To answer the question which commodity is most difficult to find, a forward as good as Giroux or a defenseman as good as Letang (from a strictly PTS perspective), I did a quick check of my database of NHL draft picks. The probably of drafting a forward who can score 0.85 PTS per game in at least 200 GP before age 25 is a paltry 1.07%. The probability of drafting a defenseman who can score at least 0.48 PTS per GP under the same conditions is also exactly 1.07%. They are equally difficult to find.
So, without further adieu, here are the 15 best contracts in the NHL in 2012. If the list were 16 contracts long, Marc Staal would have squeezed in.
1) Claude Giroux, PHI: 2 more years at $3.75M - If you ask his coach, this is the best player in the league. Last year this contract ranked #2 to Kris Letang, but by virtue of Philly upsetting the favoured Penguins (thanks in large part to Giroux), he's now the best player at the best price. It's astonishing to me that Philly had the season they had after trading Richards, Carter, and losing Pronger. Bryzgalov was terrible for most of the season, so how did Philly only fall 3 PTS from their 2011 standing? Claude Giroux, that's how.
2 ) Kris Letang, PIT: 2 more years at $3.5M - After a season with multiple head injuries, he is still among the best defensemen in the NHL when healthy and an absolute bargain at that price. His first four seasons were nothing special offensively, it wasn't last year that his production increased substantially (ironically after the team lost both Crosby and Malkin). When the superstars had gone away, Letang showed up to play. He hasn't looked back.
3) Dan Girardi, NYR: 2 more years at $3.3M - He proved his value in the playoffs this season, with the Rangers leaning heavily on Girardi in their run to the Eastern finals. He had more PTS in the playoffs than Gaborik or Callahan. His next contract should demand in the $5M range, depending on how his development progresses. He'd be a top 4 D on any team in the NHL.
4) Dustin Brown, LA: 2 more at $3.15M - From the moment he was rumoured to be on the trading block, Dustin caught fire and hasn't looked back. Next to Jon Quick, he's been the Kings best player in the playoffs and his name is being thrown around by many as a formidable Conn Smythe candidate. He might be the lowest paid captain in the NHL. LA took a gamble signing him to a 6 year deal in 2008, and it has paid off.
5) Loui Eriksson, DAL: 4 more years at $4.3M - Loui doesn't get enough credit for what he brings to the line-up, scoring 71 PTS and a +18 on a team that barely missed the playoffs after barely missing the playoffs with Brad Richards the year before. This contract carries him through his peak years of production.
6) Matt Moulson, NYI - 2 more years at $3.1M - This player has quietly emerged as a legitimate scoring threat with at least 30 goals in each of his first 3 full seasons. If you can get 70 PTS for $3.1M, that's a great contract. With John Tavares emerging as a star player, Moulson could put up some big numbers on the last two years of this deal. If they could ever stabilize their goaltending and defense, the Islanders could become a scary team rather quickly. That's a big "if".
7) Logan Couture, SJ: 2 more years at $2.9M - He's a poor man's Steven Stamkos. A similar mould of player with a lower ceiling. He's a good shooter who shoots often, but must be paired with a playmaker who can get him the puck (which fortunately they have in San Jose). The 23 year old has only played 184 regular season NHL games, but has already accumulated 38 GP of playoff experience. Even if San Jose decides to do a partial rebuild and move some big pieces, Logan Couture won't be among those traded.
8) Jaroslav Halak, STL: 2 more years at $3.75M - He is among the best goaltenders in the NHL. After the Blues quick departure from the 2nd round, Halak will go in to camp as the clear #1. St. Louis might even go so far as to shop Elliot, but considering his bargain basement price, he's a solid option for your #2 goalie. Most of us still remember Halak from that ridiculous playoff run a few years ago with Montreal, and from what I've seen this season, he's still that guy. Too bad for the Blues he was injured in the playoffs.
9) Ryan Callahan, NYR: 2 more years at $4.25M - He worked his way onto this list with a gutsy performance in the playoffs and has established himself as a premier two way player. His 55 PTS this season were the most in his 6 year career, so in terms of offensive production, he'll never be in the elite tier. He blocks a lot of shots, provides strong leadership, character, great penalty killing, power play goals; basically a more expensive version of Dustin Brown.
10) Andrew Shaw, CHI: 2 more years at $565K - The sample size is still very small on Shaw, but he had a substantial impact in Chicago's line-up, providing physical play with some offensive upside. He's a legitimate sleeper in deeper fantasy hockey formats, and a player that any team in the NHL would love to have for close to the league minimum.
11) Matt Read, PHI: 2 more years at $900K - Probably the Flyers best rookie this season with 47 PTS, his arrival helped offset the loss of offense they shipped out of town last summer. As a young player it's uncertain where his development will lead, but at the moment this Bemidji State University alumni is looking like a very effective player for under a million dollars.
12) Jannik Hansen, VAN: 2 more at $1.4M - His "offensive explosion" up to 16 goals might not be sustainable (without extended periods playing with the twins), but he's a tenacious defensive player, fast skater, and an elite penalty killer. At that price, any team would love to have him.
13) Colin Greening, OTT: 2 more years at $816K - This rookie of the year candidate proved to be a very important component of the 2011/12 Ottawa Senators playoff appearance. Granted he did all but disappear in the playoffs, notching only a single assist, no goals. Anytime I've watched Ottawa, this kid has impressed me (playoffs notwithstanding). He's a fast skater.
14) Brian Elliot, STL: 2 more years at $1.8M - The ease with which LA dispatched ST. Louis from the playoffs did have an adverse effect on Elliot's value after a shocking Vezina caliber season that nobody saw coming. He seemed to get progressively worse as the Kings won more games, and is always in danger of reverting back to the old Brian Elliot. There's no question that he benefited from the Hitchcock defensive system, the question next year is which Brian Elliot will show up at training camp?
15) Jake Gardiner, TOR: 2 more years at $1.1M - If he's even half as good as Leaf fans seem to think he is, then he has to make this list. Granted, Leaf fan has been so starved for success that even a glimmer of hope can be confused for a bright sunny day. If he's not one of the 15 best contracts in the NHL, he's at least the best contract on the Maple Leafs, for what that's worth...