NHL: Best Faces In New Places: Ranking The 10 Best Acquisitions Of 2010
At their core, all NHL general managers are gamblers.
They have to be.
When it comes to building a successful NHL team, there is no such thing as a sure thing, no guaranteed methods for picking winners and seldom, if any, safe bets.
Be it on draft day, the beginning of free-agency or the trade-deadline, the players GMs bring onto their teams represent a living-breathing gamble each team is hoping will pay off.
Anyone who's sat down at a blackjack table, splashed down some chips and waited to see what hand the dealer delivers to them knows the anxiety each GM faces when they acquire a new player.
Because even opting to stand pat on a 20 out of the chute can turn out to be a bad strategy, and hitting again and again even when the dealer has a king showing can yield a small fortune.
This summer, every NHL GM placed their bets on various players and hoped for some kind of payoff come October.
As in the casino, these bets came in all forms—draft-picks, trades and free-agent acquisitions.
With the first month of the 2010-11 NHL season in the books, Bleacher Report is taking a look at the 10 best payoffs so far.
Follow Matt on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MAhutter12
10. Jeff Halpern: Montreal Canadiens
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Acquiring veteran forward Jeff Halpern over the summer was hardly a risky dice-roll for Canadiens GM Pierre Guathier.
At $600,000 for one year, Guathier wasn't exactly painting himself into a corner with Halpern's salary making waiving the 34-year-old player an easy option should he fail to adequately pan out.
However, Halpern isn't going anywhere.
After toiling on a floundering Tampa Bay squad the past few seasons, Halpern had a cup of coffee, and a forgettable one at that, with the LA Kings last year before hitting the free-agent market in July.
All signs pointed to Halpern continuing his career in the NHL as a somewhat serviceable spare part, if he continued it at all.
Halpern went unsigned right up until the beginning of NHL training camps, until Guathier secured his services in early September.
What a great move that has turned out to be.
Halpern is currently second in team scoring with 10 points in 14 games and sports an outstanding plus-seven rating.
After looking like he was headed for NHL obscurity over the summer, Halpern is currently on pace for the best campaign of his career.
9. Willie Mitchell: Los Angeles Kings
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
After a devastating hit-from-behind last January by Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, Willie Mitchell's career hung in the balance.
Out the entire rest of their year with a concussion, the 33-year-old rearguard didn't fully recover until mid-summer.
Given this, as well as his other historical injuries, NHL teams were understandably weary about signing the veteran player. However, veteran players are exactly what the Los Angeles Kings needed.
Mitchell signed on with LA in late August and has quickly delivered on the promise Kings GM Dean Lombardi showed with a two-year commitment.
Mitchell has not only provided solid defensive play for the Kings, but playing alongside Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty, has served as a valuable mentor for the Kings' two defensive stars.
Prior to the summer, many hockey pundits felt the Kings were perhaps just two pieces away from becoming a Stanley Cup contender; Mitchell represents one of those pieces.
8. Brendan Morrison: Calgary Flames
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
From 2000 to 2006, Brendan Morrison was one-third of one of the very best lines in hockey.
The so-called "West Coast Express" that included Morrison, Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi made the Vancouver Canucks one of the most dangerous offensive teams of the early 21st century.
The trio eventually broke up and left Vancouver, with Morrison leaving for the Anaheim Ducks in 2008.
After playing for the Ducks, Dallas Stars and last season, with the Washington Capitals, Morrison was left without a contract and without even an offer when he had to settle for a training camp invite from his former club in Vancouver.
Proving that he really couldn't go home again, the Canucks released Morrison from training camp one week before this season began.
Their Northwest Division rivals in Calgary quickly signed Morrison to a one-year deal, and he has since emerged as the team's leading scorer.
7. Dustin Byfuglien: Atlanta Thrashers
A sluggish, often uninspired regular season performance followed by an overwhelming, game-breaking playoffs for Chicago last season seemed to suggest the first-time Stanley Cup winner would be a one-trick pony; so far, Dustin Byfuglien is looking more like a thoroughbred.
Headlining a decidedly lack-luster Atlanta squad that includes fellow cup winners and Chicago salary-cap casualties Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel, Byfuglien's performance may seem better than it actually is.
However, his versatility (he's played both up and back this season), physical play and five goals and eight assists is evidence that Big Buff is very much the difference maker he proved to be throughout last year's playoffs.
While his season in Atlanta isn't likely to end the way his season in Chicago did last year, the good things that do happen in the ATL in 2010-11 should have Byfuglien at the center of them.
