The NHL’s best bargain contracts: Pacific 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.

Anaheim Ducks – Every dollar counts with this cost-conscious team.

Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf ($5.325 million each) – The two power forwards have been intrinsically linked ever since they came up through the Ducks system together. Getzlaf had the upper hand for quite some time – and it’s possible he still might be better in the long view – but Perry is the one with the Hart Trophy on his resume. Either way, they consist of 2/3 of the scariest line in the NHL.

Bobby Ryan ($5.1M) – Ryan completes that trio at a slightly lower price. The American born power forward’s career trajectory keeps pointing upward as he scored a career-high 71 points last season.

source: Getty ImagesDallas Stars – Speaking of cost-conscious teams, the Stars lost Brad Richards but that won’t end their money troubles. They better sell the team somewhat soon because their budding star Jamie Benn is in the final year of his entry-level deal.

Loui Eriksson ($4.1M) Can you be an All-Star and yet remain underrated? Probably not, but Eriksson is a close example. We’ll see if he can maintain his largely unheralded scoring ways without Richards feeding him perfect passes.

Stephane Robidas ($3.3M) – He might not be an ideal top defenseman, but the Stars expect him to act the part. Robidas’ can do a little of everything fairly well.

Alex Goligoski ($1.83M) – The former Penguins defenseman is a bit of an adventure in his own end, but he provides the offensive boost the Stars asked for when they traded James Neal to get him.

Honorable mentions – Kari Lehtonen nearly saved the Stars’ season last year, but he needs to prove that his injury-prone ways are a thing of the past. Sheldon Souray’s lack of foot speed could doom him, but his slapper could make him easier to forgive.

source: Getty ImagesLos Angeles Kings – Could the Kings be serious contenders next season? My gut reaction is to say “Yes.”

Simon Gagne ($3.5M) – If Gagne can stay reasonably healthy – a big if, especially since the Kings seem to carry an injury hex of their own – he could be a very nice bargain for Los Angeles.

Dustin Brown ($3.2M) – The Kings’ captain draws a ton of penalties, throws a lot of hits and scores plenty of goals. Amazingly, his bargain deal will continue until July 2014 – that’s three more seasons at a reduced rate.

Jonathan Quick ($1.8M) – A lot of people are rooting for fellow cheap young goalie Jonathan Bernier to usurp him, but Quick turned in a 35-win season and put up the kind of save percentage (.918) that will make it hard for anyone to steal his job. I thought he was just a workhorse goalie going into 2010-11, but now I’m sold.

Honorable mention: Mike Richards’ two-way play should make him worth $5.7 million, but it’s enough money that he might not be a steal (especially since his numbers might not be that great at times in Los Angeles’ tight system).

Phoenix Coyotes – Are the ‘Yotes in trouble after losing crucial goalie Ilya Bryzgalov? I’m sorry to say that it might be the case.

Keith Yandle ($5.25M) – I know that his contract isn’t cheap, but Yandle’s been a star for the Coyotes. Hopefully the loss of Breezy and the increase in pressure from a new deal won’t ruin his mojo.

Lauri Korpikoski ($1.8M) – The Korpedo had a career year in 2010-11, with 19 goals and 40 points. Hovering around the 20-goal mark would make his contract a nice value.

Honorable mentions: Mike Smith will be a steal if he pans out, but that’s a big if. Martin Hanzal is a big center who makes life difficult for some of the Pacific Division’s best scorers.

source: APSan Jose Sharks – The teal-clad bunch will sport a new, faster look next season.

Joe Pavelski ($4M) – The “Big Pavelski” is responsible defensively and increasingly dangerous on offense, scoring a career-high 66 points last season.

Brent Burns ($3.5M) – For one more season, the All-Star defenseman will be a bargain.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic ($3.1M) – The Pickle remains a nice asset, even if his offensive numbers might not rebound to his 2008-09 form.

Colin White ($1M) – Like Scott Hannan, his flaws are easier to accept at $1 million.

Honorable mention: Ryane Clowe seemed overpaid before last season only to put together one of hist best campaigns.

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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 Logan Coutures of the world.

Click here for the Atlantic Division version.

Click here for the Central Division version.

Click here for the Northeast Division version.

Click here for the Northwest Division version.

Under Pressure: Cory Schneider

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This post is a part of Devils day at PHT…

During his first three years with the New Jersey Devils starting goalie Cory Schneider was one of the few bright spots on the team.

