Trying to decide which NHL teams got the best bargains in the early days of unrestricted free agency is a surreal experience. With hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts – in just a few days, remember – it’s sometimes difficult to envision anyone being worth that much cash.
Nevertheless, there are always a few good deals that sneak through. Here are five UFA contracts that should work out well for the player’s new team:
Mikael Samuelsson, Vancouver (3 years, $7.5 million)
For $2.5 million per season, the Canucks have added a two-way winger with a lethal, heavy shot. He loves to shoot the puck and has quick, accurate release.
Samuelsson has been bumping around the NHL since 2000-01, but it wasn’t until he joined the Red Wings machine as a depth player after the lockout that he found his big-league footing.
A big body who can play it physical and work the boards, Samuelsson will get more ice time and opportunity in Vancouver – including, surely, a shot on the top line with the Sedin twins.
Nikolai Khabibulin, Edmonton (4 years, $15 million)
The last time Khabibulin was due for unrestricted free agency, his final act as an under-contract player was to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to the 2004 Stanley Cup – and he parlayed his championship performance into a multi-year, multi-million dollar deal with Chicago.
Then, he battled injury and inconsistency for three seasons, finally turning it around in 2008-09 – which, coincidentally, was his final campaign before getting another shot at UFA riches.
As the only free agent goalie who was in net when his team won a Stanley Cup, Khabibulin was the best netminding option available. At 36, he’s no spring chicken and his performance during his first three seasons in Chicago doesn’t instill confidence. But Khabibulin responded with a wonderful 2008-09 regular season and a clutch playoff run, guiding the young Hawks to a conference final berth against Detroit.
The Oilers, trying desperately to break out of a 19-year Cup funk, made a big move at an affordable price; if Khabibulin is healthy and happy, this deal is a steal.
Craig Anderson, Colorado (2 years, $3.6 million)
Who? How much? If you haven’t heard much about Anderson, you’re not alone.
Being a backup goalie in the NHL can be an anonymous job – and if you’re a backup goalie for the Florida Panthers, as Anderson was, that goes double. What you need to know about Anderson is this: He effectively took over No. 1 duties from Tomas Vokoun at a couple of points last season and has averaged a .930 save percentage over three seasons in Florida.
He was 15-7-5 with a 2.71 goals-against average and .924 save percentage last season; they haven’t seen those kinds of stats in Colorado since Patrick Roy was active. Anderson, 28, is no Roy, but he’s a big upgrade over Andrew Raycroft.
Hal Gill, Montreal (2 years, $4.5 million)
A 6-foot-7 defenseman who has some mobility, plays physical and is a penalty-killing demon. All for the low, low price of $2.25 million per season. That’s pretty good bang for the buck, as long as Habs fans don’t look at the gargantuan Gill and start upsizing their expectations. He is what he is, a solid No. 4-5 defenseman who helps the back end.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Vancouver (5 years, $30. 5 million each)
Considering the Sedins’ opening salvo was identical 12-year, $63 million deals, you have to like how Canucks GM Mike Gillis was able to get them to sign something a little more sane. (Are you listening, Hawks GM Dale Tallon?)
With the Sedins as part of their core, Vancouver remains a Northwest Division power and a tier-two Stanley Cup contender. Without them, Vancouver is basically Roberto Luongo plus a flock of young forwards.
Granted, they signed before July 1, so they were never really UFAs to begin with – and thus, don’t really belong on this list. But it was such a good signing, for both sides, that it couldn’t be kept off.
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