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NHL Free Agency: The Best Bargains

Let's take a look at the biggest bargains from NHL free agency so far.
Colin White

The first few days of free agency are in the books, and some big names have been taken off the board. 

But the most lucrative signings don't always turn out to be the best ones in the long run. Sometimes, the hidden gems that were had for pennies on the dollar end up being more impactful than their headline-grabbing counterparts. 

Let's take a look at the biggest bargains from NHL free agency so far. 

Dylan Strome - Washington Capitals 

Price: 1 year, $3.5 million AAV

Someone's trash is someone else's treasure. Dylan Strome can prove it. 

At just a one-year deal, there is essentially zero long-term risk in giving Strome a shot at potentially setting up Alexander Ovechkin until Nicklas Backstrom returns. And for $3.5 million? What a steal! 

Strome scored at a point-per-game pace through the entire second half of the season in Chicago despite being yo-yo-ed in and out of the lineup and sent up and down all four lines for most of it. The 2021-22 campaign was a disaster for the Blackhawks organization both on and off the ice and yet the former third-overall pick still managed to produce regardless of the role he was given.

That's extremely impressive, especially when considering his circumstances, and should ensure Strome at least manages to maintain his production rate on a team that is actually trying to win hockey games in the foreseeable future.

Are there flaws in his game? Sure. Skating has always been the primary issue with Strome, even dating back to his pre-draft scouting reports. But with some tweaks and a few sessions with the Capitals' development staff, Strome could iron out that wrinkle and provide valuable forward depth for a team looking to extend its contention window. 

Max Pacioretty + Dylan Coghlan - Carolina Hurricanes 

Price: Future Considerations 

Arguably the best bargain of free agency wasn't a free agent at all. 

The Carolina Hurricanes did what all good teams should do and took advantage of a rival's misfortunate, prying Max Pacioretty and Dylan Coghlan from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for, quite literally, nothing. 

Zero. Zilch. Not even a conditional draft pick. 

Here's a money-in-the-bank 30-goal scorer with extensive leadership experience and only one year left on his deal, and a 24-year-old right-shot defender for free. 

Does that work for you? 

Uh, yes. Yes, it does. 

The Golden Knights have only themselves to blame for getting into this pickle, flying way too close to the sun and now having to pay dearly by jettisoning another important leadership voice with no warning for the second summer in a row, further cementing their reputation as one of the least loyal organizations in hockey. 

Why would anyone sign long-term with Vegas if there's a legitimately good chance they'll ship you out in a year or two? Yikes. 

Ondrej Kase - Carolina Hurricanes 

Price: 1 year, $1.5 million AAV

If Kase can stay healthy, and that's a massive "if", this could be yet another homerun for a savvy Hurricanes front office. 

Ability has never been the issue with Kase. Not at all, in fact. When Kase was on the ice for the Maple Leafs last season, he looked fantastic.

The 26-year-old scored roughly 0.5 points per game for Toronto while serving as a versatile winger with enough skill and grit to play up and down the line-up, and made just a little over $1 million to do it.

But, as has always been the case, injuries struck again.

Kase suffered yet another concussion midway through the season and missed the entire final stretch of the schedule. He returned for the playoffs and looked fine in Toronto's seven-game first-round exit versus Tampa, but he was already playing with fire before he went down in the first place and seemed to take a step back as time wore on. Another fall or bump on the head could not only derail his hockey career, but seriously impact his ability to lead a normal life.

If he can stay healthy, the Hurricanes just added a valuable middle-six forward for pennies on the dollar. But that's a big "if" at play there, though the risk is softened by the one year of term.

Brett Kulak - Edmonton Oilers 

Price: 4 years, $2.75 million AAV

The Oilers' blueline is bad. Brett Kulak is good. Keeping Kulak around to ensure the blueline is less bad for the next four years at under $3 million per is some extremely tidy business. 

I often give Ken Holland a tough time for his exploits as Oilers' GM because, well, they've mostly been pretty rough. But this is a terrific signing that gives a contending Oilers squad exactly what they need: competent defense at an affordable price. 

Kulak isn't going to blow the doors off of you offensively. But he's incredibly steady in all three zones, capable of disrupting the cycle in his own end, breaking up entries in neutral ice, and holding his own at the opposing blueline. 

What more can you ask for? And at the price he's set to make, Holland hit it out of the park on this one. Good for him. 

Colin White - Florida Panthers 

Price: 1 year, $1.2 million

The Senators have this weird habit of souring on a talented young player seemingly out of nowhere and then bumping him further and further down the organizational depth chart until he's booted out of town completely. 

Erik Brannstrom is about to experience this, it seems, and Colin White already has. 

There's a lot to like about White, even after he was bought out a few months ago. The guy is still just 25, has first-round pedigree, and burst onto the scene with an impressive 41-point rookie season on a terrible Senators roster back in 2018, appearing to position himself as a key piece of Ottawa's future up-front. That talent doesn't just go away. But as the team plunged deeper and deeper into the basement over the past three years, so did White's production, bottoming out in 2021-22 with just three goals and 10 points in 24 games. 

We've seen almost this exact same story unfold before our eyes in the past year, however. 

Sam Bennett, a former first-round pick of a Canadian team that looked promising out of the gate, seemingly got on the bad side of the organization that drafted him and ultimately concocted a parting of ways, eventually landing him with the Florida Panthers. On a better roster filled with better players, Bennett flourished and looked like a player reborn. 

White might not follow that exact same narrative -- he was bought out, after all -- but the Panthers have a knack for taking cast-off forwards and making them whole again. 

For just one year at a pittance of a price, that's not a bad bet to make. 

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