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Best Free-Agent Acquisition on Each NHL Team's Roster

Jonathan WillisNHL National ColumnistJuly 31, 2014

Best Free-Agent Acquisition on Each NHL Team's Roster

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    Michael Martin/Getty Images

    The NHL's annual free-agent spending spree was a little disappointing this year, as very few top players reached the market. Players like Paul Stastny, Ryan Miller, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen were among the most heavily compensated, and there was the predictable hue and cry about crazy contracts for middling players, a complaint that has become just as much a staple of free agency as the contracts themselves.

    Sometimes, though, teams get exceptional value from free agents. The following slideshow looks at each team's "best" acquisition, by which we mean not only the best player but the best value for the money. In each case, we've considered where the player is at today and what he's done since joining his team as a UFA.

    One additional note: For the purposes of this comparison, we're omitting free agents whose rights were originally acquired in trade; a player had to actually go to market to count here. That also includes draft-related unrestricted free agents who were available for any team to sign. 

Anaheim Ducks: Dany Heatley

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    JACK DEMPSEY/Associated Press

    The contract: One year, $1.0 million cap hit (July 2014)

     

    What he's been: Dany Heatley hasn't delivered anything for the Anaheim Ducks yet, but there aren't a lot of highly productive free agents on Anaheim's roster. Given the choice between this flyer on Heatley or some of the team's overpriced defencemen, the Heatley contract wins out as a better bet. 

     

    What he is now: Right now, Heatley's a reclamation project, but he just might be a top-six forward. 

Arizona Coyotes: Mike Smith

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    The contract: Two years, $2.0 million cap hit (July 2011)

     

    What he's been: Mike Smith delivered exceptional value on the two-year contract the Phoenix Coyotes signed him to. He served as the team's starting goalie and by the numbers was one of the NHL's better No. 1 goaltenders over that period.

     

    What he is now: All good things come to an end, and Smith's bargain contract has been replaced by one more reflective of his value to the team. He's still a legitimate NHL starter. 

Boston Bruins: Zdeno Chara

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    The contract: Five years, $7.5 million cap hit (July 2006)

     

    What he's been: Zdeno Chara is a great example of the principle that top-end talent is worth pretty much whatever it costs. He was one of the NHL's best defencemen over the course of his last contract, and it's a fair bet that the Boston Bruins would not have won the 2011 Stanley Cup without this foray into free agency. 

     

    What he is now: Chara turned 37 in March. He's still a No. 1 defenceman, but his skills have noticeably started to erode as he moves away from his prime. 

Buffalo Sabres: Andre Benoit

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    The contract: One year, $800,000 cap hit (July 2014)

     

    What he's been: Andre Benoit has yet to play a game for the Buffalo Sabres, but the dollar value on this contract made him impossible to resist as that team's selection. Last season, Benoit was Colorado's No. 3 defenceman and played in all situations.  

     

    What he is now: Benoit may not be a real top-four defenceman on a good team, but he's only getting paid like he's a No. 7, and he should easily be able to outperform the dollar figure on his current contract. 

Calgary Flames: Curtis Glencross

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    Gerry Thomas/Getty Images

    The contract: Three years, $1.2 million cap hit (July 2008)

     

    What he's been: Curtis Glencross was immediately a standout performer for the Calgary Flames, a top-six forward who played the game with a physical edge. That kind of bargain contract is a win all by itself, but the icing on the cake here was a chance for the Flames to stick it to their provincial rivals in Edmonton, who lost Glencross' services. 

     

    What he is now: Glencross has been banged up in recent years, and as he enters his 30s, he may be better suited to a depth role in Calgary. 

Carolina Hurricanes: Ron Hainsey

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    Bill Smith/Getty Images

    The contract: One year, $2.0 million cap hit (September 2013)

     

    What he's been: The Carolina Hurricanes got a top-four defenceman for a song when they signed Ron Hainsey to a short-term deal. He played 21:26 per game for the Hurricanes last season, both performing well and appearing in all 82 contests. 

     

    What he is now: Hainsey is still a member of the team's top four, and he's still cheap, having signed a three-year deal at a reasonable $2.83 million annual value. 

