Which NHL players are the biggest bargains? Read on to find out.
The term best contracts may be misleading, as it depends on what perspective is taken. Players and agents want to maximize their earnings, while general managers usually have opposing interests. For this column, the perspective of the general manager is taken. The 10 players selected with the best contracts are all outperforming what they earn significantly.
Gone from last year’s list because of new contracts are Corey Perry (8), Alex Burrows (5), and Jonathan Quick (2). Karl Alzner is also gone (he is a restricted free agent at the moment). Claude Giroux (1), Kris Letang (3), and Dustin Brown (4) all slid down the list because they are all only one year away from free agency status (although Giroux will become restricted free agents).
Not on this list – any player on his rookie contract (an entry-level contract, or ELC). I also tried to make note of any no movement or no trade clauses, as they tend to affect the overall cap hit and true value of a contract. And, of course, particular attention was given to RFA and UFA rights – a player with only one year left on his contract before he hits the open market has less value than a comparable player who is locked up for the long term, all else being equal.
And a quick note on the long-term contracts (Roberto Luongo, Ilya Kovalchuk, and the like) – until we know exactly what the punishment is if these players retire early (as expected with how the contracts are structured), it is tough to really gauge the true merits of these contracts. You can read more about the “cap advantage recapture penalty” here.
Other players signed to sign contracts similar to this: Jeff Carter, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Christian Ehrhoff, and Quick. Essentially these contracts allow for a team to receive a lower cap hit (and more cap space) by giving a player a front-loaded contract (most of the actual money is paid out in the first few years). The last few years of the contract carry the same cap hit as the first few, but the actual salary amount is significantly less. It is assumed that the player will retire before the contract expires (although this isn’t the case for Quick, who signed his 10-year contract at the age of 26)
10. Jakub Voracek – Philadelphia Flyers
Contract: $4.25 million per season, signed through 2015-16 (UFA)
2013 was no fluke for Voracek – he was the best player on the Flyers on many nights (yes, even ahead of Ilya Bryzgalov), and showed why so many have been so high on him ever since the Blue Jackets took him early in the first round many years ago. Voracek is a strong two-way player who also has tremendous vision. Now that the Flyers are giving him top line minutes, he will produce like a top line star. And he isn’t paid like one.
Voracek’s offensive production had been stagnant from 2009 to 20012 – 50 points, 46 points, and 49 points, respectively. He had 46 points last season, but in 30 less games.
9. Jamie Benn – Dallas Stars
Contract: $5.25 million per season, signed through 2016-17 (UFA)
Benn is one of the best young forwards in hockey. His 2013 season didn’t go according to plan, but the Stars were/are rebuilding, and Benn didn’t have a lot of help behind him on the depth chart. He was also battling a painful wrist injury down the stretch, and for a player who earns his keep with a lethal wrist shot… a wrist injury is tough to overcome. Benn’s career arc (former 5th round pick, rapid development) has been an impressive one, and he will take another huge step forward as the Stars continue the rebuild.
8. Logan Couture – San Jose Sharks
Contract: $2.876 million per season, signed through 2013-14 (RFA)
The do-it-all forward had a breakout postseason for the Sharks. Couture has quietly taken over from Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau as the go-to guy in San Jose. He’s paid peanuts for what he brings to the table (essentially everything), but the Sharks will have to pony up this summer or next to extend his contract. Chances are he will be worth every penny. There aren’t many players like Couture in the NHL – if you need a big shot block on the PK, a huge faceoff win, an important power play goal, or a shutdown center – he is about as versatile as it gets.
7. Claude Giroux – Philadelphia Flyers
Contract: $3.75 million per season, signed through 2013-14 (RFA)
Giroux struggled a bit (by his elite standards) in 2013, as he was learning to adjust to life without Jaromir Jagr (in Dallas) and Scott Hartnell (injured for a large chunk of the season) on his wings. He’s one of the best players on the planet, and his defensive game is improving a lot from where it was a few years ago, as well. He learned the center position very quickly after coming into the NHL as a right winger.
Like Couture, Giroux has been out-earning his contract significantly for the past few years, and the Flyers know that.
