NHL's 17 Best Player Performances for the Money They Earn

Kevin GoffContributor IAugust 8, 2012

NHL's 17 Best Player Performances for the Money They Earn

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    Salary is a funny thing when it comes to players in the NHL. Sometimes players will be performing decently but still draw the ire of the fan base because they aren't living up to their contract.

    At the same time, there are those players who have the smaller contracts that people don't tend to expect a lot out of who more than deliver the goods.

    Here are some of the guys that gave you way more bang than the bucks they were receiving, in no particular order.

    All salary numbers mentioned provided by CapGeek.com.

Vinny Prospal

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    It's hard to show value to a team that has never learned how to win and that wallows in futility, but Prospal was a very valuable member of the Blue Jackets this year.

    At age 37, Prospal came in and was second in scoring on the team with 55 points, providing leadership to a team that was in desperate need of it.

    This also came with a price tag of just $1.75 million.

Ryan O'Reilly

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    Ryan O'Reilly was one of the biggest surprises of the year, and not just for the Colorado Avalanche. O'Reilly took the league by storm with a career season in all categories.

    O'Reilly had tallied only 26 points for each of his first two seasons before exploding on the scene in 2011-2012.

    O'Reilly led the Avalanche in scoring with 55 points and set career highs in goals (18) and assists (37). He also became the team's biggest leader, gaining the backing of most of the Avalanche fan base as the next best choice for captain once Milan Hejduk retires.

    O'Reilly also finished in the top 15 spots of the Selke voting for the league's best defensive forward. 

    O'Reilly did all of this while making just $900,000 last season.

Mike Smith

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    Not too many people gave the Coyotes any hope after they lost Ilya Bryzgalov to free agency before the beginning of last season, but Mike Smith proved to be a worthy replacement.

    Smith posted fantastic numbers all year long, including a 2.21 goals against average, 38 wins, a .930 save percentage and eight shutouts.

    He also led the Coyotes to their first-ever division title and a berth in the Western Conference Finals.

    These are the numbers and actions of an elite goalie, but Smith only was paid $2,000,000 this season, and stands to make the same this year.

    Great value.

Erik Karlsson

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    Erik Karlsson lit up the entire league this past season on his way to his first ever Norris Trophy, and it quite possibly will not be his last.

    Whether or not this season was a "flash in the pan" is still to be decided, but something that is not up for debate is how valuable he was for his team.

    Not just because he produced so well and led all defensmen in points (78), but he did that while making a base salary of just $875,000.

    Now that he's earned his raise, he's going to have to make certain that this year is not the exception.

James Neal

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    James Neal had a career year in every aspect this past season, and gave his team incredible value.

    Neal scored 40 goals and had 80 points for the first time in his career and earned himself a fantastic new contract.

    During this past season, Neal brought in $3.5 million with a cap hit below $3 million for the Penguins. Eighty points on that contract is amazing.

Ray Whitney

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    $3 million dollars is a pretty healthy contract for a guy that turned 40 during the last season, so it shouldn't surprise anybody that he was productive.

    At the same time, you just don't expect a guy at Whitney's age to put up 77 points, play in all 82 games, be a plus-26 and lead his team in scoring.

    Put all of those things together and you easily have one of the best values in the league this year, and one of the best values of a player that age possibly ever.

Jason Garrison

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    Jason Garrison is still in the young portion of his career and he had one of those years that shows great improvement from previous seasons.

    Garrison set career highs in goals (16), assists (17) and points (33). Garrison was a huge reason that the Panthers made such an unexpected improvement during this past season.

    Best of all, he came dirt cheap. Garrison made a whopping $700,000 this past season.

Matt Moulson

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    Matt Moulson is another player who put up career number in goals (36), assists (33) and points (69) all during last season.

    He was one of the brightest spots on an Islanders team still trying to find a way to get back into the playoffs, playing alongside John Tavares.

