Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Best NHL Contracts 2017

What are the best NHL non-entry level contracts of 2017? By this I do mean the “best bargain” contracts, not just the most valuable assets. Being a valuable asset certainly helps on the bargain scale, but I prefer to define “bargain” as a contract for less than 10% of the salary cap. It is also no great honour for a player to appear on this list because it means that they are earning significantly less than their market value. Every player on this list was a restricted free agent when they signed their contract. Getting bargains on the UFA market is very difficult, unless you gamble on a risky player and it works out. Bidding wars tend to produce bad contracts.

1) Nikita Kucherov, Tampa, 1 more yr @ $4.8M: Kuch signed this contract following a 30 Goal, 66 Point season at age 22, accepting one of the lowest cap hits of any player under 25 years old with that kind of production in the salary cap era (the closest comparable is 2011 Logan Couture). This was one of the best bargains we’ve seen in the last decade, and he’s still got another year left at a ridiculously low price. He could score 60 Goals next season. He currently leads the NHL in scoring with a 6-point lead over 2nd place, on pace to score 120 PTS.

2) Roman Josi, Nashville, 2 more yrs @ $4M: Josi signed this contract in 2013 and has been on the best contracts list ever since 2015. Had he locked in for 2 years instead of 7 at that low price, he would have earned a big pay day. This contract could end up costing him over $10M in career earnings. Mattias Eckholm and Calle Jarnkrok would go on to make similar costly mistakes with the same franchise. David Poile is on the same level of Steve Yzerman when it comes to squeezing RFAs into multi-year discounted deals.

3) Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis, 2 more yrs @ $6.5M: He’s going to be a top contender for the Norris Trophy each of the last 2 seasons on this deal, and is going to get a monster contract when this one expires. He had an injury and a bit of a cold stretch in December, so he’s by no means a lock to win best defenseman, but has to be the odds-on favourite. He’s been scoring at a 59-point pace in 2017/18, which would beat his career best of 51 PTS. The strangest thing about his rise into the elite tier, is that it came immediately following the departure of Kevin Shattenkirk.

4) Aleksander Barkov, Florida, 4 more yrs $5.9M: There’s no question Barkov left money on the table by locking up for a bridge deal this long. If his contract were expiring at the end of this season, he’d be re-signing for a significantly higher wage. His career best is currently 59 PTS in 66 GP but he’s still just 22 years old and is on pace for 75 PTS this season. He could crack 90 PTS before the end of this contract. Between Barkov, Huberdeau, and Trocheck, the Panthers have some A+ assets locked up long term heading into their prime years of production. It shouldn’t be hard to build a contender with these pieces.

5) Andre Vasilevsky, Tampa, 2 more yrs @$3.5M: He leads the NHL in Wins (25), GAA (2.02) and SV% (.935) among starters by a comfortable margin. At this point he has to be the odds-on favourite to win the Vezina Trophy, but Jon Quick might still have something to say about that. Leave it to Steve Yzerman to get a Trophy candidate locked down to multiple years at a cheap price coming out of entry level. This would certainly rank among the 10 best goalie bargains of the last decade. Should he win the Vezina, it would be the 2nd lowest cap hit (as a % of cap) to win the award in the salary cap era, next to 2009 Tim Thomas.

6) Brayden Schenn, St. Louis, 3 more yrs @ $5.1M: If Ron Hextall had access to a time machine, there’s no doubt he’d travel back to right before he traded Brayden Schenn and slap himself in the face. What Schenn has done for the Blues since arriving has been among this season’s biggest storylines. Jori Lehtera has had his best games sitting up in the press box for the Flyers (you can find Lehtera on the 2017 worst contracts list). The Blues stole a great contract. He’s on pace for 83 PTS, which would crush his previous career high of 59 PTS.

7) Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg, 6 more yrs @ $6.1M: This kid is good, really good. He’ll be a fixture on the NHL PTS leaderboard for the duration of this contract. He recently suffered a shoulder injury that will put him out for several weeks, which hopefully will not become a lingering issue. Prior to the injury he had 38 PTS in 38 GP and was in the MVP conversation. This is among the most valuable assets in the NHL that’s also an incredible bargain. The Hockey News told us in 2015 that the Jets would win the Stanley Cup in 2019, and that’s starting to look like a sage prediction. If they do win, Scheifele will be a big reason why.

