‘do I think we’re going in the right direction?’ Yes, and I’m positive of that. But we haven’t broken through. That’s why I’m probably the way I am. I also said we didn’t get to where we wanted to get to.

“That angers me. When something doesn’t go your way, you can roll up in a ball and feel sorry for yourself. I don’t.”

That Trotz took this approach isn’t surprising. Coaching is a leadership role, and there didn’t seem to be any point to piling onto what was already a fairly miserable day in D.C.

So hey, why not keep that vibe going when it comes to contract uncertainty?

Trotz will likely continue to do so, even in the face of growing pressure. And pressure will continue to grow. Remember, there’s one final and very important dynamic at play — right next to Trotz behind the Washington bench is assistant coach Todd Reirden. The same Todd Reirden who’s thought to be a head-coach-in-waiting, and has been tied to previous openings in Colorado and Florida.

Fun times in Washington. As they always are.