When the NHL implemented the salary cap over a decade ago, they changed how teams needed to build their rosters. Getting as much talent on board wasn't the end-all-be-all. Handing out large contracts carried a much larger risk than previously before. If the player fails to live up to the deal, it hinders the team's ability to bring on more talent in the future or simply retain their current players.
It made things harder for many teams. Now, it wasn't just about just hitting on players when you acquire them. But you also have to hit on their contract when you're negotiating with them. Every fan base has a player on their team that they absolutely despise. Not because they're a terrible player, but because they get paid well beyond their skill level.
In this article, we'll be looking at every NHL team's best contract for the 2016-17 season. Each player's past production, consistency, and potential will be weighed against their cap hit to make each selection. Though, we'll be excluding entry-level deals as their essentially designed to keep young, talented players on deals well below market value.
29 Anaheim Ducks - John Gibson
For the next three seasons, the 22 year old John Gibson is going to carry a $2.3 million dollar cap hit. If he plays anything like he did this past season, the Ducks are going to be very happy with that contract.
He was signed following a decent first season where Gibson recorded a 2.60 GAA and a .914 SV% over 21 starts. He's surely wishing he had waiting a year now though. In the 15-16 season he had an outstanding 2.07 GAA and a .920 SV% over 38 starts.
There's a good chance he could be even better next year. Goalies seldom have this kind of success early on in their career. It typically takes them several years to hit their stride. But Gibson is excelling after just 62 career starts. It may not be long before he becomes a household name.
28 Arizona Coyotes - Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Arizona has just seven players under contract for next season at the moment, excluding a handful of players on entry-level deals, as well as Chris Pronger.
Thankfully, one of those players is Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The young blueliner has a case for being the NHL's best defenseman. He has a hard, accurate shot and plays very intelligently. In addition, his numbers have been improving every year he's been in the league. He's already great, and he's going to get better.
Today, the best defensemen get around $7 million a year, sometimes a little more. Ekman-Larsson is making quite less than that at just $5.5 million. He'll be on that deal for another three years as well, so that contract is going to keep getting better and better as the salary cap goes up.
27 Boston Bruins - Brad Marchand
Brad Marchand has been one of the best goal scorers in the NHL throughout his career. Since his rookie year, he's averaged just over 25 goals a season, including 37 this past year.
Talented goal scorers are rare commodities in the NHL. Marchand's $4.5 million salary is far less than what he would get on the open market. He'll be a bargain next year even if he returns to his 25 goal average. He'll be an absolute steal if he comes close to repeating what he did in 2015-16.
26 Buffalo Sabres - Robin Lehner
Robin Lehner was a former second round pick by the Ottawa Senators in 2009. His five year tenure there was a bit of a mixed bag. He had some stints where he looked to be one of the best up-and-coming goalies in the league, and others where he struggled. Though, this isn't uncommon at all with young goaltenders.
He was dealt to the Sabres in exchange for their first round pick this past off season. In limited action he looked very solid, posting a .924 SV% and a 2.47 GAA.
Lehner will have a shot at the starting job next year. He has all the talent needed to put together a true breakout season. With a cap hit of just over $2.2 million, it's a low-risk/high-reward situation for Buffalo.
25 Calgary Flames - T.J. Brodie
The Flames certainly have no shortage of talented defensemen, but T.J. Brodie stands out among them. He sets up plays very well from the back end with his skating ability and pinpoint passing. On the other end of the ice, he plays solid defense and rarely makes mistakes.
It's no surprise why he's become a leader on his team, as well as a favorite among fans. Everything he brings is absolutely worth his $4.65 million cap hit and if they had to the Flames would surely be willing to pay a bit more.
24 Carolina Hurricanes - Elias Lindholm
Elias Lindholm will be playing the next two years with a $2.7 million cap hit. If you just look at his production, you can see how nice of a deal that is. He has played all but one game over the past two years and has finished one point shy of 40 both times.
But his contract isn't just nice, it's an absolute steal. He was a fifth overall pick in 2013. He's only going to be 22 next season and already displayed his talent at the NHL level as well as developed good chemistry with star forward Jeff Skinner.
He's going to have a breakout season very soon. Everything is set up perfectly and the Canes are going to be paying next to nothing it.
23 Chicago Blackhawks - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Durability is a valuable trait in the NHL and Niklas Hjalmarsson absolutely has it. Over the past four seasons, the defenseman has missed a grand total of four games. Surprisingly, he is one of the more physical players on the team; you would think that would make him much more injury prone.
