In a salary capped NHL where every dollar spent on a superstar is one not spent on roster depth, it can be easy not to notice the rookies and journeymen making $1 million or less at the bottom of the pay scale. But those players can play a crucial role in their team’s success, supplying the offense of a much more expensive player while making pennies on the dollar.
Every general manager is working with the same salary range, but the savvy ones have found ways to acquire cheap secondary scorers who are more than worth their annual salary.
Oftentimes these bargains take the form of phenomenal rookies on entry-level deals, but other times they’re former stars taking a one-year deal to prove their worth, or career journeymen who are steady but unspectacular.
A look at the top teams getting points from their bargain players shows it's not just the rebuilding teams who are buying points on a budget.
And in most cases, one spectacular scorer on an entry-level deal is not enough to elevate his team onto this list. For instance, Vladimir Tarasenko has 10 goals and 21 points for the St. Louis Blues on a contract that pays him $900,000 in base salary, but there are no other significant players on entry-level deals playing with him. The next-highest scorer on his team making six figures is Joakim Lindstrom and his three goals.
Los Angeles is buoyed by Tyler Toffoli (eight goals, 18 points on a $685,000 salary) and Tanner Pearson (seven goals, 10 points and $775,500 this year), along with million-dollar-man Jake Muzzin and his one goal and seven points. But the Kings haven’t used many young players beyond those three, and so they don’t have the production to crack the top five.
Here’s a look at the five teams getting the most point production out of their players making $1 million or less in salary this year.
Note that this is based on what players are making this year - not on their cap hits, which can be much higher than $1 million for entry-level players with bonuses in their contracts.
5. Carolina Hurricanes (19 goals, 41 points)
The Carolina Hurricanes are clearly in a rebuilding mode this year, and most of their bargain basement contributions are coming from players on entry-level deals. Half of the players in their forward corps are making $1 million or less, while Brett Bellemore is the only defender making less than seven figures right now.
Pending RFA Riley Nash is carrying the offensive load for the Hurricanes, leading the team with four goals and 12 points through 16 games, while making just $600,000. Teenaged sophomore Elias Lindholm is next on the bargain list, with six goals and nine points on an entry-level deal worth $925,000.
Jay McClement is the only veteran making $1 million with the team on a one-year deal.
The Hurricanes are about $4 million under the cap right now.
4. Ottawa Senators (18 goals, 43 points)
The Ottawa Senators have always been a money-conscious team, and general manager Bryan Murray has found ways to do more with less. His squad sits in the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference as of this writing, despite having the lowest payroll in the league, with more than $16 million in cap space.
Murray is getting great production out of his young, mostly homegrown talent. The surprising Mark Stone is making $575,000 in base salary this year and has five goals and nine points. Alex Chiasson, whom the Sens picked up in the Jason Spezza deal, has four goals and nine points while playing on an entry-level contract. And 24-year-old Mike Hoffman is the Sens’ second-leading goal scorer, with seven goals and eight points in 14 games.
The Ottawa Senators have five players with six or more points so far this season, and there are no vets on $1-million contracts. They’re all young and on the upswing.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning (18 goals, 45 points)
This isn’t just a list of rebuilding teams loaded with prospects. The Tampa Bay Lightning are one of the best teams in the East, and they’re near the top of the league because their cheap players are contributing in a big way.
Nikita Kucherov has been a steal at $711,667 in base salary in the second year of his entry-level deal. The sophomore Russian forward has six goals and 15 points through 18 games this season, and he still has another year on his deal before the Bolts will have to pay him what he’s worth.
Much-hyped prospect Jonathan Drouin has one goal and eight points on his rookie deal, while speedy Vladislav Namestnikov has three goals and seven points in the last season of a $925,000 base contract.
Defenceman Radko Gudas is the only player making $1 million in salary this year. He has one goal and three assists, but his value extends beyond his point production on the blueline.
Tampa is right up against the salary cap right now, but has some relief with injured Victor Hedman on long-term injured reserve.
2. Minnesota Wild (16 goals, 48 points)
The Minnesota Wild are going to have to get creative to pay all their skilled young players next year, but for now, they’re getting bargains on a number of important pieces on their roster.
Chief among them is Jonas Brodin, who has only two assists so far this season, but who regularly plays more than 24 minutes a game. Brodin’s six-year, $25-million contract extension doesn’t kick in until next year.
In terms of points, the Wild’s top scorers making less than $1 million are both up for raises next year. Charlie Coyle has two goals and nine points on a $900,000 entry-level deal, with a five-year, $16-million contract extension set to kick in next season. Ryan Carter also has two goals and nine points, but he’ll be an unrestricted free agent next year after his $725,000 deal expires.
Justin Fontaine has one goal and seven points on a $950,000 salary with a $1-million cap hit, which extends into next year. Mikael Granlund has two goals and seven points on the last year of his entry-level deal, while Jason Zucker has five goals and seven points with one more year to go on a contract that pays him $850,500 this year.
1. Calgary Flames (26 goals, 56 points)
You’ve got to hand it to Flames GM Brad Treliving and his predecessor, Brian Burke. The cupboard was bare in Calgary just a scant few years ago, but they’ve managed to pack it with cheap talent acquired through the draft, trade and college free agency.
Their draft picks and cheap free agents are contributing in a big way this year, which puts them on top of this list and, surprisingly, in third place in the Pacific Division right now.
To no one’s surprise, former sixth overall pick Sean Monahan leads the pack of bargain players on the Flames roster, with seven goals and 12 points on his entry-level deal. But right there with him is Johnny Gaudreau, the diminutive forward drafted out of college who has put up three goals and 12 points in the second year of his entry-level deal.
Paul Byron, long ago acquired in the Robyn Regehr trade with Buffalo, now has four goals and eight points on a $600,000 pact. Twenty-four-year-old Lance Bouma has five goals and eight points on a $775,000 deal, and college free agent signee Josh Jooris has four goals and seven points in the last year of his entry-level deal.
The Flames have almost $15 million in cap space, thanks to all the bargain performers on their roster.