8) Tyler Seguin, Dallas, 1 more yr @ $5.7M: In the past this has been a contender for the best contract in hockey, but has slipped in the rankings because only 1 season remains after this. He has scored 34 PTS in 39 GP at age 25. He’s on pace for close to the 72 PTS he had last season, which is off from his career best of 84 in 2014. Given his age, he could return to the 80-point plateau with the right pieces around him. He'll be a UFA when this expires. Dallas will have the money to sign him with Spezza coming off the books that summer, but I would expect Seguin to test the free agent market.

9) Erik Karlsson, Ottawa, 1 more yr @ $6.5M: Karlsson would be higher on this list if not for the terrible season he’s been having on his new ankle. There’s a chance that we’ll never again see that same Erik Karlsson who was so dominant in the playoffs last spring. He has scored 8 PTS in his last 12 GP, so he may be getting back on track. Let’s hope so. He’s a rare dominant talent who can control hockey games, carrying a mediocre team on his shoulders to within a goal of the Stanley Cup finals.

10) Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado, 5 more yrs @ $6.4M: The season started out a bit slow for MacKinnon, but he caught fire in November and has been magnificent. He’s on pace for 95 PTS, which would smash his career best of 63 PTS from his rookie season. He’s reached a new level this year and is a big part of the reason that team has been winning some hockey games with no defensemen, finally living up to the expectations of being a 1st overall pick. This is an A+ asset that should help accelerate the rebuild, provided Sakic is able to fill some gaping holes on their roster.

11) John Klingberg, Dallas, 4 more yrs @ $4.2M: It’s hard to get 60-point defenseman for a price tag this low. Klingberg had fallen down to 48 PTS last season, but is on pace for 67 PTS in 2017/18 and currently leads all NHL defensemen in scoring. The two closest comparables for past production and salary in the cap era are Victor Hedman and Roman Josi, and those two contracts made multiple appearances on my annual best contracts lists. Klingberg should be among the 15 best bargains in hockey until 2021.

12) Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg, 1 more yr @ $5.6M: Wheeler has blossomed into a dominant offensive force in the NHL and has another year left at a bargain price. His name is getting mentioned in Hart Trophy conversations. Now that Scheifele is going to be injured for weeks, Wheeler has a chance to show his value. If he can continue producing without his trigger man, then perhaps he should get more credit for his line-mates success. He’s also got one of my favourite hockey names of all time. His nickname in the dressing room has to be “Wheels” right?

13) Vincent Trocheck, Florida, 4 more yrs @ $4.8M: Vinny scored 54 PTS in year one of this contract, and already has 35 PTS in 37 GP so far this season (78-point pace). He’s just 24 years old and should have his prime years ahead of him. The Panthers could have a massive bargain on their hands and should be rewarded for gambling on a long-term bridge deal. Unlike Barkov and Huberdeau; Trocheck offers a physical component to his game, with 164 Hits last season.

14) Mattias Ekholm, Nashville, 5 more yrs @ $3.8M: There is a 0% chance Poile is ever trading this contract, despite the fact that probably every trade scenario he discusses with another GM asks about getting him. Getting a top 4 defenseman at this price is a bargain, and he’ll be 32 when it expires so he may never hit a home run deal. If he hasn’t already fired the agent who convinced him this was a good idea, then pick up the phone buddy…

15) Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary, 4 more yrs @ $6.8M: Over his first 3 seasons, Mr. Hockey has reached point totals of 64, 78, and 61. He’s on pace for 88 in 2017/18. He’s still just 24 years old and if he’s going to start producing at a 90-point level, this becomes a bargain. The Flames have some strong building blocks in place with Mr. Hockey, Monahan, and Hamilton locked up for the long-term at great prices. He could end up winning multiple Lady Bing Trophies on this contract. Wow. Anytime you can get a Lady Bing Trophy, it's worth whatever price you paid...

Honorable Mentions: Viktor Arvidsson, Nazem Kadri, Mika Zibanejad, Anders Lee, Gabriel Landeskog, Bo Horvat, Nick Leddy, Morgan Reilly, Mats Zuccarello, Jaden Schwartz, Sean Monahan, Matt Murray, Rickard Rakell

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