6. Taylor Hall – Edmonton Oilers
Contract: $6 million per season, signed through 2019-20 (UFA)
The second contract in hockey is essentially dead (save for the odd bridge contract, like we have seen with PK Subban and Matt Duchene recently). Hall and teammate Jordan Eberle’s matching $6 million per extensions kick in this season, just as their rookie contracts have expired.
In Hall’s case, he will likely be worth that money right away for the Oilers. He was one of the most dominant forwards in hockey in 2013 in spite of playing on an awful hockey club (for the third consecutive season). The Oilers will be improved, and the new regime is promising big (and necessary) changes to the on-ice product. Look for Edmonton to do all they can to allow Hall to dominate with his speed, size, and skill. He’s nearly impossible to stop once he has the puck in full flight.
The salary cap has dropped temporarily for 2013-14, but it will likely continue on its yearly rise for 2014-15 and beyond. Hall will be making peanuts (relative peanuts, that is) by the time he is a free agent in 2020.
5. Martin St. Louis – Tampa Bay Lightning
Contract: $5.625 million per season, signed through 2014-15 (UFA)
Age is just a number for the reigning Art Ross winner. St. Louis is one of the best forwards in hockey, and one of the fittest, too. Notice a trend with these late 30’s/early 40’s superstars? Ray Whitney, Jaromir Jagr, Chris Chelios, Teemu Selanne, St. Louis – they are all fitness fanatics who take great care of their body. It isn’t a coincidence that they are all able to perform at an elite level long after many of their contemporaries are out of the game.
4. Cam Atkinson – Columbus Blue Jackets
Contract: $1.15 million per season, signed through 2014-15 (RFA)
Atkinson had a pretty good 2013 season considering he played all of it on a bum ankle. He suffered a high ankle sprain (which take about a year to completely heal). Atkinson was a 6th round pick back in 2008, and he has had to overcome a lack of size at every step of the way (5-7, 180 pounds). However, he is a very powerful skater, and he has likely learned something from St. Louis (the two of them have the same summer strength coach – Ben Prentiss).
Atkinson has top line upside, and he will show that starting this coming season for the upstart Blue Jackets. He is going to be one of the best bargains in hockey for the next two years.
3. Evander Kane – Winnipeg Jets
Contract: $5.25 million per season, signed through 2017-18 (UFA)
Big, gritty, skilled – Kane could be the next great power forward in hockey. He is already a very productive player, and his production is even more impressive when you consider that his regular center last year was an over-the-hill Olli Jokinen.
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12 JOKINEN,OLLI - 9 KANE,EVANDER - 26 WHEELER,BLAKE
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2. Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Phoenix Coyotes
Contract: $5.5 million per season, signed through 2018-19 (UFA)
The man known as OEL has quickly become one of the best defensemen in hockey. He logs brutally tough minutes for the Coyotes, and he is a productive defenseman at both even strength and on the power play. He is about as close as it gets to a Nicklas Lidstrom clone on the ice. OEL has a long way to go if he wants to live up to Lidstrom’s impressive legacy (as the second best defenseman in NHL history), but at the very least he will be one of the top five or 10 defensemen in hockey for the next decade.
This statement could be applied to many players in small markets, but if OEL played in New York or Toronto, he’d be regarded as one of the very best players in the world.
1. John Tavares – Long Island
Contract: $5.5 million per season, signed through 2017-18 (UFA)
Tavares came in at number nine on the list last year, and he moves up significantly for two reasons. One, several of the players ahead of him inked monster contract extensions over the past 12 months. And two, Tavares has taken the next step in his development and is now without a doubt one of the best players in the world.
$5.5 million for a top five talent? Yes, please. As previously mentioned, it is very likely that the salary cap will start to rise once again in 2014-15. Tavares is already significantly underpaid right now – imagine how good his contract will look under a $70-$80 million salary cap?
If you watch tape of Tavares from his rookie year, he is almost unrecognizable compared to now (aside from the ridiculous hands and deadly finish around the net) – he’s bigger, stronger, a more vocal leader, miles better defensively and without the puck, and a lot more consistent, too.
Previous Posts from Jeff (@anguscertified):
- 2013-14 Fantasy Preview: 5 Defensive Multi-Category Sleepers
- 2013-14 Fantasy Preview: 5 More Defensive Multi-Category Sleepers
- 2013-14 Fantasy Preview: Five Forward Multi-Category Sleepers
- The 10 Best NHL Contracts: The Honourable Mentions