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.
Carolina Hurricanes – The Canes could have made the playoffs last year but got smeared by the Lightning in that deciding game.
Jussi Jokinen ($3M) – Jokinen was once a glorified shootout genius, but he’s been a valuable contributor for Carolina lately. His new contract seems like a solid deal for the Canes.
Alexei Ponikarovsky ($1.5M) – I’m not very high on Ponikarovsky, to be honest. That being said, he’s a four-time 20+ goal scorer entering an attacking system that could play to his strengths. It’s a low-risk, medium-reward deal.
Florida Panthers – Their hearts were in the right place, but the Panthers gave out funny money to a lot of unproven players this off-season.
Stephen Weiss ($3.1M) – Naturally, the best deal – and maybe Florida’s best player – involves a guy who’s been there for a long time.
Mike Santorelli ($1.6M) – He scored 20 goals last season, so his contract could be nice. Of course, it all depends on how he fits in with the many new pieces, though.
Honorable mention: If Jose Theodore proves me wrong and ends up being an above average NHL starter, then the Panthers found one at a cheap rate.
Tampa Bay Lightning – The Bolts lost a couple of players who helped them during their playoff run, but kept many of the big ones, so it’s reasonable to expect another nice season.
Martin St. Louis ($5.63M) – While the Lightning’s fortunes have resembled a roller coaster ride since they won a Stanley Cup, St. Louis steadily puts together great work year after year. He also does it at a great price.
Steve Downie ($1.85M) – Sure, his penchant for bad hits makes him a polarizing figure, but few players as violent as Downie also have as much offensive upside.
Dominic Moore ($1.1M) – A nice defensive player with a touch of offensive ability, Moore brings enough to the table that his contract is a solid steal.
Washington Capitals – Could this be the year for the Caps? Bruce Boudreau certainly hopes so.
Mike Knuble ($2M) – Knuble plays a responsible game and scores dirty goals in bunches; he just finished his eighth consecutive season with at least 20 tallies.
Karl Alzner ($1.3M) – Alzner took an absurdly cheap deal and ranks as one half of the team’s promising young shutdown line. What’s not to like?
Tomas Vokoun ($1.5M) – It’s embarrassing that only two GMs were reportedly in the running for one of the league’s most consistently statistically excellent goalies. The best part for the Capitals is that they have at least one other netminder who can carry the load if Vokoun doesn’t work out for whatever reason. Either way, Vokoun is easily the bargain of 2011 free agency.
Honorable mention: Nicklas Backstrom is getting paid too much to be a true bargain, but if he bounces back with Alex Ovechkin as expected, he’ll go back to being a great bang for the buck center.
Winnipeg Jets – The remodeled Thrashers won’t spend a whole lot of money next season, so do they have some bargains on their roster?
Bryan Little ($2.38) – He probably won’t score 31 goals again, but hitting the 20-goal plateau isn’t out of the question.
Eric Fehr ($2.2M) – Health is a concern with the large winger, but he could be the next Andrew Ladd.
Tobias Enstrom ($3.75M) – Enstrom quietly produces a lot of points; he passed the 50-point mark in two straight seasons.
Ondrej Pavelec ($1.15M) – Pavelec bounced back in an impressive way after his scary fainting spell and then tapered off toward the end of the season. Still, he put up a .914 save percentage overall, which is pretty good for a starter getting paid such a small amount. This season might determine if he’s the goalie of the future for the Jets.
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 Jeff Skinners of the world.
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Click here for the Pacific Division version.