Money matters more than ever these days in the NHL even for teams that have a lot of it because there's a limit on how much they can spend. But the concern is just as great for teams with less cash to throw around, which makes it critical for everyone to make the right choices when it comes to paying personnel.
Some teams did a very good job getting value for their dollars in the free agent and trade market during the offseason, others no so much. With the NHL approaching its quarter pole, here's a look at who have been the bargains and the busts.
|Jeremy Roenick reached the 500-goal plateau recently. (AP)|
1. Jeremy Roenick, San Jose: Roenick, 37, was ready to retire because no one would give him a job until an old buddy, San Jose GM Doug Wilson, called him in late summer and offered him another chance. Roenick signed for well under $1 million, stopped drinking, dropped 10 pounds and has become a model citizen, leader and role player for the Sharks. Oh, and he's their second-leading scorer, too.
2. Eric Belanger, Minnesota: After jumping hard into the free-agent pool for the first time before last season, the Wild had fewer holes to fill this time around, but Minnesota can't complain about its most recent foray either. The Wild signed this journeyman center for $1.75 million expecting him to anchor the third or fourth line, not to be tied for the team lead in points as he is.
3. Eric Perrin, Atlanta: Perrin's biggest claim to fame before this season was growing up and playing college hockey with Martin St. Louis of the Lightning. That's one reason he broke into the NHL with Tampa Bay as a role player, but he got squeezed out last summer and was picked up by the Thrashers for a $750,000 salary. He has been on fire lately with 10 points in his past 10 games and is tied for fourth on team's scoring list.
4. Jeff Hamilton, Carolina: Hamilton is a late bloomer who didn't make it to the NHL on a full-time basis until last season with Chicago when he was 29. With all the changes made last summer by the Blackhawks, Hamilton went free and landed in Carolina for $800,000. He now quarterbacks the league's second-best power play, and four of his five goals and five of his eight assists have come with the man advantage.
5. Jozef Vasicek, N.Y. Islanders: The strapping center never quite lived up to his potential, which is why the Islanders were able to sign him for only $750,000. New York built much of its early season success around the first line, but in the last few weeks, Vasicek, who is tied for the team lead with six goals, has helped turn the second line, and particularly winger Miroslav Satan, into an important piece for the Isles.
6. Michael Peca, Columbus: Peca was another late signee, getting a deal for just under $2 million in August mainly because there were questions about his health. But he's only 33 and still one of the best defensive centers in the game and, more important, a very strong leader. The Blue Jackets have been one of the surprise teams of the season, and coach Ken Hitchcock has a lot to do with that, but the role Peca has played on and off the ice can't be underestimated.
7. Mathieu Garon, Edmonton: The Oilers needed a backup goalie, so they reached out to Garon, who has shown some flashes of brilliance in the past but generally struggled since joining the Kings in 2004. Edmonton is paying him $1.1 million, which is less than a third of what their designated No. 1 Dwayne Roloson is getting, but Garon's play and stats have been far superior.
8. Cory Murphy, Florida: The Panthers plucked this former NCAA star who was always considered too small for the NHL out of the Finnish league, looking for someone to quarterback their power play. Murphy, who has missed the past couple of games with a minor shoulder injury, has proved to be a very good value for the $825,000 he's getting paid, with a goal and 10 assists. He is tied for sixth overall in scoring among defensemen.
9. Petr Sykora, Pittsburgh: You can never have too much offensive help even if you're the Penguins and have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the lineup. Pittsburgh wanted to add a little more scoring depth and signed Sykora for $2.5 million, which isn't expensive for someone who is a top six forward in anyone's lineup. Sykora has done his job, too, with eight goals and five assists that have him ranked fourth on the team in scoring.
10. Richard Zednik, Florida: This organization doesn't like to spend a lot of money by nature, and when it does dole out the big bucks, the results can be questionable (see early returns on big contracts for Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton). But the Panthers did well in adding the offensive talents of Zednik, a veteran with 30-goal potential, for $1.625 million. He started slowly but has seven goals, second-best total on the team.