At times, he was the only bright spot.

He was one of the best goalies in the league and probably the only thing that kept them even reasonably competitive at times. He never had a save percentage lower than .920 in any of the three seasons and finished in the top-six two different times.

Had he played on a better team that could have given him more offensive support he probably would have been given more consideration for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie (and even without that offensive support he probably should have been given more consideration for it).

But this past season everything sort of fell apart for him, and by extension, the Devils.

He ended up finishing with a .908 save percentage, a mark that was not only the worst of his career, but also one of the worst in the NHL. For a Devils team that was dependent on its goaltending due to a lack of offense and a shaky defense his down year was pretty much the worst possible scenario and it helped result in one of the NHL’s worst records and a fifth consecutive non-playoff season.

Given Schneider’s track record in the NHL it is pretty clear that the 2016-17 season was a massive outlier when it comes to his performance. He has consistently been one of the best goalies in the league. But if the Devils are going to show any sign of meaningful improvement in 2017 they can not have a repeat performance from Schneider. Even with the additions of Marcus Johansson and the drafting of Nico Hischier with the No. 1 overall pick the Devils are still going to be a team that struggles to score goals (even if they improve), especially with Travis Zajac being sidelined for the next four-to-six months. He is also playing behind a defense that surrendered close to 32 shots on goal per game this past season and did not undergo any significant changes.

Given that expected workload and will almost certainly be another year without much goal support the Devils won’t have a chance if Schneider doesn’t return to his previous form.

It would also be beneficial for the Devils given that they still have $30 million committed to him over the next five seasons. He is their best player, their highest paid player, and their most important player. His overall body of work would seem to indicate he is capable of bouncing back, and he very likely will. If he doesn’t, it is going to be another long season for the Devils.

Looking to make the leap: Blake Speers

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This post is a part of Devils at PHT…

It already seems like a given that top pick Nico Hischier is going to have a spot on the New Jersey Devils’ roster this season, so let’s focus a little bit on another Devils prospect that will be looking to make a full-time leap to the NHL after spending almost all of the 2016-17 season still playing for his junior team.

That would be 2015 third-round pick Blake Speers, who was able to get a brief three-game look with the team early in the season and received some high praise from the coaching staff before being sent back to the Ontario Hockey League.

Speers impressed at the Devils’ development camp this summer and said he is on a mission to make the roster this season. There are certainly plenty of openings for a team that is looking to rebuild its offense. General manager Ray Shero has done a pretty decent job adding talent to the forward group over the past couple of seasons adding Taylor Hall, Zach Palmieri and  Marcus Johansson, then getting the good fortune of winning the draft lottery this offseason to add Hischier into the mix.

During the team’s development camp coach John Hynes talked about Speers and his relentless style of play and the way he “attacks everything he does.” Over the past three years he has been one of the most productive players for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, averaging more than a point per game in each season. If he can successfully make the jump to the NHL this season and translate his game to the next level it would be another great add for a Devils team that has been one of the worst offensive — and least exciting — teams in the league for several years now.

Shero has already added some potential impact players, and getting a No. 1 overall pick is the type of good fortune that can help turn a franchise around, but teams also need to hit on the occasional mid-round pick like Speers to build a complete, balanched team from top-to-bottom.

It’s New Jersey Devils day at PHT

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The 2011-12 New Jersey Devils surprised many by falling just two wins short of a Stanley Cup, ultimately falling to the Los Angeles Kings.

The franchise’s long run of success ended with that unexpectedly deep push. In finishing with 70 standings points last season, the Devils missed the playoffs for the fifth straight time and the sixth in seven tries. (The one time being, oddly, that 2012 Stanley Cup Final run.)

New Jersey didn’t finish with the worst record in 2016-17, yet they enjoyed something rare for the franchise: the first pick of a draft, selecting Switzerland’s Nico Hischier (pictured).

Landing the top pick wasn’t the only significant gain of the summer for New Jersey, either, as they also took advantage of Washington’s cap woes to land underrated forward Marcus Johansson. The Devils continue to be the team that trades might rebuild, as Johansson joins Taylor Hall, Cory Schneider, and Kyle Palmieri as significant pieces added thanks to often-deft swaps.

Despite those nice moves, the Devils still seem like they’re a long way from being truly dangerous again in the East.

A franchise that grew accustomed to All-Star (if not Hall-of-Fame) talent patrolling the blueline now looks pitiful in that area. You could make a solid argument that the Devils sport the worst defense corps in the NHL.

