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Five off-season moves providing the most bang for the buck

Big-money deals and blockbuster trades are what moves the needle for teams on the cusp of competing for the Stanley Cup, but it's finding diamonds in the rough that produce on a budget that helps round out competing rosters.

During the off-season, it’s the superstar signings and blockbuster trades that stand to make the biggest on-ice impacts of the campaign. However, when it comes to cost-effectiveness, that’s not always the case.

Case in point: John Tavares has been brilliant for the Maple Leafs, and Toronto looks like a true Stanley Cup threat with him in the lineup. For every point he’s scored this season, though, Toronto has paid out $220,000. Of course, that will decrease as the season goes on, but Tavares’ current level of production compared to his salary puts him in the 400s in terms of cost-per-point, according to CapFriendly. He’s not going to appear on a list of players providing outsized value for their minimal salary.

There is one Maple Leaf, though, who nearly lands on the list. Tyler Ennis was brought in to fill a role in the absence of William Nylander, and he did some good work before suffering a broken ankle. In 33 games, he netted seven goals and 11 points, and at just $650,000, he brought incredibly good value to Toronto’s lineup at $59,091 per point. And while Ennis narrowly missed making this list, he’s the exact type of player who can be found on a list of the most cost-effective scorers.

Before we dive into the players who have provided the most for the least, though, there needs to be some ground rules. First, no players on entry-level deals. Sure, a player such as Elias Pettersson was technically signed in the summer, but the restrictions on ELCs throw off the entire equation. Thus, these have to be second-contract players or beyond, otherwise the list would simply be dotted with the top-scoring youngsters. After all, the top-18 cost per point players are all on ELCs. Additionally, the players on this list had to change teams. No one-year, low-money extensions signed in the off-season. Finally, we’re going to limit the list to forwards. That’s because, other than no defenseman making the top five, it’s impossible to measure defensive influence the same way as points can represent offensive impact.

With that, here are the five most cost-effective off-sesaon signings in the NHL:

5. Matt Cullen, Pittsburgh Penguins — $59,091
It’s been, what, three or four seasons now that we’ve expected Cullen to hang it up? Yet, here the 42-year-old is, back with the Penguins after a year spent with his hometown Minnesota Wild and on his way to a fairly impressive 20-plus point campaign. This despite having literally two decades on some of his teammates and being 10 years the senior of his next-closest compatriot.
Cullen’s campaign in Minnesota was solid in a depth role — he registered 11 goals and 22 points in 79 games — and he’s on his way to doing more damage on the scoresheet this season, scoring at a nine-goal, 25-point pace. The thing is, though, the Penguins didn’t really bring him in for his regular-season production. What they’re hoping to get out of Cullen is more playoff magic. He was dynamite in the back-to-back Stanley Cup years.

4. Nic Dowd, Washington Capitals — $50,000
Dowd was an interesting case. During his debut campaign with the Los Angeles Kings, he chipped in with some quality secondary production, registering six goals and 22 points in 70 games. His offense all but dried up the next season, though, and after 16 games in L.A., Dowd was shipped off to the Vancouver Canucks where he managed just three goals in 40 games. The tough 2017-18 campaign left him searching for a home, but the Capitals saw a potential fourth-line hand and made a play to sign him to a one-year, $650,000 deal early in free agency. So, how has Dowd repaid Washington? With four goals and 13 points in 34 games, bringing a certain level of fourth-line scoring that could come in handy down the line. Finding cheap fits is what helps top teams remain competitive, and Dowd has been just what the doctor ordered in that sense.

3. Anthony Duclair, Columbus Blue Jackets — $46,429
An excellent rookie season was followed by a disappointing year and just a half-season later, Duclair found himself on the move from the Arizona Coyotes to the Chicago Blackhawks. A move that was supposed to help rejuvenate Duclair’s career, however, fell flat, and that saw him go unqualified as a restricted free agent and hit the open market. Luckily, the Blue Jackets were rather quick to snap Duclair up, waiting just days into free agency to ink him to a one-year, $650,000 contract. He’s rewarded Columbus, too.
While he’s not scoring at an all-star pace, Duclair has been a handy depth addition for the Blue Jackets. Through the first 36 games of the campaign, he has nine goals and 14 points, and that puts him on pace for the second-best offensive year of his career. Not bad.

2. Ponuts Aberg, Anaheim Ducks — $34,211
After spending much of the first two seasons of his big-league career with the Predators, Nashville had to make a decision on the speedy winger, and the choice they made was to flip him to the Edmonton Oilers at last season’s deadline. He played out the remainder o the 2017-18 campaign in Edmonton, but before the current season began, the Oilers decided Aberg wasn’t a fit for their bottom-six and were set to send him to the minors. He didn’t make it through waivers, though, and was claimed by the Ducks. Turns out that was the best thing for him. In Anaheim, especially in the early going, Aberg flourished, using his speed to stuff the scoresheet with a pair of two-goal games in October. As the mid-season passes, he’s already set career bests for goals (11) and points (19) and is on pace to hit the 20-goal and 30-point plateaus for the first time in his carer.

1. Alex Chiasson, Edmonton Oilers — $29,545
Much can be — and has been — said about the Oilers’ stunning lack of depth, and GM Peter Chiarelli has most certainly received his share of criticism, but one home run he’s hit is the addition of Chiasson in the summer. A second-round pick of the Stars back in 2009, Chiasson has bounced around a lot in recent years, playing in Ottawa, Calgary and Washington in the past three seasons, but he’s really found some magic playing top-six minutes in Edmonton.
Through 35 games, Chiasson’s 17 goals are four more than his previous career best of 13, registered during his rookie season, and his 22 points already make this the fourth-highest scoring season of his seven-year NHL career. Should Chiasson keep this up, too, he could realistically hit the 40-point plateau for the first time in his career.



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