He has a cap hit of just $4.1 million. On most teams, he would be a number one defenseman. Unofficially, some consider him to be on Chicago's number one pairing, as he's often sent out against their opponents' top line. Either way, he's been a key player to the success of the Blackhawks and a favorite among their fans.
22 Colorado Avalanche - Gabriel Landeskog
Gabriel Landeskog was the second overall pick in the 2011 draft and he has lived up to the hype. The young player has already taken over the captaincy in Colorado. He's talented, physical, and likes to lead by example.
He's also very consistent. With the exception of the shortened 2012-13 season, Landeskog has gone over 50 points every season of his NHL career. He still has plenty of potential and it wouldn't be surprising to see him improve even further.
When you consider everything that Landeskog brings to the table, his cap hit of just over $5.5 million feels like a steal.
21 Columbus Blue Jackets - Cam Atkinson
Cam Atkinson was a sixth round pick back in 2008. Despite that, he managed to break into the NHL at a relatively young age of 22 years old. It took him a couple years to solidify himself as part of the lineup full-time, but he has done very well ever since.
Quite simply, Atkinson is a goal scorer. Over half of his points have come from goals so far in his NHL career (86 goals compared to 79 assists), a fairly uncommon stat.
Over the past three seasons, Atkinson has recorded 70 goals with a fair increase in production this past season. He's only getting better and plays one of the NHL's most valuable roles. Blue Jackets' fans should be very excited about him moving forward as the team has him on a favorable contract; $3.5 million for the next two years.
20 Dallas Stars - Jamie Benn
Over the past three seasons, Jamie Benn has a combined 255 points and 110 goals. He was a First Team All-Star two years ago and Second Team last year. He also managed to take home an Art Ross Trophy for being the league's top scorer in 2014-15.
Benn is a Superstar in this league, but he isn't paid like it. His cap it for next season is a mere $5.25 million. He has four teammates that are going to make more than that!
To put it into perspective, his three year totals are comparable to Patrick Kane (123 goals, 239 points) and Sidney Crosby ( 100 goals, 273 points). Kane has a cap hit of $10.5 million and Crosby's is $8.7 million. His contract is an absolute bargain when you look at what he brings.
19 Detroit Red Wings - Tomas Tatar
The Red Wings have yet another highly talented player on their roster that's flying under the radar. This time it's Tomas Tatar, a forward who slipped quite a bit in the 2009 Draft despite putting up impressive numbers, likely due to his small size.
Tatar has been doing well for himself. It took him some time to earn a full time role on the Red Wings roster, but he certainly didn't let them down. In 2014-15, he scored nearly 30 goals and 60 points. This past season, his numbers took a dip but were still impressive.
He's not only productive, he's fun to watch. There are some players who are very talented, but excel at doing the work that doesn't get appreciated. Then there are the flashy players, the ones who specialize in the glamorous roles. Tatar belongs to the latter.
He's very young and he's only getting better. Next season, he's going to be a Red Wing for a mere $2.75 million - an absolute steal.
18 Edmonton Oilers - Taylor Hall
Taylor Hall has the potential to be among the elite NHL forwards. He's three years removed from hitting the 80 point mark. The following season, he missed a significant amount of games, but managed to rebound this past season.
The Oilers are a team struggling right now, but Hall is part of the answer. He's a player the franchise can build around, not something you can often say about wingers.
He currently has four years left on his deal that carries a cap hit of $6 million. While that's quite a bit of money, Hall has shown he's worth every penny already. If Edmonton can get some more surrounding talent, his production could increase significantly.
17 Florida Panthers - Jonathan Huberdeau
Jonathan Huberdeau's rookie year was the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. He came into the league on fire and went on to win the Calder Trophy. After a bit of a sophomore slump, he's rebounded and become known as one of the league's top young stars.
Currently, he's among the top producers on a very talented Panthers squad. He's only going to get better too. But next season the Panthers are going to get his production for a measly $3.25 million.
16 Los Angeles Kings - Jake Muzzin
Jake Muzzin is a highly talented offensive defenseman for the Los Angeles Kings. He was a late round pick nearly a decade ago but finally got a full-time shot in the 2012-13 season. At first, he drew a large amount of criticism due to his various mistakes. Though, this was more because of the timing rather than Muzzin being prone to errors.
The past couple seasons, Muzzin has been very successful. He's been averaging about 40 points a season on the blue line. At this stage, Muzzin is among the NHL's most underrated defensemen. For the 2016-17 season, he has a very affordable $4 million dollar cap hit.
