The salary cap era has made it incredibly important to find players who can contribute offensively while not breaking the bank. Usually, these players fill in bottom-six roles and eat up the minutes not reserved for the top-line players. Put it this way: it’s not often you find a winger making league minimum playing on the top power play unit.
But every so often, a team will find a steal of a deal. Be it a veteran coming into camp late or a player coming off their entry-level deal that is just hitting their stride, the cost-effective players are the ones that can help make or break a season. The cap flexibility doesn’t hurt, either.
Before we build the most cost-effective roster possible though, some guidelines. First, the players on this list have to have at least eclipsed the 10-point plateau. As nearly every team is closing in on the 20-game mark, the truest value players will be chipping in a point every other game while taking up a fraction of the cap. Second, in order to cut out the players on cheap deals by virtue of being on entry-level contracts, only players on standard player contracts have been included. So even though Nathan MacKinnon is tearing it up for Colorado, the Avalanche playmaker won’t be on this cost-effective list.
Here are the six players providing their clubs with the most bang for their buck:
CENTER - Oscar Lindberg, New York Rangers - $54,167 per point
Lindberg was a second-round choice, 57th overall, of the then-Phoenix Coyotes in 2010, but he ended up in New York thanks to an off-season deal in 2011. One year after being acquired by the Rangers, the club inked him to an entry-level deal, and Lindberg played the entirety of the deal in the AHL and overseas.
In the AHL, Lindberg, 24, was consistent over the past two seasons. In 150 games, he scored 46 goals and 100 points and even got a taste of the NHL in 2014-15. With his entry-level deal up, the Rangers inked Lindberg to a two-year, one-way deal that sees him earn $600,000 this season and $700,000 in 2016-17.
To reward the Rangers’ good faith, Lindberg has scored seven goals and 12 points in 17 games and is earning only $54,167 per point. That’s a bargain for a team that is right up against the cap.
LEFT WING - Tomas Fleischmann, Montreal Canadiens - $57,692 per point
It’s mind-boggling that Flesichmann couldn’t land a deal in the off-season, but that was the Canadiens’ gain in a big way. ‘Flash’ came to training camp on a professional tryout and proceeded to sign a one-year, $750,000 deal with Montreal. He’s been an integral part of the Habs’ scoring depth and he’s outscoring some much more heralded talent such as Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller.
With five goals and 13 points through 19 games, Fleischmann isn’t just giving Montreal good value, he’s also well on his way to having one of the best offensive seasons of his career. If he keeps up this pace, Fleischmann could end the season with 20 goals and 50 points for just the third time in his 10-year career.
The Canadiens are likely going to be wary of extending Fleishmann long-term, but the 31-year-old is showing he still has some gas in the tank. If he keeps this up, it might be a wise move for Montreal to at least kick the tires and see what it’s going to cost to keep him on board.
RIGHT WING - Lee Stempniak, New Jersey Devils - $56,667 per point
Stempniak is another professional tryout turned key contributor. Stempniak seemed like a good fit with the Rangers early last season and an even better one with the Winnipeg Jets, where he landed at the trade deadline. The Jets decided not to bring the 32-year-old back, though, in order to make room on the roster for some young guns. That led to Stempniak battling in training camp to find a spot, which led to a tryout deal with the Devils and a one-year, $850,000 deal just before the season began.
Stempniak has turned in a great performance, too. Through 18 games, he’s notched four goals and 15 points and is second on the Devils in scoring. Stempniak’s career-best year came in 2009-10 when he managed 28 goals and 48 points split between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Coyotes. He’s on pace to obliterate that this season. If he can maintain his pace — which isn’t likely, but could happen — Stempniak would finish the season with nearly 20 goals and 70 points.
After two seasons as a depth player, Stempniak is making the most out of his chance at a top-six role in New Jersey.
DEFENSE - John Klingberg, Dallas Stars - $212,500 per point
It’s trickier to find cost-effective blueliners who have topped the 10-point plateau, but Klingberg is the class of the bunch and, on top of that, the cheapest. The Dallas Stars defenseman was playing the final year of his entry-level deal in 2014-15 and could have been a good pick for the Calder Trophy that instead went to defenseman Aaron Ekblad. But losing the rookie of the year honors hasn’t slowed Klingberg down.
Klingberg’s managed four goals and 20 points in 19 games this season, and at 23, he’s looking like a star in the making on the Stars back end. If he keeps this up, Klingberg could be in the Norris Trophy conversation by the year’s end. He’s on an 80-plus point pace, which isn’t likely to hold, but on the high-scoring Stars he’s bound to keep piling up points.
A fifth-round pick, 131st overall, by Dallas in 2010, Klingberg got a hefty raise in the off-season and is in the first year of a seven-year, $29.75-million deal. There’s been no buyer’s remorse from Stars GM Jim Nill yet, though, and Klingberg hasn’t given Nill any reason to second-guess the contract.
DEFENSE - Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild - $222,222 per point
Spurgeon always seems like a well-kept secret in Minnesota, but the diminutive defenseman is turning into a sneaky star for the Wild. The 25-year-old was a sixth-round pick of the New York Islanders, but the Islanders allowed Spurgeon to hit free agency instead of inking him to a deal. That mistake has been a massive gain for Minnesota.
He became an NHL regular in 2010-11 when he played 53 games for the Wild, but Spurgeon really came into his own in 2011-12. He took a top-four role and he’s yet to relinquish it. Heading into the campaign, Spurgeon’s career high for goals was nine and points was 26, set in 2014-15 and 2013-14 respectively. He’s on pace to smash those this season.
Already, Spurgeon has scored three goals and has 12 points in 17 games — he’s nearly halfway to his career-high with more than three-quarters of the season remaining. At 5-foot-9, 176 pounds, few expect Spurgeon to possess the great shot that he does, but his booming slapshot makes him a threat on the power play.
GOALTENDER - Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings — $2,364 per save
It was close, but Red Wings netminder Petr Mrazek narrowly edged out Montreal Canadiens puckstopper Mike Condon. And while Condon has more wins, no starting netminder has made more saves at a lower price than Mrazek. At all strengths, Mrazek has turned aside 312 of 334 shots, has posted a 2.16 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.
While his five wins aren’t as impressive as Condon’s seven, Mrazek has made up for it in stealing games for Detroit. A fifth-round pick, 141st overall, of the Red Wings in 2010, Mrazek is playing in his second full season in Hockeytown and is already looking like the future starter. If he doesn’t take over the No. 1 job by season’s end, he’s got more than a good shot at taking over next season.
The worry for the Red Wings, though, is that Mrazek is almost certainly due a raise at the end of the year. Making just $737,500, he’s an absolute steal in goal. Better yet, he’s only 23, so there’s plenty of great hockey left in Mrazek. The Red Wings look to have found yet another steal.
(Salary information/cost-effectiveness data via HockeysCap.com)