Chicago Blackhawks: Marian Hossa

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The contract: 12 years, $5.28 million cap hit (July 2009)

     

    What he's been: There are a lot of reasons the Chicago Blackhawks have been so dominant over the last few seasons, but one of those reasons is Marian Hossa and his extremely reasonable cap hit. Signed to a now-illegal eternity deal with a bunch of low-paying years at the end, Hossa has delivered incredible bang for little buck. Whatever happens in the future, the 'Hawks have earned two championships with Hossa in a featured role. 

     

    What he is now: At some point, Hossa's value is going to fall off, but at 35, he's still capable of playing significant top-six minutes and playing them well. 

Colorado Avalanche: Jan Hejda

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    Michael Martin/Getty Images

    The contract: Four years, $3.25 million cap hit (July 2011)

     

    What he's been: The Colorado Avalanche defence is rightfully seen as a critical weakness for the club, but that isn't Jan Hejda's fault. The shutdown defenceman took on tough minutes in bulk last season, ranking second on the team in average ice time and delivering decent results in the process. For three seasons, the Avs have been getting significant contributions from a relatively cheap rearguard. 

     

    What he is now: Hejda and the team would likely be best served if he played fewer minutes going forward, transitioning into a No. 3/4 role on the team's blue line. At that cap hit, he's still a bargain in that slot. 

Columbus Blue Jackets: Nathan Horton

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The contract: Seven years, $5.3 million cap hit (July 2013)

     

    What he's been: The first year of Nathan Horton's new contract was marred by injury, as the physical and skilled winger lost half the season to a shoulder surgery. He produced upon his return, however, and on a team without much in the way of UFA acquisitions, he's clearly the most talented.  

     

    What he is now: Horton will certainly play in the Columbus Blue Jackets' top six and with good health should provide a significant boost to an up-and-coming team. 

Dallas Stars: Antoine Roussel

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The contract: Two years, $625,000 cap hit (July 2012)

     

    What he's been: A late-bloomer, Roussel is a nasty piece of work who also showed a surprising amount of ability in his two seasons with the Stars. He's a decent little five-on-five scorer, a regular penalty killer and a vicious physical irritant who would be a welcome addition to virtually any NHL team's bottom-six. 

     

    What he is now: Just 24 years of age, Roussel should be an aggravating fixture as a bottom-six checker in Dallas's lineup for a long time to come. 

Detroit Red Wings: Danny DeKeyser

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    The contract: Two years, $925,000 cap hit (March 2013)

     

    What he's been: In his first full NHL season, Danny DeKeyser served as the Detroit Red Wings' No. 2 defenceman, playing fewer minutes than only Niklas Kronwall and being used in all situations. He still has some kinks to work out, but he provided exceptional value on his entry-level deal. 

     

    What he is now: A restricted free agent in need of a contract, DeKeyser is obviously going to be a top-four defenceman for the Red Wings next season. 

Edmonton Oilers: Justin Schultz

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    Derek Leung/Getty Images

    The contract: Two years, $925,000 cap hit (July 2012)

     

    What he's been: An exceptional offensive defenceman asked to do far too much on an overwhelmed Edmonton Oilers blue line, Justin Schultz has nevertheless provided great value at a reasonable cap hit for Edmonton.

     

    What he is now: Like DeKeyser, Schultz is a restricted free agent and is a lock for his team's top four next season. 

Florida Panthers: Brad Boyes

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The contract: One year, $1.0 million cap hit (September 2013)

     

    What he's been: The Florida Panthers are a team built with middling free-agent additions, but few have delivered better performances for the dollars than Boyes. Boyes led the Panthers with 21 goals last season, and while he's a better fit for a lesser role, that was an awfully positive performance for a cheap addition. 

     

    What he is now: Boyes remains one of the Panthers' top offensive threats. 

Los Angeles Kings: Jake Muzzin

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    The contract: Three years, $606,667 cap hit (January 2010)

     

    What he's been: Jake Muzzin, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins but unsigned and later invited to Nashville's training camp but not kept, eventually found a home with L.A. and emerged as a legitimate NHL player on his entry-level deal. Last year, he was the No. 2 defenceman, playing 23:23 per night for the Stanley Cup champions. 

     

    What he is now: The best left-shooting defenceman on a contending team and also signed to a modest $1.0 million contract. 