15 Minnesota Wild - Jonas Brodin
Jonas Brodin is just 22 years old and was the 10th overall pick in the 2011 NHL draft.
The Wild currently have him on a contract that carries a cap hit of just over $4 million. He gets some criticism for his low point totals, but typically scoring is just a bonus when it comes to defenseman.
He does his job and he does it well. He isn't flashy about it, as he shuts down his opponents and doesn't let them makes plays. Nearly any team in the league would kill for someone like Brodin right now and he's only going to get better as he gets more experience.
Montreal Canadiens - Max Pacioretty
Players who can put up 30 goals in a season don't come cheap. Except for Pacioretty.
At a cap hit of just $4.5 million, the star forward has been able to score 30 goals in every season that he's played at least 70 games. He even came very close to hitting 40 in 2014 and 2015.
Barring an injury, there's no reason to believe the Montreal captain shouldn't be able to put up similar numbers next year.
14 Nashville Predators - Roman Josi
There's a good case to be made that Roman Josi is better than Shea Weber. He finished fifth in the Norris Trophy voting last year and. frankly, that was a bit low. He's certainly the Predators' most complete player.
He may have one of the best contracts in the league, to the point where the Predators might actually feel bad about it. The elite defenseman is currently locked into a deal that's going to pay him an average of $4 million a year for the next four seasons. Not only that, but Josi is going to be 26 years old next season. This means that Josi is going to be playing way below market value for the duration of his prime years.
The Predators got insanely lucky here and should be very excited about their future.
13 New Jersey Devils - Adam Henrique
Adam Henrique is among the NHL's most underrated players. The former third round pick is capable of doing anything, as he's talented in all third phases of the game.
This past season, Henrique recorded 30 goals, nearly double what he had in 2014-15. Players who can put up that kind of production, as well as play solid, mistake free hockey are worth a lot in the NHL. Certainly more than the $4 million Henrique is getting paid. For the next three years, the Devils are going to be getting great value out of his contract.
12 New York Islanders - John Tavares
It's hard to get elite players in the NHL. It's several times harder to get elite players on contracts that have a cap hit of under $6 million. Yet, for the next two years, the islanders are going to have a perennial Hart Trophy contender on board for a mere $5.5 million.
John Tavares is the type of player every General Manager wants to build their team around. He's a leader, he's a quarterback on the ice, he kills it in the playoffs, and he can flat out carry a team. He's a true Superstar in the NHL and the list of players that make more than him is insane.
11 New York Rangers - Ryan McDonagh
The whole situation surrounding Ryan McDonagh is quite enjoyable for the Rangers. In 2007, they signed Scott Gomez to one of the worst contracts in recent memory. Somehow, they managed to trade him to Montreal for Ryan McDonagh. Ever since, he has been one of the NHL's best defenseman as well as a valuable leader.
But it doesn't stop there. The 26 year old is going to be a Ranger for the next three years and it's going to cost the team a mere $4.7 million a season. His prime years are going to be spent in New York on a very team-friendly deal.
10 Ottawa Senators - Mika Zibanejad
Mike Zibanejad gets a fair degree of criticism from Senators' fans. He was a sixth overall pick from 2011 and hasn't exactly lived up to the hype. In his first three years, he recorded a combined total of just 54 points.
However, over the past two seasons, he's done much better, averaging just under 50 points. Despite being in the league for five years, Zibanejad will be just 23 years old heading into next season.
He has a very team friendly contract at the moment. He'll have a cap hit of just over $2.6 million for the 2016-17 season. This is a great deal for a player who can be expected to put up around 50 points next season with the potential for much more. Right now, he's a low risk/high reward player.
9 Philadelphia Flyers - Wayne Simmonds
In 2011, Wayne Simmonds was traded to Philadelphia along with Braydon Schenn in exchange for Flyers star and captain Mike Richards. Richards could be counted on to deliver 30 goals and 70 points a season as well as bring a strong physical presence to the game. As everyone can imagine, there were high expectations for the young prospects to perform.
Simmonds has lived up to his hype so far. He plays incredibly well in front of the crease and does a great job of making sure pucks go in the net. He's managed to put up similar numbers to Richards, recording 30 goals and about 60 points a year since joining, as well as being a very tough and physical player.
Simmonds contract is among the best in the league. Currently, his cap hit is just under $4 million and he's locked in until the 2018-19 season.
8 Pittsburgh Penguins - Patric Hornqvist
Patric Hornqvist plays hard. Every game he gives it his all and is willing to do the dirty work to help his team win. He has quickly become a leader with the Penguins.