1. Thomas Vanek, Buffalo: This is bit of a stretch because Vanek was in Buffalo last season, but since the Sabres had matched an offer sheet to keep him, he qualifies as a free agent for our purposes. And a seriously overpaid one at this stage. Vanek was one of the NHL's best young snipers last season when he earned $475,000, and now he's getting $10 million this season and $50 million over the next seven years. But he's on pace to score about 20 goals, or fewer than half the 43 he had a year ago.
2. Dustin Penner, Edmonton: The Oilers, in case you forgot, made the offer sheet to Vanek and, when that didn't work, tried the same trick on Penner, the punishing young winger who was an important contributor to Anaheim's Stanley Cup last season. Penner got a 10-fold raise from the $425,000 he made last season, but he lost key Ducks linemates Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in the process. It has showed. Penner only has three goals.
3. Sheldon Souray, Edmonton: While Penner hasn't played well, Souray has hardly played at all, much to the chagrin of the Oilers brass. The Alberta native overestimated the price teams would pay in the free-agent market for a one-dimensional offense defenseman and then finally found a taker when he signed for a "hometown" discount of $5.4 million annually. Problem is Souray has played only six games because he hurt his shoulder -- in a fight.
4. Todd Bertuzzi, Anaheim: Does it seem like he's a regular on this list in the past few years? He was a bust last season with Florida and to a lesser extent with Detroit, but Ducks GM Brian Burke goes back with him several years to their days in Vancouver and stunned everyone by giving Bertuzzi a two-year, $8 million free-agent deal. Last season, he hardly played because of back problems, and this year, he suited up seven times for Anaheim before sustaining a concussion.
5. Sergei Samsonov, Chicago: The Canadiens were so anxious to get rid of Samsonov and his $3.5 million salary, they packaged him off in a trade to the Blackhawks for players they had dumped as soon as the deal was complete. Samsonov's change of scenery hasn't helped him get out of a coach's doghouse, which may have something to do with the fact he has no goals and is minus-5 in 14 games.
6. Manny Fernandez, Boston: The bright side for the Bruins is that they didn't give up much in the trade to get Fernandez from Minnesota. But when you're paying a guy $4.3 million, you expect him to be your starting goalie. Fernandez wasn't even before he hurt his knee. He played in just four games and had a miserable .832 save percentage and 3.93 GAA. Worse, the guy Boston already had, Tim Thomas, has played like a Vezina candidate, and he only makes $1.1 million.
7. Scott Hartnell, Philadelphia: The Flyers pilfered his rights away from Nashville during the Predators' fire sale in June and then signed the pending free agent to a six-year deal worth $25.2 million. It seemed like a good value because Hartnell is only 25 and scored 47 goals over the past two seasons, but unlike the other young newcomers in Philadelphia, he has really struggled. Hartnell has only one goal and is on pace for his worst career season.
8. Michal Handzus, Los Angeles: Handzus is a towering and powerful two-way center who is very tough to play against when he is at his best. He was off to a great start last season in Chicago before he blew out his knee and just hasn't been able to get back on track with the Kings, who signed him to a four-year deal for $16 million. Handzus has only one goal and three assists, and he is a minus 7.
9. Tom Poti, Washington: The ugly giveaway pass that cost his team a game in Florida on Thursday is not the only reason we're including him here. That's because Poti is a defenseman who is all about offense, something the Capitals desperately need and the reason they signed him last summer for $14 million over four years. He has missed six games with a groin problem, but he has only four assists, and his quarterbacking skills have not prevented Washington from having one of the league's worst power plays.
10. Jason Blake, Toronto: With all due consideration of the rare form of leukemia Blake was diagnosed with earlier this season, remember that it has not prevented him from playing in all 20 Maple Leafs games. And his 14 points in those contests aren't a horrible total, but Toronto signed Blake to a five-year, $20 million contract last summer because he was a 40-goal scorer. At least he was last season. This time around he only has two, and that's not what the Leafs counted on.