    Moulson's salary last season was $2.5 million with a cap hit of $3.13 million. The Islanders have to be happy with the value he provided.

Logan Couture

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    Logan Couture has provided the Sharks with amazing value in each of the past two seasons, cracking 30 goals each time while still in his entry-level contract.

    Couture had 31 goals and 34 assists on his way to an an All-Star season in 2011-2012.

    The biggest kicker is his base salary of just $787,500. He definitely earned a raise and provided some fantastic value.

Michael Del Zotto

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    Michael Del Zotto is a fantastic young defender that is showing he has the stuff to be one of the best defenders in the league.

    Del Zotto is at the end of his entry-level contract and is due for a big raise.

    Del Zotto broke 40 points for the first time in his career this past season and there is no reason to think he won't continue to just keep getting better.

    Del Zotto also averaged 22 minutes of ice-time and was still plus-20 on the year.

    Very impressive no matter what the salary, but considering his contract was just a base of $875,000 last season it makes things that much more valuable.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere

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    J.S. Giguere had a great bounce-back season with the Colorado Avalanche this past season, especially at his age.

    The numbers aren't really even the thing that is important about Giguere, it's the way that he stepped in and stabilized the team when they were in a free fall and had almost lost their season in the month of November.

    Giguere held that Avalanche team together and was perhaps the biggest reason for their turnaround. At just $1.25 million last season, that is a pretty darn good value.

Jamie Benn

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    Jamie Benn may very well be the next captain of the Dallas Stars once Brenden Morrow finally goes off into the sunset.

    He really emerged as one of the best leaders on the team and definitely one of the most prime players. At just 23 years old, Benn was second on the team in points (63) and tied for the team lead in goals (26).

    His contract was a measly $670,000 of base pay.

Jordan Eberle

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    Jordan Eberle is one of the real up-and-coming stars in the NHL that will just continue to get better.

    He's only been in the league for two years and he already almost doubled his entire point total from year one (43) to year two (76).

    Eberle has plenty of 30-goal seasons to come, but he got his first this past season while he was making just $875,000 in base salary.

Claude Giroux

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    Claude Giroux really established himself as one of the league's most elite players this year with his 93-point explosion this year.

    Giroux's current cap hit is only $3,750,000, but the salary he was paid this year was less than this. He made $2,750,000 in the 2011-2012 season.

    He's a player who will be in the running for scoring titles and league MVP awards in the coming years. This price is a steal.

Brian Elliott

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    Brian Elliott was brought into St. Louis to basically serve as a backup to Jaroslav Halak, but he ended up giving them way more than anybody expected.

    Elliott played in 38 games, won 23 of them and posted a sickeningly low 1.56 goals against average. When put together with his .940 save percentage, his season becomes very impressive.

    To put it into even greater perspective, these numbers are noticeably better than Vezina winner Henrik Lundqvist and Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick.

    Yes, both of those goalies saw far more action as far as games played is concerned, but Elliott wasn't certain whether or not he would even be in the NHL all year.

    Elliott's contract was for just $600,000 and was a two-way contract. If St. Louis had wanted to, they could have put him down in their minor league team where his contract would have been $105,000.

Kevin Shattenkirk

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    Kevin Shattenkirk is a fantastic young defender that is going to produce a lot of points as he goes through his years in the league.

    His first two seasons have been identical from a numbers perspective. Both of his first two seasons saw Shattenkirk produce nine goals and 34 assists. His marked improvement in plus/minus was something that should turn some heads.

    He may still have some developing to do as far as playing in his zone, but the offensive upside he provides at the very economical $875,000 base salary is outstanding value.

Jonathan Quick

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    We all saw the kind of season that Jonathan Quick had. Vezina finalist, Conn Smythe winner, absolute gymnast in the net who always kept his team in the game.

    Hard to imagine that he just made $1.8 million this past season. I don't know that there was a better value for their dollar in the league.