Bargain hunting: Counting down NHL's salary success stories

John Grigg of The Hockey News put together a really solid list of the NHL's best bargains this week based on their cap hits; solid in the sense that it sets reasonable ground rules (no backup goalies, no entry-level contracts) and then follows through with a well thought-out compilation. 

(Wes Goldstein of Sportsline had a similar list, but it was slanted towards guys like Joey MacDonald and Kris Versteeg, who are on their first NHL contracts. Plus, defense had no home on his list, and his list of salary busts was sexier.)

The list from THN:

10. Jiri Hudler, Left Wing, Detroit - $1.015 million
9. Peter Budaj, Goaltender, Colorado - $700,000
8. Mike Komisarek, Defenseman, Montreal - $1.7 million
7. Duncan Keith, Defenseman, Chicago - $1.475 million
6. Mike Smith, Goaltender, Tampa Bay - $950,000
5. Nikolai Zherdev, Right Wing, New York Rangers - $2.5 million
4. Johan Franzen, Right Wing, Detroit - $941,667
3. Zach Parise, Left Wing, New Jersey - $3.125 million
2. Henrik Zetterberg, Center, Detroit - $2.65 million
1. Tim Thomas, Goaltender, Boston - $1.1 million

Some of these are unimpeachable, like Komisarek, Keith, Franzen and Zetterberg, who probably should have been No. 1 here. Parise is a very shrewd choice, as the Devils are locked into that relatively low cap hit for high return until 2012.

Is this the first documented instance of the words "Zherdev" and "bargain" being placed in the same vicinity? Grigg's justification:

Zherdev has cooled somewhat of late (three points in his past five games), but he leads the Rangers in points with 25 and has had a number of highlight-reel plays this season. With Scott Gomez and Chris Drury disappointing so far, Zherdev has become the focal point of New York's attack. 

Did The Hockey News miss anyone? A few suggestions.

Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild -- $3.25 million

Too much money? Consider that Koivu could be on pace for a 90-point season with 29 points through 26 games. This is his breakout season as a prominent, sometimes dominant offensive player and a great defensive player as well. The Wild have him locked in at this cap hit until 2011, when it's going to look like a steal if he keeps progressing.

John Madden, New Jersey Devils -- $ 2.939 million

There was a time when that cap hit for a checking center was scoffed at, but Madden is so much more than a checking center. He's averaged 36.5 points over the last four seasons. He and Jay Pandolfo remain one of the NHL's best defensive duos. Without question one of the most important players to the Devils, and without question a bargain.

Martin Skoula, Minnesota Wild -- $1.8 million

Like Zherdev, another name you wouldn't expect to find under the label of high praise for a "bargain." He's been a much-maligned player in the past, but has developed into a key defensive stopper for Jacques Lemaire, frequently matched against the opponents' top line. And yet he makes less than four other Wild D-men.

Keith Ballard, Florida Panthers -- $2.275 million

The primary piece for Florida in the Olli Jokinen trade, he gives you toughness to go along with some offense here and there. Everything you need to know about his bargain status can be seen in his raise ($4.2 million) beginning next season. So he's only temporarily on this list.

Petr Sykora, Pittsburgh Penguins -- $2.5 million

Still a streaky player, but the numbers don't lie: He can get you around 55 points in an average season, and playing with the Penguins that average shoots up over 60. He had 28 goals last season, but he's behind that pace so far this year. He might eclipse Miro Satan's numbers for about a million dollars less on the cap.

Matt Stajan, Toronto Maple Leafs -- $1.75 million

Hard to argue with 23 points in 27 games for that amount of dough, but it's safe to say that the jury's still out in whether he can maintain that offensive pace.

Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils -- $5.2 million

Who cares if he's injured? Any discussion of the NHL's best bargains has to include the best goalie in the world (well, maybe) when you consider his hometown discount compared to what Henrik Lundqvist ($6.875 million) and Roberto Luongo ($6.750 million) make. Brodeur's salary has enabled the Devils to have some financial breathing room for the better part of his career. It's a selfless part of Marty's legacy that isn't discussed enough.

Any others that deserve some praise? And thanks to the great for the cap figures.

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