2017 NHL Free Agency: Ranking the Best Value Signings so Far

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistJuly 5, 2017

2017 NHL Free Agency: Ranking the Best Value Signings so Far

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    NHL free agency is best known as the time of year when general managers are required to outbid their rivals with long-term contracts and massive dollar values in order to reel in the players they hope will effectively fill out their team's rosters.

    The big-money deals make the early headlines but by the end of the year, the value signings are the ones that earn praise, where players seemingly come out of nowhere to make big contributions to their teams.

    Here are two of the best value signings from last season:

    • Sam Gagner delivered a career-high 50 points for the Columbus Blue Jackets on a contract that paid him $650,000.
    • Jonathan Marchessault led the Florida Panthers with 30 goals in just his second full NHL season, on the first year of a two-year contract that carries a cap hit of $750,000.

    Gagner parlayed his strong season into a new three-year deal worth $3.15 million a year. Marchessault, now a member of the Vegas Golden Knights, will need to prove his 30-goal outburst was no fluke before he'll get his chance to cash in.

    Here's a look at six players on inexpensive contracts who will try to follow in the footsteps of Gagner and Marchessault, providing exceptional value to their new teams during the 2017-18 season.

6. Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Deal: One year, $1 million including salary and games-played bonuses, per Bob McKenzie of TSN.

             

    2016-17 Stat Line: 48 GP, 8-10-18

               

    Why He Brings Good Value: Call it the Brian Campbell discount.

    Patrick Sharp has a 10-year history with the Chicago Blackhawks that includes three Stanley Cups. His departure at the end of the 2014-15 season was driven by salary-cap issues, so it's no surprise that he'd want to return as soon as he was contractually free to make it happen—just as Campbell did for a reduced price for the 2016-17 season.

    Now 35, Sharp earned more than $45 million over the nine years between 2008 and 2017. Assuming he has managed his money effectively, he had the luxury of being able to choose his next workplace this summer based on emotion rather than compensation.

    Injuries limited Sharp to just 48 games in 2016-17. His season ended in late March when he underwent hip surgery, so it's unclear just how much he will be able to contribute in his return to Chicago.

    At his low price point, he "can keep the second-line left wing spot warm until Alex DeBrincat or some other young player is ready to take it, while providing some punch on the power play," Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote. 

    Anything more would be a bonus.

5. Brian Elliott, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

    The Deal: Two years, $2.75 million AAV per season

             

    2016-17 Stat Line: 49 GP, 26-18-3, 2.55 goals-against average, .910 save percentage, two shutouts

              

    Why He Brings Good Value: There are two sides to Brian Elliott's game.

    In 2016-17, he followed up an inconsistent regular season by turning ice cold in the playoffs, giving up 11 goals in the Calgary Flames' first three postseason games, then being pulled early in Game 4 as the Flames were swept by the Anaheim Ducks.

    The Philadelphia Flyers are hoping they'll be tapping into Elliott's more successful side. Most memorably, he shared the William M. Jennings Trophy with Jaroslav Halak as a member of the St. Louis Blues back in 2011-12 with his league-leading .940 save percentage and 1.56 goals-against average.

    A similar version of Elliott was also on display in 2015-16, when he posted a .930 save percentage and 2.07 goals-against average with the Blues.

    The Flyers have just finished paying Steve Mason $4.1 million a year to deliver an average .918 save percentage and 2.48 goals-against average over the last three seasons.

    At $2.75 million a year, Elliott represents good value by comparison and offers plenty of promise he'll bounce back after a tough year in Calgary.

4. Benoit Pouliot, Buffalo Sabres

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Deal: One year, $1.15 million

            

    2016-17 Stat Line: 67 GP, 8-6-14

             

    Why He Brings Good Value: When unrestricted free agent Benoit Pouliot signed on with the Edmonton Oilers for five years on July 1, 2014, the team had ranked 24th in offense the previous season—and 28th in the standings.

