We already put together a pretty darn good team made up entirely of players on pretty bad contracts, so the next logical step was to try to put together a team of top players who are probably making far less than they should.
We decided to not include players still on entry-level contracts (sorry, Nathan MacKinnon) and instead focused on players who were already in a position to sign second, third or even fourth contracts when teams are faced with major decisions on how much (and for how long) to invest in their players. Sometimes teams get it wrong. Very wrong. Other times they hit home runs.
In the end, I wasn't looking for players who are simply kind of productive and cheap, but players who make a significant impact for their team and are making well below what should be their market value.
John Tavares, New York Islanders
Total contract: 6 years, $33 million
Total remaining against salary cap: 4 years, $22 million
The Islanders actually have quite a few guys who are on team-friendly deals that could have been options here, including Kyle Okposo ($2.8 million cap hit over the next two seasons) and shutdown center Frans Nielsen ($2.75 million over the next two seasons).
But let's instead focus on John Tavares, whose contract carries twice the cap hit of his aforementioned teammates. But if you want to talk about value, there are few in the NHL right now who are better than what Tavares is giving the Islanders at his $5.5 million cap hit over the next four years, taking him through what should be some of his peak years in the NHL offensively.
He is already one of the best, most dominant offensive players in the NHL and there will still be 75 players who carry a larger cap hit into next season. The Islanders will have the same or less cap space committed to Tavares, a perennial scoring champion and MVP-caliber player, than teams will commit to Brooks Orpik, Mike Smith, Dan Girardi, Tyler Myers, James Wisniewski, Blake Wheeler, Matt Carle, Shawn Horcoff and Mike Richards, just to name a few.
Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens
Total contract: 6 years, $27 million
Total remaining against salary cap: 5 years, $22.5 million
Last week there was an article on CBC talking about the worst contracts that belong to the NHL's seven Canadian teams, and for some ridiculous reason Max Pacioretty made the list, a decision that is so stunningly absurd that I just had to correct it to bring the universe back into some sort of balance.
Pacioretty is 25 years old, right in the thick of what should be the prime of his career. Over the past three seasons he has scored more goals than all but six players in the NHL: Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry, Phil Kessel, James Neal and Joe Pavelski.
The average cap hit for those six players this upcoming season: $7.5 million. Max Pacioretty's cap hit for next season: $4.5 million.
And he has done all of that while being centered over the past couple of years by David Desharnais. Not only is his contract not one of the worst in the NHL, it might actually be one of the best when you consider that he has been one of the best goal scorers in the league.
Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
Total contract: 6 years, $34.5 million
Total remaining against salary cap: 5 years, $28.75 million
Everything said about John Tavares and his contract for the Islanders could also be said about Tyler Seguin and his contract for the Dallas Stars. A young superstar who is already one of the most productive players in the NHL signed long term, through the prime of his career, for under $6 million per season.
When you have a young player this good and this productive it's probably best to do the opposite of what Montreal did with P.K. Subban: skip the bridge contract, and just go all in with the long-term deal, because it's going to end up being a steal. You need superstars to win, and when you can get them in the prime of their career for such a team-friendly price, it makes building around them just a little bit easier.
Christian Ehrhoff, Pittsburgh Penguins
Total contract: 1 year, $4 million
Total remaining against salary cap: 1 year, $4 million
Christian Ehrhoff gave the Penguins what can only be described as a gift when he agreed to join the team on a one-year, $4 million contract over the summer in free agency after the Buffalo Sabres used a compliance buyout on the remainder of what was a 10-year contract. He may never again be the 50-point blueliner he was during his days in Vancouver, but he is still an extremely effective top-four defenseman who can play 23 minutes a night, help drive possession and chip in a bit of offense.
He should be a wonderful addition to a Pittsburgh blue line that will already feature Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Olli Maatta. Given the going rate of defensemen on the free agent market this summer, this should be a steal, even if for only one year and even if his next contract is significantly larger.
Andrej Sekera, Carolina Hurricanes
Total contract: 4 years, $11 million
Total remaining against salary cap: 1 year, $2.75 million
His 11-goal, 33-assist performance with the Carolina Hurricanes last season earned him more recognition than ever before, but Andrej Sekera has always been a solid defenseman who has slid under the radar. He's been a positive possession player in recent years while playing some tougher minutes on bad teams.
This past season the Hurricanes outscored their opponents by a 67-61 margin during Sekera's 1,282 minutes of 5-on-5 play. During their 2,656 minutes without him, they were outscored 94-71. He's probably not going to repeat his offensive numbers from a year ago, but even if he's a 30-point performer (which is close to his career average over 82 games) that can help drive play that is still a steal at $2.75 million in a market where Deryk Engelland gets $3 million per year in free agency.
James Reimer, Toronto Maple Leafs
Total contract: 2 years, $4.6 million
Total remaining against salary cap: 2 years, $4.6 million
Honestly, either one of the Maple Leafs goalies could have gone here because not only are they the single biggest reason they were even a little bit competitive last season, but their combined cap hits of $5.2 million for this season is less than that of 14 individual goalies in the league.
I ended up going with Reimer because his cap hit is a bit smaller than Jonathan Bernier's against the cap, and I think he has a little more experience and a little bigger track record as a starter in the NHL. But honestly, given their performance and importance to the Maple Leafs, they're both steals. Reimer seems to get quite a bit of heat from the Toronto fan base and media, but without him this team would have been in serious trouble the past two seasons.