Best bargains on day one of NHL free agency

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With all the money thrown around – often recklessly – in free agency, it’s probably tough to believe that you can find bargains. You know, aside from no-brainer deals like Toronto signing John Tavares.

Such a notion seems especially unthinkable during the first day of the open market, and that’s not just because the Vancouver Canucks continue to confound the hockey world with confusing contracts. It’s probably tempting for some fans to pool money for a billboard just to ask their GMs to wait until after July 1 to strike deals.

As tough as it might be to believe, there actually were a few contracts that look great, at least as of today.

(Injuries, clashes with coaching staffs, and plenty of other variables can make such praise seem silly in hindsight, however.)

These signings rank as the best of the bargain bin as free agency began.

[For a full list of free agent moves, including in the days leading up to today, click here]

Buffalo Sabres make a smart buy in net: Carter Hutton as a team’s top goalie is a risky proposition if he’s paid like a top goalie normally would be.

In the case of Buffalo, though, Hutton ranks as an expensive backup, pay-wise. Read this post for more on that.

Not a lot of cash for Riley Nash: The Columbus Blue Jackets landed a “Ri- Nash,” but not Rick Nash, on Sunday. There’s a strong chance that we’ll look back at that as a good thing.

TSN’s Darren Dreger and others report that Nash’s cap hit will be a meager $2.75 million through 2020-21. That could end up being a steal for a 29-year-old center who scored 15 goals and 46 points last season; he looked especially impressive for the Boston Bruins when he was pressed into top-line duty thanks to injuries to Patrice Bergeron.

At the moment, the Blue Jackets must feel limited in how they can spend, as both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky enter contract years in 2018-19. This signing improved Columbus’ scoring depth while leaving plenty of space for bigger names.

An affordable reunion for St. Louis: Yes, David Perron‘s bounced around the NHL quite a bit, and he didn’t end things all that well with the Vegas Golden Knights, as his offense dried up late in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It’s easy to forget just how integral the 30-year-old winger was to Vegas’ success during the regular season, though. Perron managed close to a point-per-game, as he generating 66 in 70 contests. He was “clutch,” too, as three of his four game-winning goals came in overtime.

Perron’s enjoyed plenty of success before, including during his previous tours with St. Louis. Read more about the Perron signing (and the more debatable Tyler Bozak deal) in this post.

Cheap gambles on goalies: Consider aforementioned bargain goalie Carter Hutton as the ace of a class of goalies who could deliver great puck-stops for the buck.

To put things mildly, Petr Mrazek‘s experienced a bumpy road the last few years, including erratic play in Detroit and then Philly last season. There’s been some distance between his best moments and today, which explains why he only commanded a one-year deal at a cheap $1.5M.

That said, his best days showed a lot of promise, including a 2015-16 season with the Red Wings when he managed a 27-16-6 record with a strong .921 save percentage. Carolina’s been the place where goalie stats go to die. What if, instead, Mrazek could revive his career with the Hurricanes? It’s worth a shot, especially if Scott Darling‘s own struggles aren’t a one-year headache.

The Blues lost Carter Hutton this summer, but they turned around and signed Chad Johnson, another goalie who’s seen some nice moments, to a one-year, $1.75M deal.

While Johnson suffered a lousy season with Buffalo, he’s shown multiple flourishes of being the type of backup who can hold down the fort with good-to-great numbers if a starter flounders. Jake Allen‘s faced his ups and downs since becoming the Blues’ top goalie, so Johnson’s presence may be crucial to St. Louis’ hopes of returning to the postseason.

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You can make some other arguments for bargains. If you stretch the rules and count extensions, Oliver Ekman-Larsson signing for almost $3M less per season than Drew Doughty could be a big deal for Arizona, particularly since the budget team is hoping to be competitive. As strange as this sounds, Tavares at $11M per year probably stands as a relative bargain, too.

What are some contracts that stand as steals to you? Do any of the listed bargains actually count as albatross deals? Do tell.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.