Schneider struggled last season, and with Travis Zajac slated to miss months, the overall picture doesn’t seem pretty.

That said, GM Ray Shero is putting together some intriguing building blocks to get this team back on track, particularly if the likes of Pavel Zacha take steps forward in their development. Here’s hoping that Schneider and especially draft lottery magnet Taylor Hall can be a part of a brighter era for the Devils, whenever that comes.

Get to know Hurricanes’ slew of young defensemen

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

There’s a strong chance that Carolina Hurricanes fans are strongly informed about this team’s wealth of promising – in some cases, already productive – young defensemen.

Carolina still has some questions in net, as Scott Darling must prove that his strong work as a backup in Chicago will translate into a productive career as the top guy with the Hurricanes. There’s also some questions at forward; while the group looks feisty, it’s unclear if they’ll be dominant or merely solid.

The defense, however, seems to be the group that could really become the envy of just about every NHL team outside of maybe Nashville.

Again, Hurricanes fans probably know this well. On the other hand, plenty of other hockey fans – maybe even hardcore ones – only know so much about these guys. In the event that the Hurricanes finally make good on their building hype, here’s a guide so that you can look like you knew about them first.

(Hey, you missed out on that sensation with your hipster music friends in high school, so here’s your chance.)

Note: This will focus mainly on their most prominent defensemen.

Justin Faulk – OK, if Hurricanes defensemen are indie bands, then Faulk is The Arcade Fire: most people know about him by now.

Still, at just 25, he’s in the thick of his prime, and at the very team-friendly clip of $4.833 million for three more seasons.

Since he really broke through in 2014-15, Faulk has generated 48 goals. That’s the sixth-highest total among NHL defensemen during that period of time, according to Hockey Reference. (Brent Burns is in a league of his own with 73, but he’s only eight behind Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who came in second with 56 goals.)

Faulk’s 23 power-play goals rank third among blueliners during that same stretch.

The American defenseman is a bit of a double-edged sword in that chances seem to go both ways when he’s on the ice, but his offensive production is probably worth it.

Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin – At the moment, it seems clear that the Hurricanes would be wise to make their current defensemen specialists.

While Faulk can be the offensive motor, it sure seems like Pesce and Slavin could be the guys doing the dirty work in their own end. Head coach Bill Peters can decide if he wants to have one be Faulk’s “defensive conscience” or if he wants to put them together, but either way, each blueliner puts up modest offensive numbers but limits chances against to a promising degree. And, hey, there’s a chance they might bump those scoring numbers up at least a bit as they mature.

The Hurricanes made big investments in contract extensions for Pesce, 22, and Slavin, 23, this summer.

Noah Hanifin – There are certain numbers that make you grimace with Hanifin, 20, especially if you grade him based on the fact that he was drafted fifth overall in 2015.

He certainly doesn’t work out too well from a fancy stats perspective:

Yikes, well at least he seemed to be a strong playmaker …

On the bright side, Canes Country’s Peter Dewar notes that Hanifin’s numbers dramatically improved once he was elevated to a spot with Pesce in Carolina’s top-four once Ron Hainsey was traded.

Hanifin scored almost as many points (14) in 26 games after Hainsey was traded than he did (15) in the 55 contests before that happened. His stats improved basically across the board, often in dramatic ways.

Perhaps Hanifin made the jump to the NHL a bit too quickly, but there’s still plenty of time for him to figure things out. Much like Klas Dahlbeck and Trevor van Riemsdyk, Hanifin enters a contract year as he’ll be an RFA after 2017-18. Dalbeck and TVR are both 26, so the similarities likely end there.

Haydn Fleury: Click here for plenty on Fleury, the subject of “Looking to make the leap.”

Jake Bean: Along with Fleury, Bean is one of the blueliners who could battle for minutes in the near future. Bean, 19, was the 13th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft. He’s been putting up impressive offensive numbers in the WHL, and even last year spoke with NHL.com about the logjam in the Carolina pipeline.

“In some ways it’s a logjam, but for me, I’m excited that I’m going to be surrounded by really talented prospects and players,” Bean said. “It’s an opportunity not everyone is going to get with every team.”

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For all we know, amassing such an impressive war chest of defensive talent might one day allow GM Ron Francis to improve other areas of the team. It’s the sort of luxury few teams can relate to.

As is, though, this is one impressive group with its best days almost certainly coming down the road.