Best bargains

NHL governors are meeting in West Palm Beach, Fla., this week and Day 1 was all about the economy. NHL owners and team executives were addressed by economists from both sides of the border concerning the long-term ramifications of the current economic downturn on league business.

With that in mind, we got to thinking about bargains. Well-priced NHLers have never been at more of a premium, so we present’s top-10 salary cap bargains.

(Note: Because of the number of cheap backup goalies playing so well this season, they’ve been omitted from the list, as have players still on entry level contracts. All numbers are cap hit, not salary)

10. Jiri Hudler, Left Wing, Detroit – $1.015 million
Hudler has entrenched himself as a top-six forward amongst a very deep group. He’s cruising along with 12 goals and 24 points in 26 games, including 13 power play points, tied for 10th in the league.

9. Peter Budaj, Goaltender, Colorado – $700,000
Where would the Avalanche be without Budaj? He’s tied for third in games played with 25 and has posted respectable stat line of 11 wins, a 2.68 goals-against average and .904 save percentage. Colorado’s offense is ranked 22nd, so without Budaj there’s no way they are still thinking about the playoffs.

8. Mike Komisarek, Defenseman, Montreal – $1.7 million
Komisarek isn’t flashy (or healthy at the moment), but he’s quickly becoming one of the better shutdown defenders in the league. He hits, fights and is a top-three blueliner making the salary of a fifth or sixth guy.

7. Duncan Keith, Defenseman, Chicago – $1.475 million
Keith is the unsung hero of the Blackhawks blueline. He’s a glue guy who does more than merely keep things together. He’s playing nearly 27 minutes a game, has 11 points and is a plus-9. Last season he tied for fifth in the league at plus-30.
6. Mike Smith, Goaltender, Tampa Bay – $950,000
The Lightning has a league-worst six victories this season, but how many would they have without Smith? The centerpiece of last season’s Brad Richards trade with Dallas, Smith’s numbers read: 21 GP, 2.55 GAA (fourth for goalies with 20-plus GP), .922 SP (tied for ninth overall) and one shutout.

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5. Nikolai Zherdev, Right Wing, New York Rangers – $2.5 million
Zherdev has cooled somewhat of late (three points in his past five games), but he leads the Rangers in points with 25 and has had a number of highlight-reel plays this season. With Scott Gomez and Chris Drury disappointing so far, Zherdev has become the focal point of New York’s attack.

4. Johan Franzen, Right Wing, Detroit – $941,667
Franzen is a little injury-prone, but is fast becoming an offensive stud (witness his goal-scoring run at the conclusion of last season). With 11 goals in 21 games this season – four of them game winners – Franzen has picked up from where he left off last season. He’s an unrestricted free agent come July 1, so likely won’t make this list again in 2009-10.

3. Zach Parise, Left Wing, New Jersey – $3.125 million
The most expensive player on the list is a bargain nonetheless. Parise has exploded this season and currently sits tied for 15th in league scoring. His 15 goals, 28 points, plus-12 rating, four power play goals and two overtime goals all lead the Devils. With numbers like that and having just the seventh-highest salary on the team, Parise is a bargain.

2. Henrik Zetterberg, Center, Detroit – $2.65 million
The 2008 Conn Smythe Trophy winner is the third Red Wing to make the list and, incidentally, the third one currently without a contract for next season. An offensive stud, Zetterberg also routinely lines up against the opposition’s top forwards. He currently sits second on the Wings with 12 goals (including seven on the power play) and 25 points. He’s also the only Detroit forward averaging 20-plus minutes per game. 

1. Tim Thomas, Goaltender, Boston – $1.1 million
The quarter-mark favorite for the Vezina Trophy ranks first on this list because he’s first in the league in GAA (1.90), second in SP (.940) and is the No. 1 tender on the No. 1 team in the East.

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