Minnesota Wild: Ryan Suter

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    Michael Martin/Getty Images

    The contract: 13 years, $7.54 million cap hit (July 2012)

     

    What he's been: Ryan Suter has been the Minnesota Wild's No. 1 defenceman as the Wild pull themselves out of the NHL basement. His underlying numbers aren't brilliant, but fatigue is likely a factor in that; he averaged just a hair under 30:00 per game last season.  

     

    What he is now: A legitimate No. 1 defenceman who needs some help. 

Montreal Canadiens: David Desharnais

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    Francois Lacasse/Getty Images

    The contract: Two years, $512,500 cap hit (November 2008)

     

    What he's been: David Desharnais made it to the NHL on his entry-level deal, then signed three years' worth of six-figure contracts that provided the Montreal Canadiens with one of the best bargains in the game. At his best, he was a 60-point scorer for Montreal in 2011-12 for $750,000 in actual salary and just $850,000 in cap hit. 

     

    What he is now: A legitimate top-six forward. 

Nashville Predators: Mike Ribeiro

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The contract: One year, $1.05 million (July 2014)

     

    What he's been: Mike Ribeiro has yet to play a game for the Nashville Predators, but this deal has "insane bargain" written all over it. He was a point-per-game player as recently as 2012-13, and while his numbers dipped last season, if he's in the 50-point range this year, Nashville will have no cause for complaint.

     

    What he is now: A legitimate second-line centre. 

New Jersey Devils: Andy Greene

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The contract: Two years, $850,000 cap hit (April 2006)

     

    What he's been: Andy Greene stepped into the NHL in the second year of his entry-level deal and has been a mainstay on the New Jersey Devils' blue line ever since. For five seasons, he rewarded New Jersey's willingness to sign him with excellent play, with his cap hit over that span never rising above the $850,000 it clocked in at when he was a rookie.

     

    What he is now: Greene is the Devils' top defenceman, and the team rewarded him for it Wednesday, signing him to what Sportsnet's Chris Johnston reports is a five-year, $25 million contract. 

New York Islanders: Mikhail Grabovski

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The contract: Four years, $5.0 million cap hit (July 2014)

     

    What he's been: Mikhail Grabovski has yet to play a game for the New York Islanders, but he brings an essential element of secondary scoring behind superstar centre John Tavares that is absolutely essential as New York attempts to establish itself as a respectable NHL franchise. 

     

    What he is now: Grabovski is an excellent second-line pivot. 

New York Rangers: Dan Girardi

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    The contract: Two years, $537,500 cap hit (July 2006)

     

    What he's been: Dan Girardi spent the majority of his first-ever NHL deal in the majors, playing 116 games for the New York Rangers after they decided he deserved a major league contract. He's been an exceptional shutdown defenceman along the way. 

     

    What he is now: Girardi's underlying numbers slid last season, and it's questionable whether he'll be able to live up to his new $33 million contract. Despite this, on balance, he's provided exceptional value to the Blueshirts. 

Ottawa Senators: Clarke MacArthur

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    Andre Ringuette/Getty Images

    The contract: Two years, $3.25 million cap hit (July 2013)

     

    What he's been: It's hard to get value out of a second-tier NHLer in free agency, but the Ottawa Senators managed well with Clarke MacArthur, who delivered 24 goals and 55 points in the first year of his new two-season deal. 

     

    What he is now: There is no reason to expect anything other than more of the same from MacArthur in 2014-15. 

Philadelphia Flyers: Matt Read

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The contract: Three years, $900,000 cap hit (March 2011)

     

    What he's been: Matt Read has averaged 46 points per 82 games played over three seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, three seasons in which he also delivered fine two-way play (and took on a leading role on the penalty kill). He did all that for less than $1.0 million per season. 

     

    What he is now: Paid. Read signed a four-year extension with the Flyers last September, but if he delivers as he has to date, he'll be fair value for his new $3.63-million-per-season contract. 

Pittsburgh Penguins: Paul Martin

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    The contract: Five years, $5.0 million cap hit (July 2010)

     

    What he's been: There were moments when Paul Martin's contract looked like a bad deal for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but those moments are in the past. Last season, he averaged 24:34 per game as the team's No. 1 defenceman. 

