Every NHL Team's Best-Value Contract for the 2015-16 Season
Of all the responsibilities a general manager faces in the modern NHL, perhaps the weightiest is managing the salary cap.
It's especially a concern for the league's best teams. Any club good enough to contend for a championship will at some point face the difficulty of keeping its core of talented players together. Therefore, it becomes vital to find value wherever possible.
That's what this piece focuses on: finding value. Using General Fanager, we looked through the books of all 30 NHL teams and sought to identify the contracts that deliver the most value to a team looking to win hockey games.
We looked not just at dollar figure but also at length of contract. A one-year deal at low dollars can help a team win right now, but a four-year deal at modest dollars is a key building block both in the present and in the future. We looked for the kind of deals that help teams win championships.
Read on for our picks as each team's best-value contract.
Anaheim Ducks: Frederik Andersen
Contract details: $1.15 million cap hit until 2016
Stats line in 2014-15: 54 games, 35-12-5 record, 0.914 save percentage
Why this is a value deal: Anaheim ran a dirt-cheap goaltending tandem last year, with Frederik Andersen and backup John Gibson managing a combined cap hit of less than $2.0 million. The arrival of Anton Khudobin means the Ducks are spending a bit more money in net this year, but Andersen himself continues to represent sterling value.
Heading into next season, Anderson ranks 46th among active NHL goalies in terms of cap hit. He'll make less money than most backups who were signed over the summer but will once again be counted on to start the majority of the games in Anaheim.
Arizona Coyotes: Martin Hanzal
Contract details: $3.1 million cap hit until 2017
Stats line in 2014-15: 37 games, eight goals, 16 assists, 24 points
Why this is a value deal: Martin Hanzal established himself as a defensive specialist early in his career. The 6'6", 226-pound centre plays an unabashedly physical game. Combined with his above-average hockey sense, that allows him to suffocate opposing stars.
The development of Hanzal's offensive game has only added to his value.
Despite routinely playing the toughest available competition, Hanzal has emerged as an offensive leader with the Coyotes. Last year, he scored 2.06 points/hour at even strength, which is a good number in isolation but more impressive when one considers only one other forward on the team managed to top 1.50 points/hour. Hanzal's Corsi rating was also one of the best on the team.
He's a complete centre and, at this point, likely the best pivot in Arizona—and he's going to work for third-line money.
Boston Bruins: David Pastrnak
Contract details: $0.93 million cap hit until 2017
Stats line in 2014-15: 46 games, 10 goals, 17 assists, 27 points
Why this is a value deal: The Bruins tried to be patient with David Pastrnak, but Pastrnak wouldn't let them.
As an 18-year-old, Pastrnak made the transition from pro hockey in Sweden to the AHL. There was an initial learning curve as he adjusted to the North American game, but 25 games into his American League career, he was scoring better than a point per game and knocking on the door for regular NHL duty.
He found his feet in the majors immediately. Pastrnak scored at a ridiculous 2.50 points/hour clip at evens and posted a glorious 55.2 percent Corsi rating; the puck spent the majority of its time in the offensive zone when he was on the ice, and his line was finishing smartly too.
He has two years left on his entry-level deal and is likely to start next year as a top-six winger on merit. That's awfully good value.
Buffalo Sabres: Jack Eichel
Contract details: $0.93 million cap hit until 2018—up to $3.78 million with bonuses
Stats line in 2014-15: Not applicable
Why this is a value deal: The Sabres landed the key building block of their franchise on the draft floor this summer. Jack Eichel may not quite be the franchise player No. 1 pick Connor McDavid projects to be, but he's a superb centre and is, by all accounts, the kind of player an NHL team can build around.
Eichel's physical gifts include great size (6'2", 196 pounds), elite-level speed and incredible offensive instincts. He posted nearly two points per game at the college level in his draft year and should be productive immediately upon arrival in the majors.
When he gets there, he'll instantly be Buffalo's most important player as it builds both on and off the ice.
Calgary Flames: T.J. Brodie
Contract details: $4.65 million cap hit until 2020
Stats line in 2014-15: 81 games, 11 goals, 30 assists, 41 points
Why this is a value deal: The one bit of good news to come out of the injury to Mark Giordano (another contender with one year left at $4.02 million cap hit) was that it established T.J. Brodie as a high-end NHL defenceman in his own right.
