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Top 20 NHL Bargain Contracts For The 2015-16 Season

Everyone loves a good deal, and NHL teams are no different. In a salary cap world, teams simply must have a few bargain deals on their rosters if they’re going to contend for the Stanley Cup. In fact, the two teams who battled in the Stanley Cup Final last season (Chicago and Tampa Bay) make up 20% of this list.

A lot of things have to fall into place to land a bargain contract in the NHL. Some of the players you’ll find on this list are on bridge deals, meaning they signed short two or three year deals after their ELCs expired, and have since proven that they’re worth a lot more than they’re getting.

Several of the defensemen who appear on this list are on bargain deals because they signed long-term contracts before they took that next step at the NHL level. A little luck is involved when acquiring inexpensive top-end talent in the world's best hockey league, but it also helps to have a savvy GM on hand.

It's almost the same idea as handling the stock market; you have to buy in early and cheap to hope your investment pays off in the biggest way later on. A good example of how buying in early can help you is in P.K. Subban. While he was a RFA following the 2011-12 season, the Canadiens could have signed him to a multi-year deal worth about $5 million a year, but the Habs chose to bridge him for two years. Subban responded with a Norris Trophy in 2013 and another great season in 2014, establishing himself as an elite defenseman. The Habs would then sign him to a massive eight-year, $72 million deal. While that's about right for an elite defenseman these days, just imagine what an amazing deal it would be for them had they signed Subban earlier.

Nevertheless, Marc Bergevin and other GMs still find plenty of bargains along the way.

Here are the top 20 bargain deals in the NHL for the 2015-16 season:

(This list excludes all entry-level contracts, or else of course it would be half full of names like Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Nathan MacKinnon, Aaron Ekblad… you get it.)

20 Jake Muzzin - $4 Million

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

At the onset of last season, Slava Voynov had a firm grip on the no. 2 defenseman spot in L.A., behind Drew Doughty. Before Voynov’s, shall we say, “transgressions,” Muzzin signed a five year extension with an AAV of $4 million.

19 Alexander Semin - $1.1 million

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll be the first to admit that this could be a terrible signing, but Alexander Semin is a raw talent who has been known to perform extremely well in contract years. After the Hurricanes bought him out in the offseason, the Canadiens signed the Russian to a one-year contract worth $1.1 million.

18 Roberto Luongo - $4.53 million

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo is a steal for Florida, but only because the Vancouver Canucks are stuck paying almost $1 million of his salary per season until 2020.

17 Roman Josi - $4 million

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Top-pairing defensemen are hard to come by in today’s NHL. If you have a player capable of playing on a top unit, it’s not unusual that you’ll end up paying that player somewhere in the range of $6.5-$7 million. Well, Roman Josi had a phenomenal season last year, playing the fourth-most per game out of all skaters—six seconds more per game than defense partner Shea Weber, who ranked fifth in overall icetime.

16 Niklas Kronwall - $4.75 million

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

A few seasons back when the Red Wings lost Nicklas Lidstrom to retirement, there was a huge hole left on the Detroit blue line. Without exaggerating, Lidstrom is one of the top-five defensemen of all time, so there’s nobody who could realistically fill his shoes.

15 Duncan Keith - $5.54 million

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

If you asked any general manager in the league to list the NHL’s top three defensemen, it’s safe to say Duncan Keith’s name would appear on most of the lists. A top three defenseman in the league, these days, is worth between $8 and $9 million; Keith is signed through 2023 at a bargain price of $5.54 million.

14 Jiri Hudler - $4 million

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

When the Flames signed ex-Red Wing Jiri Hudler to a four-year contract with a $4 million AAV in 2012, I actually thought it was a bad signing. Fast forward three years into the deal and Hudler’s $4 million cap hit is one of the league’s best bargains up front.

13 John Carlson - $3.97 million

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson had somewhat of a breakout season last year, putting up 55 points—fifth most among all defensemen. This season he’s slotted in on the Caps’ top pairing, and is projected top quarterback Washington’s top power play unit.

12 Victor Hedman - $4 million

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

You may be noticing a trend: if a top-pairing defenseman has a contract of $4 million or less, then you can expect to find his name on this list. Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning will collect just $4 million for his services this season in the Sunshine State, and that’s a steal of a deal.

11 Tyson Barrie - $2.6 million

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie is heading into the final year of a bridge contract that will pay him $2.6 million in 2015-16. Last season, Barrie emerged as Colorado’s best offensive defenseman, scoring 53 points in 80 games.

10 Jamie Benn - $5.25 million

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Now, it’s tough to say someone who is making $5.25 million per season is underpaid, but hear me out. Jamie Benn is coming off a season that saw him take home the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer. His $5.25 million is well below market value.

9 Jakub Voracek - $4.25 million

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux make up one of the deadliest offensive duos in the NHL. Voracek really came out of his shell last season, as he led the entire NHL in points for a good portion of the year, and he finished tied for fourth overall. That earned the 26-year-old Czech a contract extension worth $8.25 million per season.

8 Jaden Schwartz - $2.35 million

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Of course we’re not including entry-level deals, but there were bound to be a few bargain bridge contracts to appear on the list. Jaden Schwartz is ranked as the eighth best bargain contract in the NHL at $2.35 million.

7 Ondrej Palat - $3.3 million

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Ondrej Palat is the second of three Lightning players to show up on this list. He makes up one-third of the now famous “Triplets” line in Tampa, along with Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov. The Triplets line was the most productive in the league for most of the 2014-15 season, and they’re staying together to start the year in Tampa (not to mention lining up on the first PP unit with Stevens Stamkos manning the point).

6 Ryan Johansen - $4 million

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

A number one center who is capable of putting up 30 goals and 75 points is a hot commodity in today’s NHL; only about half the teams can lay claim to having such a talent. That’s why these players are usually obscenely compensated, sometimes even creeping up to $10 million per season and beyond.

5 Kyle Okposo - $2.8 million

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Okposo took a little while to break out of his shell, but he finally did in 2014-15, putting up the solid numbers that pundits had been expecting for several seasons. If you combine his production over the last two years, Okposo has put up 120 points in 131 games, which is elite scoring for any NHL forward.

4 Keith Yandle - $2.63 million

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This is another one that comes with a bit of an asterisk, because one of the reasons Keith Yandle is such a bargain for the Rangers is because the Arizona Coyotes are paying half of his salary in 2015-16. The Rangers will get Yandle’s services at a cap hit of just $2.63 million this season, a great deal for one of the league’s best offensive D-men.

3 Tyler Johnson - $3.3 million

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The final member of the Tampa Bay Lightning to appear on the list is Tyler Johnson, who ranks third. Johnson in the centerpiece of the aforementioned Triplets line that was so productive last season and is staying together to start 2015-16.

2 Mark Giordano - $4.02 million

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Giordano has played his way into the top-10 of all current NHL defensemen. He’s the captain of the Calgary Flames and he led the team to relevance last season in a year when nobody expected the Flames to be even competent.

1 John Tavares - $5.5 million

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

If you did a hockey draft with your buddies this year, I’d be willing to bet that John Tavares went in the top three. Barring an injury, Tavares’ name will surely be in the top five, at least, when you look at the scoring leaders at the end of the season. While $5.5 million isn’t a small amount of money by any stretch, it’s well below the current market value of John Tavares.

The $5.5 million cap hit is tied for 89th highest in the NHL, which is ludicrous for a player of Tavares’ ilk. The favorable contract has three years remaining on it, meaning GM Garth Snow has a few years to build a contender around Tavares before the cap becomes a major issue for him and his Isles.

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Top 20 NHL Bargain Contracts For The 2015-16 Season