6. Nathan Horton: Boston Bruins
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Though trading power-forward Nathan Horton to the Bruins for defender Dennis Wideman was considered to be a move made looking at the future, one has to wonder if Florida GM Dale Tallon has kicked himself over this decision this season.
Horton has fit right in in Beantown and has emerged as the team's leading scorer.
On a team already loaded with talent up and down the lineup, Horton has managed to set himself aside as the team's most dangerous scoring-threat on the wing.
5. Manny Malhotra: Vancouver Canucks
Personally, I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out why the San Jose Sharks let Malhotra go in the first-place.
While a price tag of $2.5 million per year, might have seemed to rich for GM Doug Wilson's blood over the summer, Malhotra is proving his worth and then some in Vancouver.
Brought in primarily for his defensive and face-off abilities, Malhotra would earn his pay just by doing these things effectively.
However, on top of delivering these goods (he's a plus-five and is second in the NHL in faceoff win percentage at 64 percent), Malhotra has also adapted to the offensive culture in Vancouver.
Malhotra is second only to the Sedin Twins in scoring with 10 points.
4. Antero Niittymaki: San Jose Sharks
Thearon W, Henderson/Getty Images
Exactly where the San Jose Sharks would be without Antero Niittymaki, no one could know for sure. However, I'd guess it'd be dead last in the Pacific Division.
The Sharks have shuffled out to a 6-5-1 start this season with Stanley Cup winner, Antti Niemi backing-stopping only one of those six wins.
The other five belong to Niittymaki, and his 1.78 goals-against average and .932 save percentage reveal that he's earned every one of those.
The San Jose Sharks have scored only four more goals than they've allowed, and with a heretofore lackluster defense in front of him, winning on the defensive side of the game is a task left largely to their Finnish net-minder.
No, not that one, that one.
3. Jeff Skinner: Carolina Hurricanes
Taylor Hall? Tyler Seguin? Sure, they're both likely to emerge, someday, as top scorers on their respective teams.
However, fellow 2010 draftee Jeff Skinner is there already.
The former Kitchner Ranger was drafted seventh overall this June and entered training camp with the Hurricanes as no-sure lock to make the club this season.
Skinner began to impress in camp and has yet to stop his impressive play through the season's first 14 games.
He leads his team in scoring with 12 points (5 G, 7A) and is averaging just under 17 minutes in ice-time per night.
That's quite a bit of playing time for a rookie, however, his performance so far suggests head coach Paul Maurice would be well-served by handing him even more.
2. Sergei Bobrovsky: Philadelphia Flyers
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
With the emergence of the KHL, it is almost certain that at least one team outside of Philadelphia had a scouting report on Sergei Bobrovsky.
Fortunately for them, the Flyers were the only team smart enough to put it to good use.
The Eastern Conference Champions signed the 22-year-old KHL goalkeeper as a free-agent in May to a three-year entry-level contract.
All indicators were that Bobrovsky would start his North American career in the AHL, until Flyers' starter Michael Leighton went down to injury.
With veteran Brian Boucher a viable replacement option, the Flyers still wanted to see what they had in Bobrovsky and gave him a shot at the starting job in place of Leighton.
Now, it may as well be Leighton playing in the AHL.
Bobrovsky has gone 8-2 over 10 starts, with a sparkling 2.11 goals-against average and a .927 save-percentage.
Many doubted whether the Flyers would make it back to the Stanley Cup Finals with either Boucher or Leighton in net.
In point of fact, neither of those two may be starting in the Cup Finals this season, but that doesn't mean the Flyers won't be there.
1. Jaroslav Halak: St. Louis Blues
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
That photo pretty much says it all.
Though the St. Louis Blues do have a deceptively strong team, Jaroslav Halak is their first, second and third most important player.
Deciding to trade Halak to St. Louis rather than extend a qualifying offer to the RFA goalie, you know, the guy who got his team all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals the year before, the Montreal Canadiens made a decision that still defies credulity.
Halak had all the makings of, not only an undisputed starter, but a top-five NHL goalie at the end of the playoffs, yet, Montreal felt its future would be safer in the hands of Carey Price.
To his credit, Price has began to level off after a slow and disappointing start, however, his former team-mate began the season on fire and has only gotten hotter in St. Louis.
Upon receiving Halak, the Blues quickly signed him to a four-year, $15 million deal.
Should he continue his stellar play throughout the length of the contract, and there's no reason to think he won't, it could go down as one of the best bargains of the decade.
Halak has made St. Louis the stingiest team in the NHL as they have allowed a mere 18 goals-against in 11 games played.
Along with an eye-popping .944 save-percentage and minuscule 1.46 goals-against, Halak has immediately cemented himself as St. Louis' undisputed MVP early on this season.