Brodie took on the No. 1 role in the postseason and was Calgary's most valuable player, averaging more than 27 minutes per game and facing the toughest available opposition. The 25-year-old has been Giordano's regular partner, but in his captain's absence proved himself to be a top-flight player.
It's going to be interesting to see how the minutes sort out on Calgary's stacked blue line this coming season, but it's to be hoped Brodie's significant contribution in all situations isn't overlooked.
Carolina Hurricanes: Justin Faulk
Contract details: $4.83 million cap hit until 2020
Stats line in 2014-15: 82 games, 15 goals, 34 assists, 49 points
Why this is a value deal: If Justin Faulk played in another market, he would be recognized as the quality No. 1 defenceman he is. Playing for the small-market Hurricanes, however, he tends to go under the radar when the game's best rearguards are discussed.
That's a shame. The 23-year-old played major minutes in all situations last year and acquitted himself admirably.
Faulk's offensive totals speak to his strong work as a right-shooting point man on Carolina's power play—he averaged just under three minutes per game there. He also played two minutes per night on the penalty kill.
At even strength, Faulk was just a touch below 20:00 per game. He played the toughest available opposition and managed a glorious 54.8 percent Corsi rating.
He's everything a team wants its No. 1 defenceman to be, and he's still years away from his prime.
Chicago Blackhawks: Niklas Hjalmarsson
Contract details: $4.1 million cap hit until 2019
Stats line in 2014-15: 82 games, three goals, 16 assists, 19 points
Why this is a value deal: It was a bit of a coin toss between Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson as to the player with the most favorable contract on the Blackhawks because both are exceptional value right now. In the end, the potential cap recapture penalties in Keith's back-diving deal made Hjalmarsson the better bet.
Even with three Stanley Cup wins under his belt, Hjalmarsson remains somewhat underrated, despite the fact he's the Hawks' top shutdown option. Over the past five seasons, no Blackhawks defender has played tougher competition than Hjalmarsson, who routinely leads the team's blue line by that metric.
Hjalmarsson is a defensive specialist, but he can play the right or the left side and just soaks up some of the most dangerous minutes in hockey. On many teams he'd be a No. 1 defenceman, and even on the talent-rich Blackhawks he's a strong No. 2.
Just 28 years old, Hjalmarsson has four years left on a deal that pays him like an average second-pairing player.
Colorado Avalanche: Tyson Barrie
Contract details: $2.6 million cap hit until 2016
Stats line in 2014-15: 80 games, 12 goals, 41 assists, 53 points
Why this is a value deal: Tyson Barrie led all Avs defenceman in points last season, finishing with more than twice as many as runner-up Erik Johnson (23). His 21:21 per-game average ice time was second on the team, as the then-23-year-old rearguard carved out a job for himself at the top end of the team's depth chart.
Barrie isn't just exceptional in Colorado, however—he's a unique offensive talent, and that's plain when we consider him against the rest of the NHL's defencemen. Among rearguards who have played at least 1,000 minutes over the last two seasons, only Victor Hedman and Brent Burns (who also spent time at right wing) have scored better than Barrie's 1.34 points/hour at even strength.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Ryan Johansen
Contract details: $4.0 million cap hit until 2017
Stats line in 2014-15: 82 games, 26 goals, 45 assists, 71 points
Why this is a value deal: Ryan Johansen and the Jackets were somewhat famously at loggerheads in the negotiation of his current contract, which sees his salary spike from $3.0 million to $6.0 million in its final year. Columbus got its star forward at a low cap hit; Johansen guaranteed himself a big raise down the line.
He'll be worth every penny. The 6'3", 223-pound centre plays in all situations for Columbus and provides the team with a big, two-way threat who can score at an elite level in the majors. Eventually, the Blue Jackets will have to pay him like the player he is, but for the time being, they get to enjoy one of the league's top young talents at a bargain price.
Dallas Stars: Tyler Seguin
Contract details: $5.75 million cap hit until 2019
Stats line in 2014-15: 71 games, 37 goals, 40 assists, 77 points
Why this is a value deal: Tyler Seguin is one of the NHL's most potent offensive weapons, an elite producer at even strength and on the power play. Both he and regular collaborator Jamie Benn (two years left at a $5.25 million cap hit) are among the NHL's best scorers and best bargains.
