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The Best Bargains in the NHL

The first in a two-part series on the best and worst that money can buy in the National Hockey League. In Part 1, we start with the Five Best for 2012-13.

There is one part of the National Hockey League’s collective bargaining agreement that the National Football League loves. It’s a part of the NHL CBA that the NFL would love to negotiate into its next CBA.

In the NHL, rookies don’t get multi-million contracts anymore. So when you see a young player such as Taylor Hall, a third-year player who is the ninth-leading scorer in the NHL and you check his compensation at nhlpa.com, you’ll notice he makes “only” $900,000 a year. He’s probably a $5 million player and his bonuses will get him and extra $2.85 million (which still isn’t a lot for a kid with his talent) but because of the rules of the new CBA, he’s still on his first contract and that means he hasn’t yet hit the jackpot.

Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers

Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers

He’ll get his money. He will, indeed, become a multi-millionaire when his contract extension kicks in and he starts a seven-year deal at $6 million per season, but as his career progresses, fans will know that he actually earned the big contract. Hall, like his peers, didn’t get $50 million simply for being drafted so fans will know that he went through the league’s extremely fair CBA, signed an honest first contract and, eventually, when he did sign the big long-term deal, they’ll see a player who played like a veteran NHLer in order to get his money.

He paid his dues. He learned to be an NHL star and he went to the rink every day committed to giving the fans value for their hard-earned cash. The money he makes will be deserved – at least, in a professional sports kind of way.

Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs

Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs

Like Nazem Kadri of the Leafs, the No. 11 scorer in the league. Hall will make less than a million dollars in his base salary this year. Kadri, meanwhile, will make $810,000 this year. The way things are going for Kadri, that’s like getting a superstar for free, thanks to the CBA. But by the end of next season, we won’t be holding a tag day for young Nazem or Taylor.

But that’s also why Kadri and Hall can’t be considered bargains. Well, they are, thanks to the rules, but we all know these two guys and many of their young counterparts (Tyler Seguin, $900,000; Nail Yakupov, $925,000; Jordan Eberle, $787,000) would be making huge dollars if it wasn’t for the current CBA.

Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins

Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins

For the sake of argument, the real bargains in the NHL are the guys who have had relatively long careers and yet still don’t make what they deserve. Many are veterans working on what could be described as “final one-year deals.” Many are late-bloomers, players who didn’t become regular NHL players until they were 24 or 25 years old, six or seven years after they’d been drafted. Many others were late draft picks that learned to be good players.

So let’s take a look at five of the best bargains in the NHL this season (and remember, we are talking in National Hockey League terms  here. This isn’t what somebody should or shouldn’t make in comparison to the rest of the population):

The Fab Five: Bargain Basement Gems

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks, $2.75 million: The best second-contract player in the NHL at the lowest possible price. Couture is one of the best players in the game. He’s in the Top 60 in scoring and plays 18:07 per game. He has 15 goals and 13 assists and will be one of the leaders if the Sharks make the playoffs. There are plenty of guys making much more money than Couture who couldn’t even carry his equipment bag to the rink most nights.

Jiri Tlusty, Carolina Hurricanes, $1.5 million: This former Leafs draft pick is having a breakout year, Tlusty scored 17 goals in 79 games with Carolina last year and already has 17 goals in just 36 games this season. He’s the only reason the Hurricanes are still in the race in the Beer League known as the Southeast Division.

Jannik Hansen, Vancouver Canucks

Jannik Hansen, Vancouver Canucks

Jannik Hansen, Vancouver Canucks, $1.35 million: This is a guy who get a legitimate look as a Selke Trophy winner. A great checker who averages more than 17 minutes a game for the Canucks, Hansen is the poster child for all those ex-Manitoba Moose players who make up the backbone of the Canucks lineup (Ryan Kesler, Alexandre Burrows, Kevin Bieksa, Cory Schneider, Alexander Edler, Mason Raymond, Jordan Schroeder, Chris Tanev). Hansen has eight goals and 14 assists and is a plus-14 this season as he spends a lot of time checking the opposition’s top line. Hanson will make only $1.1 million in the final year of his fourth contract next season. This guy is a great bargain.

Cody Franson, Toronto Maple Leafs.

Cody Franson, Toronto Maple Leafs.

Cody Franson, Toronto Maple Leafs, $1.2 million: Just as Nazem Kadri is starting to reach his potential under Randy Carlyle, so too is Franson. The 25-year-old former third-round pick of the Nashville Predators is 6-foot-5, 220 pounds and it now appears as if he can play. In 35 games this season, Franson is playing 18 minutes a game and has three goals and 18 assists, 19th in scoring among NHL defensemen. He’s also a plus-nine. Perhaps, going to Sweden during the lockout was good for his game. He’s not a great hockey player, but he’s pretty good and he’s also big and young. Now on his third contract, Franson is a restricted free agent at the end of the season. He’s picked a perfect time to play the best hockey of his career.

Jonathan Bernier, L.A. Kings

Jonathan Bernier, L.A. Kings

Jonathan Bernier, Los Angeles Kings, $1.525 million: He’s a backup goalie making a backup goalie’s wage, but Bernier, 24, is the best backup goalie in the NHL. In 12 games this season, he has a record of 9-2-0, a save percentage of .927 and a goals against average of 1.77. When you consider that the No. 1 goalie in L.A., Jonathan Quick, is 13-11-3 this season with a 2.49 GAA and a save percentage of just .898 (terrible), it’s a good thing they have Bernier around.

This Thursday: The Rip-Offs: Five Guys Who Scammed Some Dumb GM to Get at the Poor Owner’s Wallet

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