Which players in the NHL have the most team friendly contracts? Who are the best bargains in the league? As a fan, you want your team to have salary cap friendly deals, especially if you are building a champion. This list is heavily influenced by the player’s production and projected future more so than the dollar amount. All these players are trending up. Entry level contracts don’t count because there is very little bargaining skill involved.
These are the best bargains, most often players who locked in early for too long a term to properly maximize career earnings. When you are dealing with mediocre talent, perhaps it is best to get as much term at the best AAV you can muster, but with higher end talent, agents need to time RFA contracts to expire as soon as the player is eligible for unrestricted free agency. That’s where you hit the big home runs.
1) JohnTavares, NYI, 3 yrs left at $5.5M: If he were an unrestricted free agent tomorrow, there would probably be about 29 teams willing to offer him a max contract, $12M for 7 years. He’ll get that 5 minutes after he officially hits the free agent market.
2) Victor Hedman, TB, 3 yrs left at $4M: After a breakout season that saw him score 55 PTS, this high draft pick is starting to take form as a top defenseman. If he keeps playing at this level, he’ll hit a home run on his next contract.
3) Jamie Benn, Dal, 3 yrs left at $5.25M: Jamie Benn finished 4th last season in my final player rankings. He is the real deal, and the cornerstone of a good young team that is going to be really tough to beat, sooner rather than later.
4) David Backes, Stl, 2 yrs left at $4.5M: Big strong physical center who can score PTS. He's getting close to 30 years old but is still a very effective player.
5) Max Pacioretty, Mtl, 5 yrs left at $4.5M: What he does on the ice makes him a bargain at that price. He just keeps getting better, peaking with 39 goals last season. He also helped Montreal win 2 playoff series with 11 PTS. It’s a great deal for Montreal to lock him in at this price until the age 31, which should cover all his years of peak production.
6) Chris Kunitz, Pit, 3 yrs left at $3.8M: You could argue that Chris Kunitz should be compelled to give half of his salary to Sidney Crosby, given how much of his production depends on the world’s best player feeding him pucks. Still, a player with those numbers should be in the $6M range, but nobody will give him that because they don’t believe he can produce even close to that without Sidney. It’s a bad deal for Kunitz because he’s about to turn 35 years old and he’ll be 38 when the contract expires. This was his last chance at a home run, and he took less to stay with Crosby.
7) Mark Giordano, Cgy, 2 years left at $4M: Giordano became one of the best defensemen in the NHL in 2014, which makes that contract all the sweeter. He had 47 PTS in 64 GP, was a +12 on a bad Calgary team, had multiple game winning goals on a team that didn’t win a lot of games. He did a lot to improve a team that probably would have benefitted more by losing than winning. Giordano himself easily cost the team a top 5 pick.
8) James Van Riemsdyk, Tor, 4 yrs left at $4.25M: Not only did Toronto steal him from Philly, they’ve got him locked in for 4 more years at a great price. His 2014 production was easily the best of his young career and will only get better. With the abundance of scoring talent that plays around him, he has the potential to reach a very high ceiling over the next 4 years.
9) Kyle Turris, Ott, 4 yrs left at $3.5M: He should probably fire his agent over this contract. His production has jumped into the $4M - $5M range, but he’s locked into his current deal for 4 more years. It’s great if you’re an Ottawa Senators fan, bad if you’re Kyle Turris. He just keep getting better every season and is quickly approaching peak production.
10) Kyle Okposo, NYI, 2 yrs left at $2.8M: When his contract expires in 2 years, he should probably expect a $2M raise in annual salary on his new deal. He just had the best season of his young career, and at 26 years old he should be looking at another few years in the 60-70 point range.
11) Martin Hanzal, Pho, 3 yrs left at $3.1M: This is another case of player should fire agent. This contract will expire when he’s 30 years old. He should have taken a 2 year deal at $3M, because if he were a free agent this summer, he’d have easily gotten as much or more than Kulemin. He’s far better than Kulemin, even Grabovski. Hanzal is among the most underrated players in the league. Every NHL team would love to have this guy for 3 years at $3.1M. In addition to scoring ability, the 6’6 beast also had 200 hits in 65 games.
12) Andrew Ladd, Wpg, 2 yrs left at $4.4M: He’s got 2 years to prove he can get the Jets into the playoffs. If he can get this team to the next level, he should get at least $5.5M on his next contract.
13) Wayne Simmons, Phi, 5 yrs left at $3.9M: Do yourself a favour and fire your agent. Simmonds has transformed into a perennial 25-30 goal scorer at the tender young age of 25. If he hit the UFA market at 27 he’d be getting his own personal Brinks truck. One with the sole purpose of taking bags of cash to Wayne Simmonds house. Instead he’ll go UFA at 30 when his production will theoretically be in decline. He’ll do alright, but his contracts were not timed out properly to hit the big grand slam at the perfect moment. Great value for the Flyers though.
14) Niklas Kronwall, Det, 5 yrs left at $4.75M: When you see what defensemen are going for on the free agent market these days, somebody would easily give Kronwall $6M. He’ll be 38 years old when the contract expires, so this should have been his home run deal, instead of running out the rest of his career below market value.
15) John Carlson, Was, 4 yrs left at $3.9M: The size of that Orpik contract has to be a slap in the face for Carlson, who remains the team’s best defenseman. If the two ever go to dinner, Orpik better be picking up the cheque. He could easily get a 5 year $25M+ contract if he went UFA tomorrow. This poor sucker has to wait for another 4 years to hit it big.