At even strength, Seguin's 2.69 points/hour over the last two seasons falls behind only Benn and Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf. He has also scored a whopping 24 goals on the man advantage in that span.
Seguin is just 23 years old; it's possible and even probable he hasn't yet peaked. His current contract should see him continue to evolve and will come to an end well before he starts declining as an athlete.
Detroit Red Wings: Tomas Tatar
Contract details: $2.75 million cap hit until 2017
Stats line in 2014-15: 82 games, 29 goals, 27 assists, 56 points
Why this is a value deal: Detroit has a few value deals in the system, with the majority of them going to young players. As an example, Gustav Nyquist is signed for four years at $4.75 million per season, which is also excellent value for a player still in the heart of his career.
It's hard to overlook the deal of Tomas Tatar, however, who last season emerged as one of the league's better goal scorers. His remarkable totals included seven game-winning goals and, more critically, 20 even-strength goals; the latter number tied him for 21st in the NHL with Jonathan Toews, among others.
Tatar certainly benefited from his regular partnership with Pavel Datsyuk, but even away from the sublime centre, he posted extremely good results, both offensively and in terms of on-ice shot metrics. On the open market, he's probably worth twice what he's getting paid right now.
Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid
Contract details: $0.93 million cap hit until 2018—up to $3.78 million with bonuses
Stats line in 2014-15: Not applicable
Why this is a value deal: The Oilers have been a punchline in recent years, but the team has some solid contracts on the books. Rich deals to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall look totally reasonable, while others such as those for Cam Talbot and Anton Lander are likely to be underpaid relative to their roles.
None of those players matter as much as Connor McDavid, who will be expected to be a superstar before the end of his entry-level deal.
McDavid has already had a profound effect in Edmonton, helping the team land top-notch candidates as general manager and head coach. He's reinvigorated a weary fanbase, and the only thing left for him to do is to take over the No. 1 centre job that's waiting for him.
Florida Panthers: Aaron Ekblad
Contract details: $0.93 million cap hit until 2017—up to $3.78 million with bonuses
Stats line in 2014-15: 81 games, 12 goals, 27 assists, 39 points
Why this is a value deal: The winner of the 2015 Calder Trophy, Aaron Ekblad broke into the NHL as an 18-year-old rookie and carved out a niche for himself near the top of the Panthers' defensive depth chart.
Ekblad wasn't immediately trusted in all situations; he didn't kill penalties as a rookie, though one imagines that the 6'4", 216-pound rearguard will find himself in that role sooner rather than later. He did play big minutes on the power play, where his six goals on the season provide evidence as to his impact.
Mostly, Ekblad played a ton at even strength, averaging 18:34 per game, largely on a pairing with veteran Brian Campbell, with the duo posting exceptional on-ice numbers in both the goals and shots departments.
Los Angeles Kings: Jake Muzzin
Contract details: $4.0 million cap hit until 2020
Stats line in 2014-15: 76 games, 10 goals, 31 assists, 41 points
Why this is a value deal: Jake Muzzin still doesn't get the respect he deserves, in large part because he's overshadowed by all-world defence partner Drew Doughty. Yet he's quite a player in his own right and, as of last year, the No. 2 defenceman in Los Angeles.
Worth considering are Muzzin's even-strength numbers with and without Doughty. Remarkably, his play barely dropped off in the absence of his regular partner last year—his on-ice shot numbers were still good and the Kings outscored their opponents by a 2:1 ratio, according to Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com.
Muzzin brings size and ability in all situations and, at the age of 26, should be good for a long time to come.
Minnesota Wild: Jonas Brodin
Contract details: $4.17 million cap hit until 2021
Stats line in 2014-15: 71 games, three goals, 14 assists, 17 points
Why this is a value deal: Jonas Brodin turned 22 in July, which makes his accomplishments to date even more impressive. The No. 10 pick in the 2011 draft has already established himself as the No. 2 defenceman on a team with legitimate Stanley Cup ambitions.
Brodin played a jaw-dropping 20:58 per game at even strength last season. He found time to play more than two minutes nightly on the penalty kill and even worked his way into irregular duty on the man advantage. Outside of Ryan Suter, no Wild defenceman is pressed as hard as Brodin.
What makes this contract so appealing is that Brodin is still years away from his prime. It already represents fair value, and as Brodin gets better and average NHL salaries rise, it's only going to look more impressive.
