NHL Power Rankings: 30 Big Bargain Players Edition

Watch as Anthony Duclair rifles a one-timer past Cam Talbot off a perfect saucer pass from fellow rookie Max Domi.

Consider this week’s power rankings the inverse of this article, as we look at players that have no chance of being traded this season because they’re bringing their teams maximum bang per buck.

Who delivers the most for the least?

As usual, we rank the NHL’s teams according to their strength right now, but the write-ups zero in on 30 players who are earning much more than their keep — those sneaky value (or entry-level) signings that help offset the bad gambles and long-term blunders in a salary-cap world.

Enjoy them, club executives, before they start demanding monster raises.

It’s our NHL Power Rankings: 30 Big Bargain Players Edition.

Rank Team

The NHL-leading Capitals’ top producer outside of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kusnetsov, 23, has another year at $3 million. Top-three forward making bottom-six money. (Note: If new guy Mike Richards can make an impact in the playoffs, his pro-rated $1-million price tag could become the best value.)

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Our midterm awards selection for Rookie of the Year, Artemi Panarin has been a beast this season on Patrick Kane’s line. (And if you think it’s easy to be a force while playing with one of the most creative players of this generation, talk to Sidney Crosby’s lost linemates.) GM Stan Bowman drools when he sees Panarin under control through 2016-17 at $812,500.

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Everyone knew the deal was a bargain when the news broke last April: two more years of Tanner Pearson for $2.8 million total. Plus, the Kings will still hold the young winger’s rights when this contract ends. Pearson has been a dependable source of secondary scoring despite limited power-play use, out-producing expensive teammates like Marian Gaborik and Dustin Brown.

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For high-priced, high-end players, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are cheap. Did you know 108 NHLers have a steeper price than Benn’s $5.25 million per year? The defending Art Ross champ is second in overall scoring this year, yet the captain is the fourth-highest-paid player on his own team and won’t get a raise until 2017.

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We have a tie! Young studs Aaron Ekblad and Aleksander Barkov each make $925,000 and are the building blocks at the back and front ends, respectively, for a Florida team that seemingly cannot lose. GM Dale Tallon must decide to bridge or commit to his two most important impending free agents.

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Because he’s a smidgen younger and a touch cheaper, we’ll give J.T. Miller the bargain tag over Kevin Hayes, but both will be critical RFAs to re-sign this off-season. The six-foot, 205-pound Miller is well on his way to a career year, with 20 points through 42 games.

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Wonder rookie Colton Parayko skates more than 19 minutes per game, boasts a team-high plus-15 rating and has put up 17 points from the back end. Even better: He’ll make a paltry $858,750 again next season.

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Jason Zucker has more goals (11) for the Wild this season than Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Jason Pominville… and on and on. All of those goals have come at even-strength. Yet 17 players on Minnesota’s roster make more money.

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Thomas Greiss ($1.5 million cap hit) is pretty much exactly what you want in a backup goalie. He wins, and he’s affordable. In fact, Greiss has a better save percentage and more wins (13) than No. 1 Jaroslav Halak (10) despite seeing fewer starts.

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Nikita Kucherov ($711,666 cap hit) has surpassed Steven Stamkos as Tampa’s leading scorer and is the only Triplet to stay healthy this season. Here is one guy who will be re-signing with the Bolts this summer.

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Plenty of value contracts to choose from here. Three years of Max Domi at a $863,333 cap hit is the loveliest. The rookie notched his first hat trick Tuesday and leads all Coyotes with 22 even-strength points.

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In spite of the Habs’ tumble down the standings since Carey Price got sidelined again (the MVP won’t be back until after the all-star break), things could be worse had rookie Mike Condon ($575,000 cap hit through 2016-17) not been able to secure 27 standings points (and counting) in Price’s absence. Condon’s value turned Dustin Tokarski into a trade chip.

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We see you, Dylan Larkin, with your league-leading plus/minus rating. But where would the Red Wings be this season without the goaltending of Petr Mrazek, named the NHL’s Second Star of the Week? The 23-year-old Czech makes less than one-seventh of Jimmy Howard’s salary, yet he stole the American’s starting gig last spring and has been running with it since.

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Nathan MacKinnon ($925,000 cap hit) represents Joe Sakic’s most meaningful contract negotiation this summer. The forward is tied with Matt Duchene for the Avs’ scoring lead (37 points) and leads all Colorado forwards in ice-time.