He's also a talented scorer, which certainly doesn't hurt. In his two years with Pittsburgh, he's recorded 47 goals and 102 points. He's also been outstandingly consistent throughout his career, logging between 48 and 53 points on all but two occasions (one due to injury).
His production warrants his $4.25 million cap hit. But his leadership and work ethic are just as valuable. He's a player that every team needs. If he can keep doing what he's been doing, he'll be near priceless to the Penguins.
7 San Jose Sharks - Martin Jones
Martin Jones has only been a member of the San Jose Sharks for one season, but he's been incredibly impressive so far. He had previously shown quite a bit of talent in limited action with the Kings. He proved that he could handle the starting role when he recorded a .918 SV% and 2.27 GAA in 65 starts over the 2015-16 season.
Surprisingly, he was even more impressive in the playoffs. Prior to the Stanley Cup Finals, he recorded 12 wins in 18 starts as well as a .919 SV% and 2.12 GAA.
Sharks' fans should be excited about Jones moving forward. He is a talented goal tender who is under contract for the next two years at only $3 million.
6 St. Louis Blues - Brian Elliott
Brian Elliott was a low-key free agent signing for St. Louis back in 2011. Ever since, he's done an outstanding job in goal for the team. In his five years with the Blues, he's led the league in goals against average once and save percentage twice, including this past season. His worst statistical season so far came in 2012-13 where he recorded a solid .907 SV% and a 2.28 GAA.
In 2014, he signed a three year, $7.5 million dollar contract with the Blues. That's $7.5 million in total; not per year. His cap hit next season is going to be an insane $2.5 million.
5 Tampa Bay Lightning - Victor Hedman
Most defensemen peak in their mid/late 20s. Victor Hedman is just 25 years old and is already an elite NHL defenseman. He's a complete player, perfectly able to put up impressive scoring numbers while playing physical, stout defense. He was a big piece in Tampa Bay's deep playoff run.
The Lightning have him under contract for one more year on his crazy deal that has just a $4 million dollar cap hit. After that, you can bet keeping him on board will be their biggest priority.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs - James van Riemsdyk
James van Riemsdyk was the second overall pick by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2007. Throughout his tenure there, he was a player loaded with potential but just couldn't seem to take the next step. In 2012, Toronto dealt defenseman Luke Schenn in a straight up deal for Van Riemsdyk.
The deal paid off in spades for the Leafs. JVR stepped up almost immediately and became a consistent goal scorer. In his first two full seasons, he logged right around 30 goals and 60 points. He was on pace to do so again this season had he played all 82 games.
He's been a standout player for the Maple Leafs and it's only costing them $4.25 million per year. He has one of the NHL's most team-friendly contracts right now.
3 Vancouver Canucks - Erik Gudbranson
In a surprising move that happened only a few days ago, Panthers' fan-favorite defenseman Erik Gudbranson was dealt to Vancouver in exchange for McCann, a second round pick as well as a fourth.
Some Vancouver fans have been heavily criticizing the trade, due to giving up a high second round pick for a player who has such poor point totals and only one year left his contract.
Gudbranson is not an offensive-defenseman. He's a player who specializes in the back-end. He has potential to be an elite shutdown defenseman that can be a cornerstone for Vancouver moving forward. At just 24 years old, his best seasons are still ahead of him. His contract is insanely affordable too, a one year deal worth a mere $3.5 million.
Of course, this likely sparks a bit skepticism from Canucks' fans reading this. Some are reporting that Gudbranson turned down a 4 year deal that paid out $4.5 million a year. That's why he was being traded at all. Florida certainly would have loved to keep him, but you can't force a guy to play for you.
2 Washington Capitals - Evgeny Kuznetsov
Evgeny Kuznetsov will be in the final year of his contract next season, a contract that carries a $3 million dollar cap hit.
He signed that contract in the previous offseason after a solid 37-point season. A two year, $3 million dollar contract was fair at the time. But this past season he went off. He scored 20 goals and had a total of 77 points.
Even if his numbers next year take a moderate dip, it will still be a great value for the Capitals.
1 Winnipeg Jets - Blake Wheeler
Blake Wheeler signed a six year contract following the 2012-13 season that carried a cap hit of $5.6 million. At the time it was very fair given his production. He could be counted on for about 60 points a season. He lived up to it the first couple years of his new deal.
This past season, he went above and beyond. His 79 points was tied for the sixth best in the league, ahead of players such as Ovechkin, Seguin, and Tarasenko. If he comes close to doing this again next year, $5.6 million is going to be robbery.