Montreal Canadiens: Max Pacioretty
Contract details: $4.5 million cap hit until 2019
Stats line in 2014-15: 80 games, 37 goals, 30 assists, 67 points
Why this is a value deal: This seems pretty obvious: 30-goal scorers are awfully hard to find, and when they can be found, they generally cost more than $4.5 million.
Yet at the start of last season, CBC's Mike Dennis claimed Max Pacioretty's deal was the worst contract on Montreal's books, saying he "seems to have a bad season every other year," citing his 15-goal output during the 2012-13 lockout season and his 14-goal effort in 37 games in 2010-11 as evidence.
Dennis could not have been more wrong. Pacioretty's 37 goals last season ranked fifth in the NHL, tying him with players such as Tyler Seguin and Vladimir Tarasenko and putting him ahead of Art Ross winner Jamie Benn, superstar Sidney Crosby and others. He's also a dominant possession player and, just for good measure, a trusted penalty-killer.
Nashville Predators: Roman Josi
Contract details: $4.0 million cap hit until 2020
Stats line in 2014-15: 81 games, 15 goals, 40 assists, 55 points
Why this is a value deal: The short answer is that Roman Josi finished fifth in Norris Trophy voting as the NHL's best defenceman last season. That, plus his age (25) and the fact he's under contract at just $4.0 million for five more seasons would seem to settle the discussion.
But it's worth looking a little deeper at Josi's numbers. He played more than 20 minutes per game at even strength last season. He averaged 2:26 on the penalty kill and more than three minutes per game on the power play.
Josi's 55 points tied him for fifth among all NHL defencemen, while his 37 points at even strength tied him for third in the league in that category.
New Jersey Devils: Damon Severson
Contract details: $0.61 million cap hit until 2017—up to $0.89 million with bonuses
Stats line in 2014-15: 51 games, five goals, 12 assists, 17 points
Why this is a value deal: Entry-level contracts are typically great value, because a player's maximum earnings are capped. Those deals also tend to have dollar figures that reflect where a player was drafted, so when a late second-round pick such as Damon Severson turns out immediately, it's hard to get better bang for your buck.
Severson played an incredible 21:57 per game for the Devils as a 20-year-old rookie. He also led all New Jersey defencemen in terms of Corsi percentage despite starting more than his share of shifts in the defensive end of the rink.
For the next two seasons, Severson is going to be paid like a replacement-level skater, which means if he plays regularly—let alone continues to play top-four minutes—the Devils are going to enjoy a great return on his modest salary.
New York Islanders: John Tavares
Contract details: $5.5 million cap hit until 2018
Stats line in 2014-15: 82 games, 38 goals, 48 assists, 86 points
Why this is a value deal: The Islanders decided not to mess around with John Tavares, their franchise cornerstone, when he came out of his entry-level contract. Instead, they quickly signed him to a long-term pact at real money. It's worked out beautifully.
Tavares is generally in the Hart Trophy conversation (he finished third in 2015) and is widely recognized as one of the game's elite centres. He came within a single point of winning the NHL scoring title last season.
New York's captain has three years left on a deal that has the potential to double when it expires in the summer of 2018.
New York Rangers: Ryan McDonagh
Contract details: $4.7 million cap hit until 2019
Stats line in 2014-15: 71 games, eight goals, 25 assists, 33 points
Why this is a value deal: New York has a lot of value deals on the books, but most of them are short-term contracts. Dominic Moore has one year left on his current deal and has provided very good value; newcomer Viktor Stalberg is a good bet to produce during his one-year contract.
Ryan McDonagh's deal isn't as cheap, but in terms of value, it's in a different stratosphere.
McDonagh, who turned 26 in June, is one of the league's undisputed No. 1 defencemen. He logs heavy minutes in all situations, and far more importantly, he's effective in all situations. He anchors a strong penalty-killing unit, chips in on the power play and handles a shutdown role at evens.
The Rangers get all that for four more seasons at the bargain price of less than $5 million annually.
Ottawa Senators: Kyle Turris
Contract details: $3.5 million cap hit until 2018
Stats line in 2014-15: 82 games, 24 goals, 40 assists, 64 points
Why this is a value deal: Ottawa is actually awash in value contracts, as befits a team that needs to operate on an internal budget rather than spending to the league salary cap. Even among those deals, Kyle Turris' contract stands out.
