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Bargains & busts: Getting money's worth, worth less

by | CBSSports.com Staff Writer
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Next time you get riled about those Wall Street types taking home millions and millions, remember that there are more than 400 NHL players with salaries that have six zeroes following the first number. And just like the suits, the performance doesn't always justify the outlay.

No wonder those players who bring great return on investment are appreciated so much by their teams. So with more than one third of this season's schedule complete, here's a look at some of the best bargains -- and biggest busts -- so far.

Bargains

1. Carey Price: Remember how Montreal fans were clamoring for him to be traded instead of Jaroslav Halak after last season? The Habs brass didn't listen and ended up re-signing Price for less money than 21 other netminders are being paid this season. Meanwhile, Price leads the league in wins for the division-leading Canadiens and is in the top five in the key goalie categories.

With 17 wins and a .936 GAA, it sure looks like Montreal made the right decision with Carey Price. (Getty Images)  
With 17 wins and a .936 GAA, it sure looks like Montreal made the right decision with Carey Price. (Getty Images)  
2. Brian Boyle: The big Rangers forward was hit-or-miss to stick with the team during training camp, but the work he did with a former Olympic figure-skating medal winner helped him enough to make it. Good thing for New York, which is paying a minimum-wage salary and has already gotten 11 goals from Boyle, the second-best total on the team so far.

3. Sean O'Donnell: Philadelphia figured some depth was needed along the blue line after its Stanley Cup loss to Chicago last spring, and the 16-year veteran O'Donnell has filled the bill exceptionally well for a modest $1.3 million. That's less than anyone else on the Flyers' defense, but O'Donnell is playing nearly 17 minutes and is tied for the team lead with a plus-16 rating.

4. Mike Santorelli: He's no better known in Florida than around the rest of the league, but so far, the acquisition of Santorelli is having the biggest immediate impact of any move by new GM Dale Tallon. Santorelli has added much-needed speed and versatility to the Panthers' lineup for just $600,000 and he is tied for the team lead with seven goals.

5. Clarke MacArthur: The Maple Leafs signed him as a free agent for $1.1 million, which is tip money to the organization, and MacArthur has shown his gratitude by becoming the offensively challenged team's leading scorer with 21 points. MacArthur's nine goals are second only to Phil Kessel, who is costing the Leafs considerably more.

6. Anthony Stewart: His brother Chris has become a star with Colorado, but Anthony is starting to make a name for himself with Thrashers seven years after Florida drafted him in the first round. He has bounced back and forth to the minors since then, and is only earning minimum wage in Atlanta, but has turned into a solid third-liner who is contributing timely offense and some muscle.

7. Alex Tanguay: Calgary fans didn't exactly welcome the former Flames forward back with open arms when the team re-signed him over the summer, but no one seems to be complaining about him now. Of course there are plenty of other reasons for the Flames faithful to be concerned, but Tanguay, signed for one year at $1.7 million, has led or been tied for the team scoring lead most of the season.

8. Corey Crawford: If he had been born in Finland, he might have made the Blackhawks last season when the team opened its schedule there. Instead, Antti Niemi got the gig after a very close training camp battle and won a Stanley Cup. But Niemi is gone and Crawford is in Chicago, where he has effectively taken over the starting job from Marty Turco with a seven-game winning streak. He's earning $800,000.

9. Jeff Halpern: He was a low-profile signing by Montreal last summer, inking a one-year deal worth $600,000, but Halpern has delivered a lot of value with his solid two-way play. His strengths tend to be his defense and his faceoff ability, but Halpern has chipped in with some timely offense as well and is on pace to match his career-best numbers.

10. David Jones: A late-round draft pick by the Avs in 2003, Jones spent much of the last two seasons on the shelf because of serious injuries. He's been relatively healthy this season and is more than earning his $837,000 salary with 11 goals so far, which ties him for the team lead.

Busts

1. Ilya Kovalchuk: Look at the bright side. Kovalchuk has 14 years left to make his $100 million deal make sense for the Devils. But for the time being, he has become the focal point for what has been a disaster of a season in New Jersey. In his first 26 games, Kovalchuk has only five goals, which used to be a good week for him.

Jiri Hudler has had trouble getting back into the NHL mode in his return from the Russian KHL league. (Getty Images)  
Jiri Hudler has had trouble getting back into the NHL mode in his return from the Russian KHL league. (Getty Images)  
2. Sergei Gonchar: He was supposed to be the offensive trigger the Senators felt was missing from the back end the past few years. But if you look at the numbers Ottawa has been putting up, you'll know that it hasn't worked out so well. The Senators gave the 36-year-old free agent $16.5 million, but he hasn't had a point in eight games and is minus-14 on the season. Meanwhile, the Penguins, who made an attempt to re-sign him, are breathing a sigh of relief with Kris Letang stepping into and up in Gonchar's old role.

3. Jiri Hudler: There was an understanding between the speedy forward and the Red Wings last season when Detroit let him go to the KHL for a season because of their salary cap situation. But his return to the NHL has been a lot tougher than anyone expected, with Hudler playing mostly on the fourth line when he isn't a healthy scratch, and contributing virtually nothing for his $2.9 million salary.

4. Mike Comrie: The bright side for the Penguins is that they're only paying him a half million dollars and they haven't lost a game since he was hurt in late November. Comrie was a reclamation project anyway, a once very highly touted player whose biggest claim to fame at age 30 is being married to pop star Hilary Duff.

5. Olli Jokinen: He was the other half of the Flames' stunning repatriation act this summer, but unlike Tanguay, Jokinen has lived down to expectations. He was supposed to be a first-line center, and possibly a fit there for captain Jarome Iginla. Instead Jokinen is eating up $3 million in salary for this season and next and has only two goals to show for it so far.

6. Mike Smith: He was the key piece the Lightning picked up when they traded Brad Richards to Dallas a couple of years back, but his numbers have gotten worse in each of his full seasons in Tampa Bay. To be fair, he's not playing behind an airtight defense, but for the $2.2 million the team is paying him, the Bolts expect more than a save percentage well under .900 and a goals-against average of more than 3.50.

7. Nikita Filatov: Columbus drafted him sixth overall in 2008 expecting the presumably talented Russian to become a high scorer. That didn't happen under former coach Ken Hitchcock's tight defensive system, and the two butted heads as well, prompting the kid to go home last season. He's back now and earning $2.2 million, but not much has changed because he has yet to score a goal this season.

8. Marty Turco: One of the reasons Crawford is a bargain for the Blackhawks is that Turco has been a bust. Fortunately for Chicago, he's only costing the team $1.3 million for this season, a steep pay cut the veteran took to leave Dallas for a shot at redemption and perhaps the Stanley Cup. Neither goal looks particularly promising right now.

9. Alexander Frolov: A longtime enigma in Los Angeles, he was allowed to walk by the Kings and ended up on Broadway for $3 million. But the Rangers, who were desperate for some offensive help, haven't gotten much from Frolov, who has the talent to be a top-six forward but has just five goals and is getting third-line ice time as a result.

10. Tyler Bozak: Maybe it was unfair for the Leafs to expect the former University of Denver star to anchor their top line at center, but they did. And Toronto is paying him $3.7 million to do it, but Bozak hasn't really been up to the task with just four goals and nine points. There are lots of folks in Toronto who feel Bozak really isn't ready for the NHL just yet, but the organization isn't deep enough to have other options.

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