It's that time of year! Hockey is back, and training camp for the 2011-2012 season has just begun.
Today also marks another milestone; the offseason signing period is now realistically over for players still left on the free agent market. However, while that's certainly unfortunate for them, 169 other players successfully signed a contract with a new team this past summer and are just starting to get back on the ice.
Looking back over an exciting and expensive three months, forwards seem to have been the typical headliners of this summer, and that's no surprise given the extreme variations in their contracts.
From the biggest bargains—which we'll cover soon enough—to the craziest rip-offs (like Ville Leino's outrageous $27 million deal) —this offseason was clearly highlighted by the money.
But, while some GM's went way over the top with their checkbooks, others played it conservatively. For a certain few, as well, their careful spending didn't just keep their salary chart in proportion but also still landed them some talented forwards.
We've picked out five grade-A scorers who received contracts with cap hits over $2.0 million that might be wishing they had asked for more in the salary department. These big-bargain forwards, as they might be called, tended to have an uncanny set of similarities.
For our top five bargains, which will be outlined in this article, all five were veterans over 30 years of age who can score and stand up for themselves.
So who are the top five major-contract free agent signing bargains, in the forwards department, of the 2011 offseason?
Let's have a look.
Before detailing how cheap each of these free agent signings were, let's take a look at how we will determine the strength of each bargain.
Thankfully, this isn't a gray-area mental nomination process; a complex and comprehensive mathematical formula was created to solve those biased issues.
Our bargain ratings are based off a spiced-up spinoff of a simple hockey statistic: Dollars Per Point.
This traditional calculation is as simple as dividing salary by total points scored to find how much cash a player made for every goal/assist he registered. On the other hand, our version adds in a few more tiers to the equation.
1. Longer Time Range: Instead of just the most recent season, a player's production over each of the past three years will be counted towards the formula. Nonetheless, recent seasons were weighted more heavily. In this case, their 2010-2011 point total counted 167 percent as much as their 2008-2009 total.
2. Age Matters: If you were a GM and were considering signing two players who each scored 50 points last season, would you take the 26 year-old or the 34 year-old? Of course you'd sign the younger player—that's simple.
Now, we've added in adjustments to the formula based on age, using the straightforward "prime age" of 30. This way, we've made it so that, for example, two equally-productive players—one aged 24 and making $3.6 million, and one aged 36 and making $2.4 million—have their contracts valued the same to balance out the "future potential" factor that influences salary.
3. Scores, Not Cash Values: Even though the money is the complete basis of the formula, the end product after crunching the numbers isn't just some random cash value with no real meaning. Instead, it's a score; the "bargain value" of that player.
And, just to note it now, the lower the number, the better.
New Contract: One Year, $2.875 million
After four stints of four or more seasons in Edmonton, New Jersey, Dallas and Nashville, Jason Arnott is now under contract with his fourth team in 12 months. Arnott's brief return to the Devils combined with his weak showing in Washington late in the year played a major role in the fact that he's now in St. Louis, but that's certainly not a problem to Blues fans.
The 36 year-old Arnott was signed simultaneously with fellow veteran and former teammate Jamie Langenbrunner last July by St. Louis, who may come up again later. As for Arnott, the rough, gritty center with 17 years of NHL experience should be a nice top-nine forward in Missouri.
He's slipped off his 10-year streak of 20-plus goals, but Arnott can still produce, with 19 goals and 46 points in 2009-2010 and 17 scores and 31 points in 2010-2011. He will also be able to fill a leadership role in a young Blues roster, allowing Arnott to showcase another facet of his game. Without doubt, he's a steal for St. Louis, and our formula agrees.
Bargain Score: 812
New Contract: Two Years, $5.0 million
Handzus, a center, has remained incredibly consistent and healthy over his entire 12-year career, and he should be a good bet to retain that reputation with an ultra-experienced San Jose team. Except for his eight-game 2006-2007 campaign, Handzus has missed just two games since 2002! Furthermore, while never regarded as an explosive scorer, the Slovakia native has topped the 40-point plateau seven times since being drafted.
San Jose made a brilliant under-the-radar signing here, no question about it. How brilliant? Well, have a look at what our number cruncher says.
Bargain Score: 766
New Contract: Two Years, $7.0 million
Simon Gagne didn't look the ol' Gagne we used to know from Philadelphia, but he still helped carry the Lightning to a surprising Eastern Conference Finals berth. Now, how will a change in scenery help the 30 year-old sniper?
Disregarding an injury-plagued 2007-2008 year, Gagne had put up three consecutive seasons of more than 30 goals and 65 points this time two summers ago. Unfortunately, though, he slipped to only 17 lit lamps and 40 combined points in 2009-2010, was shipped to Tampa Bay during the offseason, and then only duplicated that stat line again with the Bolts.
The postseason did give him an extra spark, as Gagne scored five tallies and seven helpers in 15 playoff appearances.
Now, in Los Angeles, he's back on a well-regarded Stanley Cup contender, and, with an increased role in the offense to boot, Gagne seems poised for a rebound. Los Angeles should get quite a bang for their buck.
Bargain Score: 746
New Contract: One Year, $2.75 million
We foreshadowed it earlier; Jamie Langenbrunner had to get a spot on here, too.
Apparently, St. Louis didn't want to be lacking anything for their day in the spotlight, so they went ahead and made two fantastic contracts.
For this price, Langenbrunner's value is through the roof, and should play a vital role alongside Jason Arnott in the Blues' underrated offense.
In fact, the two vets are similar in many ways. They've been teammates for five years combined between two separate occasions, and they both made returns to some long-lost clubs last spring. For Langenbrunner, it was back to Dallas, where he had played from '94 to '02. Their playing styles are also very comparable.
Langenbrunner is another member of the 1,000 games-played group and has accumulated 401 assists, 638 points and 55 game-winning goals over that span.
He can contribute on special teams, as well, with 65 power play goals and 15 shorthanded goals over his career. He'll help fill gaps in both categories with the Blues, making him the second-largest bargain among major free agent forwards signed this past summer.
Bargain Score: 642
New Contract: One Year, $2.0 million
It's very fitting that our most decisive bargain—a relatively synonymous term with an "unheralded player"—goes to such a, well, "unheralded player".
That's exactly what 38 year-old Andrew Brunette is, a guy who's never truly stood out above the crowd, but has, over 15 respectable seasons in the league, made an impact on a sizeable number of teams.
Since his three developmental seasons with the Capitals in the late 1990's, Brunette has played at least one full season for every franchise he's visited, and has only been injured for a whopping 11 games over that 12-season span.
Brunette has scored between 46 and 69 points for ten of his last eleven seasons, and the one outlier was an eye-opening 83-point campaign with Colorado in 2006-2007. When you read those numbers, it's simply hard to not have the word "dependable" pop into your mind!
Due to his far over-the-hill age, Brunette just got one year in this contract. Conversely, he'll still make a pretty penny in 2011-2012 as well as delighting 'Hawks enthusiasts with his economical salary. Brunette takes the crown as our best bargain by a mile, and he—as well as Chicago's front office—completely deserves it.
Bargain Score: 474
Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist and community leader for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. In his 35 months so far with the site, he has written over 305 articles and received more than 350,000 total reads.