Turris averaged more than 19 minutes per game in ice time last season, led the Senators in both faceoffs taken and faceoff efficiency and came within a hair of leading the team in scoring too. In the absence of Jason Spezza, he emerged as the Sens' No. 1 centre.
Despite this, he makes a relatively paltry $3.5 million annually and will do so for the next three seasons.
Philadelphia Flyers: Sean Couturier
Contract details: $1.75 million cap hit until 2016; $4.33 million cap hit until 2022
Stats line in 2014-15: 82 games, 15 goals, 22 assists, 37 points
Why this is a value deal: The Flyers are not a team famous for making good contract decisions. The team that currently spends $9.5 million per season on Vincent Lecavalier and Andrew MacDonald has long been famous for reckless spending.
But in the case of Couturier, Philadelphia got it right.
Some will look at his modest offensive totals and conclude the Flyers are once again overpaying for talent. However, that ignores Couturier's exceptionally tough usage; at age 22, he's already one of the league's best defensive forwards.
Travis Hughes of Broad Street Hockey spelled things out nicely when ex-Flyers coach Craig Berube complained about Couturier's scoring numbers:
Among all NHL forwards that played at least 1,000 minutes at five-on-five in 2014-15, Couturier started the fewest percentage of his shifts in the offensive end of the ice—just 25.5 percent. Of that same group of forwards, Couturier also started the highest percentage of shifts in the defensive end of the ice—38.7 percent of his total 5v5 shifts. We don't even need to get into talk about guys he's tasked with playing against—often the Crosbys, Ovechkins and Tavares' of the world—to notice that this is keeping him at an offensive disadvantage.
Couturier is probably decent value now at $4.33 million as a tough-minutes centre who scores at a credible rate. Just wait three years until he's in his prime and is getting real power-play minutes.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby
Contract details: $8.7 million cap hit until 2025
Stats line in 2014-15: 77 games, 28 goals, 56 assists, 84 points
Why this is a value deal: There are those who are going to ask how a player making nearly $9 million per season can possibly be considered as being on a bargain contract.
The answer is simple: Sidney Crosby is the consensus best player in hockey and isn't being paid like it.
Jonathan Toews' new contract will pay him $10.5 million annually, nearly $2.0 million more per season than Crosby. It's fashionable these days to look at Cup rings and suggest the Blackhawks captain is a better player, but the reality is that while superb, he simply plays for a better team. Crosby brings the same level of two-way play and significantly more offensive punch.
Pittsburgh's greatest asset is having the NHL's best player locked up long term at a price that allows the team to spend lots of money elsewhere.
St. Louis Blues: Brian Elliott
Contract details: $2.5 million cap hit until 2017
Stats line in 2014-15: 46 games, 26-14-3 record, 0.917 save percentage
Why this is a value deal: Brian Elliott has provided incredible value for the Blues since being picked off the NHL refuse heap in the summer of 2011. Over four seasons, he has earned anywhere from $600,000 to $2.5 million per season and delivered starter-quality minutes over that entire span.
Perhaps the greatest thing about Elliott's deal is the flexibility it gives the Blues. If youngster Jake Allen can claim the starting job, Elliott isn't especially overpaid to be a backup. If he can't, Elliott has shown he's good enough to start in Missouri.
San Jose Sharks: Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Contract details: $4.25 million cap hit until 2018
Stats line in 2014-15: 70 games, nine goals, 14 assists, 23 points
Why this is a value deal: Like a lot of players on this list, Marc-Edouard Vlasic's primary calling card is defensive. It's generally easier to underpay defensive specialists because hockey still doesn't do a great job of capturing their impact on the game.
In Vlasic's case, becoming a shutdown defenceman looks a lot like a conscious choice. This is a player who scored better than a point per game in his final season of junior hockey but who has ultimately settled in as a shutdown specialist at the NHL level.
In that role, he still manages to make a major impact on the game. For the Sharks, he takes a lead at evens and on the penalty kill. It's telling that Team Canada selected him to go to the Sochi Olympics in 2014; the team's brass obviously appreciated how important the under-the-radar Vlasic can be.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Victor Hedman
Contract details: $4.0 million cap hit until 2017
Stats line in 2014-15: 59 games, 10 goals, 28 assists, 38 points
Why this is a value deal: It's easy to tell the Bolts are a well-run team because there was no shortage of candidates for this spot. Every member of the Triplets line had a case for inclusion, and passing over Tyler Johnson (72 points, $3.3 million cap hit) and Nikita Kucherov (65 points, $0.7 million cap hit) wasn't easy.
