In the salary cap world, every dollar matters. And as such, there are few things as valuable to team-builders as productive talents who get the job done without breaking the bank.
For the most part, those are exactly the players and the signings you’ll find below: those that outproduce the players who earn similar salaries. And that means much of this list is populated with players who signed what are now regarded as incredibly team-friendly deals coming out of their entry-level contracts. But there are others who have found their way into this look at the 10-best contracts of the 2010s, including a few savvy signings who managed to turn in standout seasons or produce unexpected results. There’s also one inclusion – likely the most controversial – that makes the cut because a once ugly-looking contract has quickly turned into something of a steal.
With that in mind, here are the 10 best signings of the past decade:
10. Leon Draisaitl – Eight-year, $68-million contract (Aug. 16, 2017)
We laughed at the time. Boy, did we laugh. But it turns out that this may have been one of Peter Chiarelli’s most astute moves as GM of the Edmonton Oilers. The idea at the time, of course, was that Draisaitl would become the second-line center to Connor McDavid’s top-line pivot. Admittedly, that hasn’t come to pass, but what has occurred is Draisaitl’s transformation into one of the most lethal scorers in the league. It’s hard to fathom what the Oilers would do if Draisaitl wasn’t locked up to this deal right now. If he had been bridged on a three-year term by Edmonton, that contract would be set to expire at the end of this season, right when Draisaitl is putting a hurt on the competition and turning in a potential Art Ross Trophy-winning campaign.
9. Paul Byron – Three-year, $3.5-million contract (Feb. 23, 2016)
The result of what might be the greatest waiver-wire pickup in NHL history. Byron was let walk by the Calgary Flames for zilch, which allowed the Montreal Canadiens to swoop in and scoop him up. In that first season, Byron showed enough to earn a three-year extension from the Canadiens late in the season, a deal that kept him from hitting the open market. And over the lifespan of the deal, there was arguably no player who provided better cost-per-point value. Across three seasons and 219 regular season games, Byron scored 57 goals and 109 points.
8. Mike Smith – Two-year, $4-million contract (July 1, 2011)
Probably not the first name that comes to mind, but we can’t just consider the big-money deals and there may not be a single cost-conscious UFA signing in the past decade that had an immediate impact as great as Smith’s with the Coyotes. Don’t believe it? Consider that Smith, who signed cheap after spending much of his career to that point as a split-time starter and nothing more, came into Phoenix, started 67 games, won 38 of those contests, posted the best numbers of his career and finished fourth in Vezina Trophy voting. Oh, and after that he dazzled in the post-season, almost single-handedly guiding the Coyotes to the Western Conference final. So, again, not the first name that probably came to mind, but deserving of a spot.
7. Mark Scheifele – Eight-year, $49-million contract (July 8, 2016)
The Jets have several in-house success stories, but no player embodies Winnipeg’s draft-and-develop model more than Scheifele, who was considered a surprise pick at the time he was drafted but has since made the franchise’s scouting staff look brilliant. He took his time to get to the NHL, making his debut during his 20-year-old season, and has risen into one of the game’s true top-line centers. Inking him to a long-term deal at a team-friendly cap hit right when he was on the upswing has paid incredible dividends, too. He’s now a consistent point-per-game player.
6. Jonathan Marchessault – Two-year, $1.5-million contract (July 1, 2016)
Ignore for a second, if you can, that the Panthers botched the handling of Marchessault’s deal by dangling him as a trade chip to get the Reilly Smith contract off the books (which also turned out to be an error in judgment). During that first season with the Panthers, Marchessault was dynamite for little more than league minimum. On a pact that paid $750,000 for the season, the then-Tampa Bay Lightning castoff bloomed into a legitimate top-six scorer. He fired home 30 goals and 51 points in 75 games and hasn’t looked back since. He’s now on a six-year, $30-million pact, which is much more befitting a player of his skill level.
5. Roman Josi – Seven-year, $28-million contract (June 10, 2013)
It took 100 regular season games for the Nashville Predators to realize that Josi was worth the long-term investment. That the long-term investment came with a mere $4-million cap hit, though, makes this one of the biggest steals of the past decade. Already, Josi was a top-pairing blueliner averaging upwards of 23 minutes per night and his offensive acumen was evident. The season after putting pen to paper, too, he rewarded the Predators with a 40-point breakout season and has since been one of the most prolific and minute-munching defenders in the NHL.
4. Patrice Bergeron – Eight-year, $55-million contract (July 12, 2013)
At the time he signed this contract, in mid-July 2013, Bergeron had just helped lead the Boston Bruins to their second Stanley Cup final in three seasons, he had four 20-goal seasons to his name, was a four-time top-five finisher in Selke Trophy voting and had won the award once. That with all those accolades he was inked to a pact worth less than $7-million per season is incredible. And it’s a deal that continues to pay off for the Bruins. For the duration of the contract, which has this season and two more campaigns remaining, Bergeron has been the best two-way pivot in the game.
3. John Tavares – Six-year, $33-million contract (Sept. 14, 2011)
Highway robbery. Only months earlier, Steven Stamkos had signed a five-year, $37.5-million extension with the Lightning, yet the Islanders managed to get their up-and-comer, Tavares, under wraps for an additional year at $2-million less per season. Granted, Stamkos had posted back-to-back 40-plus goal, 90-plus point seasons and Tavares hadn’t yet reached those heights, but in his rookie and sophomore seasons, he had notched 53 goals and 121 points in 161 games. The trajectory Tavares was on was evident.
2. Nathan MacKinnon – Seven-year, $44.1-million contract (July 8, 2016)
Let’s get right into it: the reason this deal is second on the list, not first, is because MacKinnon signed the pact at a time when the going rate for players on their second contracts was in about this range. Now, not all of those RFAs putting pen to paper had a Calder Trophy to their name, but MacKinnon had a sophomore slump and a modest third season in the bigs. In hindsight, of course, it was an incredible steal. Across the past three seasons, MacKinnon has arguably been the most valuable player in the league and has helped propel the Avalanche to great heights. He could very well win the Hart Trophy this season.
1. David Pastrnak – Six-year, $40-million contract (Sept. 14, 2017)
It was talked about around these parts earlier this month, but Pastrnak continues to make a case that no player provides better value. Much like others found above, this was a case of the contract increasing in its cost-effectiveness over time, but it’s not as though Pastrnak signed before he had broken out. He had posted a 34-goal, 70-point season the campaign prior, and he put pen to paper at a time when Draisaitl, not to mention Connor McDavid, changed the pay scale for players coming out of their entry-level deals. That he signed for nearly $2-million less per season than Draisaitl one month after the Oilers signed their RFA that massive eight-year pact was and remains stunning.
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