    At a cap hit of $4 million, it was understood that the Oilers were paying a premium for a player who had never earned more than $1.8 million a season as he bounced around the league on a series of one-year contracts.

    In his first year in Edmonton, Pouliot rewarded the Oilers for their faith in him by scoring a career-high 19 goals. But the arrival of Connor McDavid through the 2015 draft lottery changed the direction of the team.

    By last season, Pouliot saw his role downgraded to that of a bottom-six player and occasionally found himself sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch.

    With the Oilers needing to clear cap space to make room for new contracts for McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, a buyout was inevitable for a player in Pouliot's situation.

    His new deal with the Buffalo Sabres returns the soon-to-be 31-year-old to a more modest pay grade. He'll get a chance to contribute offensively once again as part of a revamped Sabres forward group under new coach Phil Housley.

3. Nail Yakupov: Colorado Avalanche

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Deal: One year, $875,000

               

    2016-17 Stat Line: 40 GP, 3-6-9

                 

    Why He Brings Good Value: His payday certainly didn't match his status as the first-overall pick from the 2012 draft—and it's a dip from his last contract, which paid him $2.5 million a season.

    After he wasn't tendered a qualifying offer by the St. Louis Blues, Nail Yakupov will start fresh with the Colorado Avalanche in 2017-18. With his 24th birthday on the horizon in October, this could be his last opportunity to prove he belongs in the NHL.

    Though Yakupov has already been labelled a bust, it's worth nothing that his production to date has been among the best in his draft class. With 120 points in 292 career games, he ranks fourth in total points behind only Alex Galchenyuk (204), Filip Forsberg (191) and Tomas Hertl (124). 

    Coming off a dismal season and a last-place finish in the NHL standings, the Avalanche are looking for positives anywhere they can find them. When he's on his game, Yakupov is an exciting player to watch. He'll get enough quality ice time with skilled linemates to give himself a real chance to become this year's comeback kid.

2. Beau Bennett, St. Louis Blues

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    Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

    The Deal: One year, $650,000

              

    2016-17 Stat Line: 65 GP, 8-11-19

              

    Why He Brings Good Value: Expected to be a sniper when he was drafted 20th overall in 2010, the NHL career of Beau Bennett so far has been defined by a steady string of injuries.

    The 25-year-old made some progress last season, appearing in a career-high 65 games with the New Jersey Devils. Nevertheless, he didn't receive a qualifying offer from them on a deal that paid him a modest $725,000.

    If the Californian can stay healthy, his offensive creativity could earn him a regular role and a chance to finally live up to his potential in his sixth NHL season.

    With David Perron off to the Vegas Golden Knights through the expansion draft and Patrik Berglund sidelined until December after offseason shoulder surgery, Bennett will get a chance to make his case to be part of the Blues' top six.

1. Scott Hartnell, Nashville Predators

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Deal: One year, $1 million

    2016-17 Stat Line: 78 GP, 13-24-37

    Why He Brings Good Value: Before he was bought out by the Columbus Blue Jackets on June 29, Scott Hartnell's contract was an anchor—a six-year deal with a cap hit of $4.75 million per season and a no-movement clause, with two years still remaining.

    The first-round pick from 2000 turned 35 in April and saw his ice time drop over the course of the 2016-17 season. He didn't score a goal after January 21 and was scratched from the Blue Jackets lineup twice during the last month of the regular season.

    The patterns continued in the playoffs. He was pointless while averaging just 10:39 of ice time per game, and scratched for Game 4 of Columbus' first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Hartnell will get to start fresh in Nashville next season—out from under the weight of a deal he could no longer live up to, with expectations shifted.

    Returning to the team that drafted him, where he was a fan favorite during the first six years of his career, Hartnell will bring veteran savvy and a will to win to a young group of Nashville forwards that has just had its first taste of playoff success.

    If he gets back on the power play, it's not unreasonable to pencil Hartnell in for 20 goals and 45 points in his return to Music City.

              

    All stats courtesy of NHL.com. Contract information from CapFriendly unless otherwise indicated.