Victor Hedman's partner, Anton Stralman, was a candidate because it's awfully hard to snatch a young top-pairing defenceman out of free agency while also spending just $4.5 million per season.
In the end, though, it was the team's franchise defenceman that most deserved the nod. Hedman is in the final two years of a $4.0 million contract that stretches into unrestricted free agency, and until this past spring, he was perhaps the NHL's most underrated player. He's been good for years, but nobody noticed until a good team coalesced around him.
Hedman's a complete player, a 6'6", 230-pound defenceman who can play the tough minutes at even strength, kill penalties and contribute offence on the power play. He's just 24 years old, and we probably haven't even seen his best yet.
Toronto Maple Leafs: James van Riemsdyk
Contract details: $4.25 million cap hit until 2018
Stats line in 2014-15: 82 games, 27 goals, 29 assists, 56 points
Why this is a value deal: The Leafs have taken a lot of flak in recent years, but one move the team made that gives no cause to regret was the decision to trade defenceman Luke Schenn to Philadelphia for James van Riemsdyk.
During his time in Toronto, Van Riemsdyk has emerged as a 30-goal man, an achievement that in concert with his relative youth (he turned 26 in May) and 6'3" frame would make him attractive to a lot of teams. Size and scoring is a combination very few general managers can resist.
Van Riemsdyk is coming off a tough season, but the Leafs wouldn't have any problem moving him if they were of a mind to, and that's the mark of a value contract.
Vancouver Canucks: Bo Horvat
Contract details: $0.89 million cap hit until 2017—up to $1.74 million with bonuses
Stats line in 2014-15: 68 games, 12 goals, 12 assists, 25 points
Why this is a value deal: Any time an NHL team can find a player capable of contributing on his entry-level deal it's a major boon. In the Canucks' case, the impressive arrival of Bo Horvat went a long way toward calming fears of what would happen at centre post-Henrik Sedin.
Horvat found good chemistry on a line with Jannik Hansen, with that unit deployed in some surprisingly difficult situations given Horvat's lack of experience. Despite taking on a large number of defensive-zone starts, Horvat found a way to contribute offensively while only earning a typical fourth-liner's wage.
He was also one of the few Canucks to distinguish himself in the team's first-round playoff loss to Calgary.
Horvat only turned 20 in April, meaning the best is almost certainly still to come.
Washington Capitals: John Carlson
Contract details: $3.97 million cap hit until 2018
Stats line in 2014-15: 82 games, 12 goals, 43 assists, 55 points
Why this is a value deal: The Capitals have some pretty decent contracts on the books. There are several good, young, cost-controlled players worth considering, and with one exception, the team's defence represents good value. Even Nicklas Backstrom's $6.7 million annual compensation is worth thinking about.
But it's extremely hard to look past John Carlson, who got significant Norris Trophy love from the Professional Hockey Writers Association this past summer.
Long an underappreciated defensive stalwart, Carlson found another gear offensively at the age of 2 to emerge as a complete No. 1 defenceman last season. The 6'3", 212-pound right-shooting rearguard checks off every item teams look for in defencemen and should be at the top of his game for the duration of his current deal.
Winnipeg Jets: Bryan Little
Contract details: $4.7 million cap hit until 2018
Stats line in 2014-15: 70 games, 24 goals, 28 assists, 52 points
Why this is a value deal: Bryan Little is one of the NHL's least recognized No. 1 centres. He logs heavy minutes in all situations for the Winnipeg Jets, contributing on the power play, the penalty kill and at even strength. Over the last three seasons, he's led all Winnipeg forwards in quality of competition.
The usual knock on Little is that he doesn't produce enough offence. At five-on-five over the last three years, he has scored 1.95 points/hour, the same rate as Anze Kopitar and a better rate than that managed by players such as Henrik Sedin, Joe Pavelski and Claude Giroux.
With Little, the Jets have a forward who can take on any minutes and stabilize any line, one who is capable of going head-to-head with the NHL's best. For the next three years, they'll get that player for south of $5 million.