NHL Free Agency 2011: The 5 Best Free Agent Bargains so Far

Matt DiFerdinandoContributor IIIJuly 10, 2011

NHL Free Agency 2011: The 5 Best Free Agent Bargains so Far

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    Every year during NHL Free Agency, there are deals signed that, in retrospect, were awful decisions (I'm looking at you, Wade Redden, Ron Hainsey, and Scott Gomez).  At the same time, teams always seem to find a way to sign their diamonds in the rough.  

    Here are the five best bargains—players with salaries of $2 million or less, for this article's purpose—that will be huge additions for their respective teams during the upcoming season.

5. Ryan Shannon, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning ($625,000)

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    Just a couple of days ago I wrote about how Ryan Shannon could be one of the big bargains of the free agent class—http://bleacherreport.com/articles/760107-nhl-free-agency-the-top-5-goalies-defensemen-and-forwards-left-on-the-market—and I'd like to thank the Tampa Bay Lightning for being so kind as to heed my words this quickly.

    Although the Lightning are loaded offensively, Shannon, signed to a one-year, $625,000 contract on July 8th, should help fill the hole left by the departures of Sean Bergenheim to the Florida Panthers and Simon Gagne to the Los Angeles Kings.  

    He is coming off of a career year, posting 11 goals and 27 points and playing a solid two-way game for the Ottawa Senators, and at age 28 in only his third season, he could be the classic example of a late bloomer.

    Keep an eye on Shannon as the year goes on; he may be the perfect depth forward that the Lightning need in order to make their next step.

4. Niclas Bergfors, RW, Nashville Predators ($575,000)

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    If there's one contract that could look unbelievably good a year from now, this is it.  Bergfors is the ultimate boom-or-bust type signing, and Nashville got him for a very manageable price.

    Bergfors was a big part of the Ilya Kovalchuk trade back in 2010, and that season put up 44 points in 81 games as a 22-year old.  Unfortunately, he didn't live up to expectations and had issues with management in Atlanta (then again, he was stuck playing hockey in Atlanta), and was traded to Florida (potentially worse).  

    He could be the type of player that just needed a change of scenery to once again be playing at full capacity.

    For all the jokes people make about a hockey team being in Nashville, the idea seems to have caught on during the last few years, and the Predators are always in the playoff hunt.  

    They won their first playoff series this past season, defeating the Anaheim Ducks, and assuming they retain captain Shea Weber's services, they will be competitive once again.  

    Only 24 years old, Bergfors should thrive off of being in a competitive market once again. I wouldn't be surprised to see him outperform his 2009-2010 campaign playing for the Predators.

3: Maxime Talbot, C, Philadelphia Flyers ($1,750,000)

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    I can't believe I just linked that video...give me a minute to get myself together.

    Okay, let's try this again.

    Although I've seen people write that the Flyers actually overpaid for Max Talbot, his importance to the team is crucial enough that he merits the fourth spot on this list.  

    With the impending retirement of Ian Laperriere, the departures of Dan Carcillo and Darroll Powe (to the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild, respectively) and the sudden influx of youth onto the Flyers roster, they were in need of a hard-nosed, but skilled, third-line veteran talent to help them maintain their competitive ability. 

    Enter Talbot.

    Although his offensive numbers suffered somewhat last year (just 21 points in 82 games), he provides a much needed physical presence to the Flyers roster, and is a proven clutch scorer, putting home two in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals. 

    His recent lack of success certainly wasn't for lack of opportunity, as he put up a career-high 117 shots last season. Look for Talbot to put a few more in the back of the net next season, and to be a very key part of the 2011-2012 Flyers team.

2. Andrew Brunette, LW, Chicago Blackhawks, ($2,000,000)

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    Yes, he's still playing.  

    The now 37-year-old Andrew Brunette has scored 15 goals every season since 1999-2000, and has scored 20 or more six times.  

    Having not been involved in a playoff race for a few seasons now, Brunette should thrive playing in Chicago. He is a consistent 50-point scorer, and will bring grit and veteran leadership to a Blackhawks team looking to return to their 2009-2010 Stanley Cup form.  

    A player in the mold of a Mike Knuble or Andrew Ladd, Brunette should be a great help on the power play for a team that lacked a big presence in front of the net last season.  

    Look for him to rebound from his somewhat pedestrian numbers last season playing for the Minnesota Wild (18 goals, 46 points). If the Blackhawks make a deep run again this season, he will be a big part of it.

1. Tomas Vokoun, G, Washington Capitals ($1,500,000)

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    I never thought I'd say this, but kudos George McPhee, this is pretty incredible. 

    Coming into this offseason, the general consensus was that the only thing that seperated Tomas Vokoun's value from Ilya Bryzgalov's was a four-year age difference.  

    Now, it's over a $4 million salary difference.  

    While Bryzgalov should be very good for the Flyers, Vokoun's decision to take a chance at winning it all over money has enabled the Capitals to find a number one goaltender while keeping their core intact.

    They also managed to get a big return from the Colorado Avalanche for disgruntled goalie Semyon Varlamov. With the young Michal Neuvirth still on the team, and Vokoun's addition, his loss now doesn't hurt so much.

    A fantastic regular season goaltender with so-so playoff numbers, Vokoun has never had this good of a chance to win the Stanley Cup while playing for Nashville and Florida.  

    His signing—for $500,000 less than ex-Lightning backup Mike Smith signed with Phoenix—could propel the Capitals over the top and have them skating into June this season.

    If you think I missed someone, or even agree with me, let me know in the comments!