The NHL’s best bargain contracts: Southeast 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. 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.

source: Getty ImagesFlorida 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.

source: Getty ImagesWashington 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.

source: APWinnipeg 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.

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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 Jeff Skinners 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.

Click here for the Pacific Division version.

Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

avalanche injuries
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

“Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

“He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

“I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

“I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

“I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

“It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.