2013 NHL Free Agency: The Biggest Bargains Available This Summer
2013 NHL free agency is upon us, and that means only one thing: some players are about to get seriously overpaid. A mildly washed up 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr is going to make $5 million a year. 33-year-old powerplay specialist center Mike Ribeiro will seek a five-year deal—and he'll get it, along with big money and a no-movement clause.
That's the funny thing about the salary cap.
The owners instituted it to protect their cash (erm, "even the financial playing field") yet their GMs just can't help but throw money at anyone who has even a remotely recognizable name.
Here's a secret: championship teams win by icing players that are making less than they are worth. The Chicago Blackhawks just won the Stanley Cup while paying Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews $6.3 million each.
Or, likely $3 million less (each) than what they'd fetch on the open market.
Bargains are imperative to remaining competitive in the NHL these days. And while this particular free agency period will feature plenty of athletes fetching a few mil more than they are worth, that doesn't mean that there won't be a handful of bargain players available to the more savvy managers around the NHL.
As is the case with any bargain, there are risks involved. Several of these guys could turn out to be worth it, however.
Terms of Expiring Deal: Two years, $5.75 million
What He Brings to the Table: Ian White won't be a Detroit Red Wing in 2014, but that isn't because he's not a capable defenseman. The team just ended up with a logjam on the blue line during the shortened 2013 season, and White was simply the victim of a numbers game.
He's perfectly able to round out a defensive unit as a No. 5 or 6 guy, and can even log some minutes on the second pairing and on the power play.
He Could Be a Bargain If: Defensemen with even an inkling of offensive talent are always prime candidates to get overpaid as a free agent. If a team can manage to sign White for around $3 million a year (give or take $500,000) it will be a good deal.
It's safe to give him term as well, as he's only 29.
Terms of Expiring Deal: One year, $1.15 million.
What He Brings to the Table: Ray Emery is an interesting goaltending choice for teams in the market for one.
What once appeared to be a rich crop of free-agent netminders is shrinking daily: Sergei Bobrovsky has signed a deal with Columbus, Mike Smith will be playing to the Phoenix Coyotes for the next six years and the Vancouver Canucks have finally "settled" their goalie situation by trading Cory Schneider.
That doesn't leave a lot of options for teams looking for help in net.
Emery was considered the backup for the Chicago Blackhawks last season, but he was outstanding whenever he played. He was an incredible 17-1, while posting a .922 save percentage and a 1.94 GAA.
He Could Be a Bargain If: The big question is whether or not Emery could be a starting netminder. If a team is in a situation where they are looking for one, a one year, big money "prove it" deal could be a steal.
It's likely that Emery will serve out the remainder of his career as a backup though—albeit a darn good one. He's worth an extra million or two a season, especially if a team has a fragile starter.
Terms of Expiring Deal: One year, $700,000
What He Brings to the Table: A lot of mental toughness, championship experience and the ability to play in any situation. And no, the irony isn't lost on us as we list Scott Gomez as a bargain a year after he was the cover-boy for overpaid players.
This is a guy that has been through it all. He's unshakable and provides a great deal of leadership on and off the ice. He's not going to be a big point producer, but he is very capable in the faceoff circle and can still make some slick passes if given some power play time.
He Could Be a Bargain If: One wouldn't be shocked to hear Gomez negotiating to have money removed from his contract, lest he ever be labeled overpaid again. Make no bones about it: this is a good depth player, and he should be paid accordingly.
A doubling of the salary he made with the San Jose Sharks wouldn't be outlandish, but he'll likely fall closer to the $1 million range. Which isn't half-bad for a player like Gomez. Stanley Cup rings are worth that alone in the NHL these days.
Terms of Expiring Deal: One year, $600,000
What He Brings to the Table: For a team looking to roll the dice on a promising 27-year-old goaltender, Mark Dekanich could be their guy. Up until 2013, he'd typically always performed well at the AHL level. In 2010-11 with the Milwaukee Admirals he posted a GAA of 2.02 across 42 games and appeared to be capable of a backup role in the NHL.
A string of injuries later, and Dekanich found himself getting shelled as the starter for the St. John's Ice Caps—one of the weakest teams in the AHL in 2013.
Dekanich is a guy that could break through if given a chance. He's been a journeyman since leaving the Nashville Predators organization in 2011, and he's just looking for a shot.
He Could Be a Bargain If: This is a true bargain player. Dekanich is obviously willing to take less money just for the chance to play. If there's a team looking for a cheap yet somewhat promising option in goal, they need to look no further than Dekanich.
Terms of Expiring Deal: Six years, $24 million
What He Brings to the Table: Derek Roy has been traded twice in the last 12 months and can't seem to find a role anywhere. Still, this was a 40-point center in 2011-12, and his talents haven't fallen off that badly.
He just can't get settled in.
Never underestimate the value of consistency for certain players. Consistent linemates and the ability to not live in a hotel for months on end would likely return Roy to his solid point-producing ways.
He's not going to be an All-Star, but for a squad looking for an above-average third line center or an average No. 2 guy, Roy can fill that gap.
He Could Be a Bargain If: When the Vancouver Canucks traded for Roy, they were hoping to add a depth center that could fill the void left by Ryan Kesler whenever he ended up on the IR. He never really found his niche with the Canucks though, and his value could be at an all-time low because of it.
If a team can convince Roy to take a two-year "prove it" deal, he could end up playing with new-found intensity as he tries to show that he still has some game left in the tank at 30.
Terms of Expiring Deal: Two years, $7 million
What He Brings to the Table: There's a scene in the movie Moneyball where general manager Billy Beane explains to aging ex-star David Justice that he isn't paying him for the player he used to be. "I'm paying you for the player you are now" he proclaims.
Teams looking to sign Simon Gagne would be wise to use this same approach.
He'll end up on the IR. He's not going to play a full season, and there's zero chance that he's going to score 70 points. But Gagne is capable of putting up 30—if he's healthy. And that's a big if.
He Could Be a Bargain If: A team would be making a mistake if they signed Gagne, expecting him to be in the lineup every night. He's just not going to be.
The 33-year-old hasn't played a full season since ever. As in, he's literally never made it through an 82-game season without missing at least a few games.
Yet he could be a boon for a squad looking for a depth scorer and perhaps even a secret weapon on the power play. Gagne is a depth guy at this stage of his career, but a solid one. If a team pays him as such, he'll be a bargain.
Terms of Expiring Deal: One year, $3.25 million
What He Brings to the Table: There was a time not so long ago that Dustin Penner was one of the most heavily pursued power-forwards in the NHL. He provided the Edmonton Oilers with some solid hockey, and even broke the 60-point barrier once after the team pried him from the Anaheim Ducks with an offer sheet.
Those days appear to be long gone though, as Penner has a near-mutant-like tendency to disappear completely for long portions of a season. We're talking 20- or 30-game stretches where Penner isn't noticeable on the ice. For any reason.
Under the right circumstances though, Penner could be effective. And those circumstances are simple: give him an elite center, and tell him to go stand by the net with his stick down on the ice.
At the very least a guy like Sidney Crosby or Pavel Datsyuk could bounce pucks into the net off of his big frame.
He Could Be a Bargain If: He shouldn't make in 2014 what he did in 2013.
Penner needs to prove that he can be at least mildly consistent before raking in more than $3 million a season. Plus there are just too many complimentary players available as free agents this year, watering down his value a bit.
Penner needs to be in a healthy situation, where there isn't pressure to be more than he is. Under the right circumstances, Penner could be a diamond-in-the-rough signing.
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