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Though not quite as torrid as his rookie run, Filip Forsberg ($894,166) is still the Predators’ top-scoring forward with 28 points. Defenceman Mattias Ekholm delivers excellent value for his $1.04 million salary this season, too.

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As time passes and Derrick Pouliot’s impact remains a question mark, defenceman Brian Dumoulin looks increasingly more like the best portion of the Jordan Staal trade return. At an $800,000 cap hit through 2016-17, the 24-year-old is proving to be a dependable blue-liner, chipping in 10 assists and maintaining a plus rating.

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Despite his IR status, right wing Jannik Hansen has fit in nicely with the Sedin twins on the Canucks’ top line. Any player who ranks second on your team in goals (12) and first in plus/minus (+11) is worth $2.5 million.

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Michal Neuvirth (9-5-2) has excelled in an affordable backup goalie role, but Sean Couturier has come into his own as a two way centre, putting up a quiet 20 points while killing penalties. His raise to $4.33 million kicks in next season, but the 23-year-old is a bargain at $1.75 million for a few more months.

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The Sharks need more underpaid overachievers. Tomas Hertl, 22, represents the biggest bargain by putting up 18 points at a $925,000 cap hit. Hertl and fellow young forward Matt Nieto will be swinging for raises this summer when they turn RFA.

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Of all 30 players to hold their club’s lead in goals, perhaps Kyle Palmieri is the least likely. The 2009 first-round pick (Anaheim) is enjoying a career year. His 17 goals, 13 power-play points and two OT-enders are all team highs. The winger rakes a modest $1.47 million, and GM Ray Shero has already expressed his desire to re-sign him.

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Centre Ryan Spooner still has another season at a $950,00 average annual salary, and the 23-year-old is vital to one of the best power-play units in the league and is tied for the club lead in game-winners (three).

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Victor Rask, 22, has 15 assists and 11 goals, all but one coming at even strength. The Swede’s $650,000 cap hit will multiply come July 1, when he turns RFA.

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How interesting will the Johnny Gaudreau contract talks be this summer? The impending RFA has thrust himself into the fringes of the Hart Trophy conversation by racking up 40 points in 40 games, including five game-winners — three of which came in overtime. Not bad for a guy making less than a million bucks.

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Even if he doesn’t light another lamp this season, 20-goal man Mike Hoffman will have earned every penny of his $2 million salary. The few NHLers with more goals than Hoffman will make anywhere from $13.8 million to $5.75 million this year.

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Rookie Connor Hellebuyck has a winning record and .934 save percentage since being called up to fill in for the injured Ondrej Pavelec, but the value centre Mark Scheifele brings (23 points in 37 games) at a $863,333 cap hit is silly. Somehow this expiring contract gets pushed to the background with the impending decisions that must be made on Jacob Trouba, Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien.

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Whenever the notion of trading Dion Phaneuf popped up, the chorus replied, “But who is going to skate all those minutes?” Now Phaneuf, who led all Leafs in ice time last season by more than two minutes a night, isn’t even the most-used Toronto player. That would be stay-at-home D-man Matt Hunwick — a significant pillar in Toronto’s improved structure. He makes about one-sixth of Dion’s salary.

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The top-heavy payroll of the Ducks gets by with some excellent cheap labour from Rickard Rakell, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatenen. But GM Bob Murray’s extension of rookie netminder John Gibson for three more years at $2.3 million is brilliant. This season Gibson was named to the All-Star Game at a $721,666 cap hit.

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Of course, a case for super rookie Jack Eichel can be made here, but how about Rasmus Ristolainen? Despite playing defence, the Finn is second in team scoring (28 points). He also runs the power play, leads all Sabres in ice time by about three minutes per game, and makes $925,000. Kid is 21. Six other Sabres D-men make as much or more than him.

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Connor McDavid is the big-picture pick here, with three seasons of entry-level money owed to a generational talent. But due to McDavid’s injury, Leon Draisaitl has delivered the most bang for the Oilers’ buck in 2015-16 — 34 points in 34 games for the big pivot, squashing the notion that he’s not NHL-ready.

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Seth Jones, 21, jumps into the lineup as a top-four defenceman making bottom-four money. Both Jones and Ryan Murray, 22, skate piles of minutes and deliver plenty of value for sub-$1-million cap hits. Both will be negotiating raises this summer as a result.

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(stats via NHL.com, General Fanager)

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