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Which players could provide the most bang for their buck next season?

Jonathan Marchessault and Sam Gagner provided remarkable bang for their buck last season, costing their respective clubs less than $15,000 per point. Who signed this summer could do the same?

When Jonathan Marchessault signed with the Florida Panthers at the start of free agency last July, it didn’t get much coverage.

That wasn’t without reason, however. At the time of the signing, Marchessault was coming off of a decent seven-goal, 18-point rookie campaign with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the belief was he would be brought in as a third- or fourth-line depth forward, maybe suiting up in three-quarters of the campaign for the Cats. 

So, after he inked his deal, the Sun-Sentinel dedicated a paragraph to Marchessault in their coverage of the Panthers’ free agency acquisitions. In their coverage, the Miami Herald gave Marchessault only a brief, few-word mention. The deal didn’t find its way into our own coverage of free agency in 2016, and even on the Florida Panthers’ official website, Marchessault’s signing wasn’t given a dedicated story. It was thrown in along with the signing of Colton Sceviour.

It’s no wonder, then, that most were left amazed when Marchessault turned out to be one of the greatest signings of the summer. His early season success continued through the campaign, and by the time the season ended, Marchessault had 30 goals and 51 points, nearly four-times his previous career best and only three fewer than team-leader Vincent Trocheck. The most incredible thing about Marchessault, however, was his value. His two two-year pact with the Panthers was worth $750,000 per season, and his 51 points meant he provided a point for every $14,706 he was paid. That’s remarkable cost effectiveness for a free-agent signing.

But Marchessault wasn’t even the most cost-effective signing. Instead, that title belonged to Sam Gagner. After taking a month to consider his options and see where the chips fell, Gagner inked a one-year, show-me deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets for $650,000, a far cry from the $4.8 million he was earning the year prior. The contract was a hit for the Blue Jackets, though.

Gagner, like Marchessault, came out flying in the early season, and the 2007 sixth-overall pick looked to have his career back on track in the early going. He kept it rolling through the entire campaign, too, matching his career-best goal total with 18 and setting a new high-water mark in points, notching 50 for the Blue Jackets. That makes for a total of $13,000 per point.

It seems as though this summer there have been more signings with potential similar to that of Gagner’s than the Marchessault deal, though, as plenty of established NHLers signed for cheap with the chance to rejuvenate their careers. So, with that in mind, here are several players who could end up as the most cost-effective signing of the summer:

Benoit Pouliot, Buffalo Sabres

One-year, $1.15 million

With a cap space at a premium in Edmonton, Pouliot and his $4 million cap hit had to go, and that opened the door for him to sign on for cheap in Buffalo. Given the makeup of the Sabres roster, there’s a chance Pouliot could find himself working his way up the lineup and getting more ice time than he did last season with the Oilers, and that could work in his favor. 

Over the past four seasons, Pouliot has averaged .47 points per game. A similar rate across a near full schedule would put Pouliot at 35-plus points, and that would work out to little more than $30,000 per point. Not bad.

Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks

One-year, $800,000 (plus a $200,000 in performance bonuses)

‘Sharpie’ returns to Chicago and getting back to his old stomping grounds may be able to breathe some life into the back-nine of the 35-year-old’s career. He had the worst season of his career in 2016-17, putting up eight goals and 18 points in 48 games, but Sharp is going to get a chance at power play minutes and possibly skating in the top-six with Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane. That alone is worth a handful of points.

Sharp’s points per game rate over the past three seasons gives him potential to hit the 50-point plateau, but let’s assume he slips down to 40 on the year. Based on his $800,000 cap hit, that would work out to an even $20,000 per point, and $25,000 per point if he hits his performance bonuses.

Nail Yakupov, Colorado Avalanche

One-year, $875,000

Yakupov’s next shot at redemption comes in Colorado, and while he may not be the first name that comes to mind, the 23-year-old is likely going to get more opportunity with the Avalanche than he has anywhere else over the past few seasons. Plus, with the chance to play alongside Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog on the power play, Yakupov could turn into Colorado’s triggerman with the man advantage. That would be a boost to his numbers.

The reality check, though, is that Yakupov hasn’t scored more than 30 points in two years and his average over the past three seasons would put him on a 29-point pace in an 82-game season. That makes him a $30,000 per point player. If he really finds his game, though, he could cut $10,000 off that total.

Mike Cammalleri, Los Angeles Kings

One-year, $1 million

Injuries have really plagued Cammalleri over the past few seasons, and that plus his salary led the Devils to cut ties with the veteran winger. But New Jersey’s decision could turn into Los Angeles’ gain because even at his age, there are few shooters as pure as Cammalleri. Where he fits into the lineup with the Kings is going to have significant impact on how he performs, but as a sniper on the power play or a second-line winger, Cammalleri could do some serious damage, especially if he’s all healed up after battling injury last season.

And if Cammalleri is good to go, and stays that way for the duration of the campaign, he’s going to really push for the title of most cost-effective free-agent signing. His average points per game over the past three seasons would put him on a 53-point pace over an 82-game campaign, and that works out to roughly $18,850 per point.

Ales Hemsky, Montreal Canadiens

One-year, $1 million

Montreal was looking for some additional offensive punch when they inked Hemsky to a one-year deal, but it was somewhat of a gamble. After all, Hemsky missed almost the entire 2016-17 season due to injury, suiting up in only 15 games. He did manage to be a near half-point per game player during his brief stint in the Stars’ lineup, though, and that gels with what he did during his time in Dallas.

It’s not a given that Hemsky will continue to do that for the Canadiens, but Montreal needs offense from somewhere, and they could give Hemsky a bigger role than the one he had as a Star. If that’s the case, he could improve his point total and turn in a 40-point campaign. That would be $25,000 per point, making it a great deal for the Canadiens.

Scott Hartnell, Nashville Predators

One-year, $1 million

Clearly, the one-year, $1-million deal was a trend for veterans this off-season, and it’s certainly a deal that could work out extremely well for the Predators and Hartnell. In fact, of all the veterans who inked the $1-million contracts, Hartnell’s might be the one that works out best if he’s given the minutes to produce.

While skating just 12 minutes per night in Columbus this past season, Hartnell was able to pot 12 goals and 37 points, and he has averaged .62 points per game over the past three campaigns. That works out to 51 points over a full campaign, and that would put Hartnell’s cost per point below $20,000. If he winds up playing third-line minutes with some power play time mixed in, he could be a steal of a deal in his return to Nashville.

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