     

    What he is now: At age 33, Martin is on the downhill side of his career arc, but to date, he's shown no signs of being unable to handle top-pairing duty. 

St. Louis Blues: Brian Elliott

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    The contract: One year, $600,000 cap hit (July 2011)

     

    What he's been: Brian Elliott's NHL career was on the rocks when the St. Louis Blues took a cheap flyer on him. In the season that followed, he played 38 games and delivered a frankly ridiculous 0.940 save percentage. He hasn't reached those heights again, but he's been plenty good in two partial seasons since. 

     

    What he is now: Elliott's still trying to shake off his pre-Blues record to some degree; he has an opportunity this season to prove he can be a legitimate starting goalie. 

San Jose Sharks: Antti Niemi

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    The contract: One year, $2.0 million (September 2010)

     

    What he's been: The San Jose Sharks took a chance on Antti Niemi after a Blackhawks team in cap trouble walked away from what it saw as a too-rich arbitration award. For its trouble, San Jose was able to land a legitimate starter who has held the No. 1 job for four seasons now. 

     

    What he is now: Niemi is 30 and coming off his worst season in San Jose (0.913 save percentage in the regular season, 0.884 in the playoffs), but he's still a reasonable bet as a 1A goalie. 

Tampa Bay Lightning: Valtteri Filppula

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    Scott Audette/Getty Images

    The contract: Five years, $5.0 million cap hit (July 2013)

     

    What he's been: The Tampa Bay Lightning were criticized when they signed Valtteri Filppula to a rich deal after an off year, but general manager Steve Yzerman knew what he was getting thanks to his years in Detroit. Filppula had a fantastic debut, contributing 58 points in the services of a suddenly competitive Lightning franchise. 

     

    What he is now: The No. 2 centre on a team that could win the East. 

Toronto Maple Leafs: Tyler Bozak

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    The contract: Two years, $875,000 cap hit (April 2009)

     

    What he's been: Tyler Bozak is a controversial figure in Toronto, with some seeing him as a high-end pivot and others seeing him as a creation of regular winger Phil Kessel. Whatever the case, he delivered and then some on his initial contract and also the two-year deal with the $1.5 million cap hit that followed.  

     

    What he is now: Bozak is now the regular partner of one of the best players in the NHL. 

Vancouver Canucks: Alexandre Burrows

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    The contract: One year, $450,000 cap hit (November 2005)

     

    What he's been: The Vancouver Canucks have signed a lot of excellent UFA deals, but for pure value, it's hard to top Alexandre Burrows. For four seasons, Burrows played with a cap hit of less than $500,000, eventually topping out at 28 goals and 51 points for that money. He followed it up with a four-year deal at an average value of $2.0 million; he recorded 67, 48, 52 and 24 (lockout year) points on that deal. 

     

    What he is now: Burrows had a terrible start to his first big-money deal, suffering through injuries and posting just 15 points in 49 games. He's a virtual lock to bounce back, but honestly, even if he doesn't, the Canucks have received ridiculous value for the player. 

Washington Capitals: Joel Ward

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    The contract: Four years, $3.0 million cap hit (July 2011)

     

    What he's been: Joel Ward got off to a rough start with the Washington Capitals, but he has delivered over the last two seasons, doing a bit of everything and producing positive results in tough defensive minutes. He's always done that, of course, but not always while delivering a point every other game or better.  

     

    What he is now: A versatile forward who can play anywhere in the top nine, Ward provides the Caps with a plug-and-play solution to a variety of problems up front. 

Winnipeg Jets: Michael Hutchinson

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    Jonathan Kozub/Getty Images

    The contract: One year, $600,000 cap hit (July 2013)

     

    What he's been: So far, Michael Hutchinson has only been a brilliant No. 3, but the 24-year-old 'tender has a decent case as the best goalie in the organization already, and he's signed for two more years at a $575,000 cap hit. Boston, flush in goalie prospects, decided it didn't need him, and so far, the Winnipeg Jets' decision to take a chance has been well-rewarded. 

     

    What he is now: Barring a trade for an established option, he'll probably be Winnipeg's starter by January.

     

    Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.

    Statistics courtesy of NHL.com. Salary information via CapGeek.com and TSN.ca

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