Those of you who are regular readers may know that I am an insane hockey geek. Not only have I been avidly watching the fastest game on two feet, but I have been analyzing it. My love for the sport and the numbers surrounding it satisfy me on all kinds of levels. I am the ultimate hockey fan.
So to begin the season, I'm going to pick apart the digits, and tonight brings you the salaries. Every team will score sleepers and be afflicted with salary cap busts, and here's my picks for the best and worst deals on every club. To be fair, I'm dividing this into veterans and kids, with the cutoff being the birth year of 1985.
Tonight I'll start off with one division, and hopefully get to them all by the weekend.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils sport the highest payroll amongst any active roster, and there will be bargains and flops.
Bargain 25+ : Zach Parise, 26 , $3.125M
How is a guy with a salary of over 3 big ones an amazing deal? When he's Zach Parise, a man who has only missed 3 games in his entire career. The American Olympian has a string of 4 seasons with over 30 goals and is good for a point per game. With the added incentive of being in the final year of his contract and a bona-fide leadership role, do not be shocked if the Minneapolis product hots 40 and 100.
Bust 25+ : Brian Rolston, 37 , $5M , Cap hit $5.0625M
Sure, Brian Rolston is a durable power forward and a decent leader, but $5 million is just too much to pay for a guy who is being underutilized and will be 38 by the playoffs. As for the playoffs, Brian Rolston is the exact opposite of Claude Lemieux. This is a guy who has never played past the second round and has anemic playoff numbers. Throw in a no-trade clause and the fact he'll make this kind of dough next year and you've got a nice guy with a nasty paycheck.
Bargain U25 : Mark Fraser, 24 , $500k
With 3 starting defensemen out of the lineup, this big Ottawa kid will have a chance to shine. He plays the shutdown role like a young Bryce Salvador at 1/6 the salary. With a nasty streak shown in the minors and a 6'3" frame, there's a new reason to be afraid to get in Martin Brodeur's face. He'll never score, but he'll prevent goals selflessly and every team needs a guy like this.
Bust U25 : None
New York Islanders
The Isles have some flashy young stars and grouchy old veterans. With a healthy Rick DiPietro and a solid #2 in the ageless Dwayne Roloson, it might be more difficult to score on this club than in recent years. If all else fails, the boys from Long Island have $16 million in free cap space to score a few new saviours.
Bargain 25+ : Frans Nielsen, 26 ,$550k , Cap hit $525k
The lean Danish playmaker's time has come. With Doug Weight fading into a leadership role, space on special teams will open up for this heady speed demon to display the talents that made him a pro at age 16. With 2 years at microscopic wages, Isles fans will enjoy a couple of quality seasons from this disciplined late srrival to the Show.
Bust 25+ : James Wisniewski, 26 , $3.25M
One of far-too-many defensive-minded d-men on this squad, it will be this guy's chance to fill in at the point for Mark Streit. Make no mistake, this man is not Mark Streit. While he's shown some spark and a little toughness, he lacks the kind of overall package that one would expect from a guy who is one of the highest-paid players on the roster. Signing this man was a monstrous mistake that will thankfully only last a year.
Bargain U25 : Rob Schremp , 24, $750, 750
Coming off a knee injury, it will be local boy Rob Schremp's time to shine or fade into the minors. An accomplished AHL scorer who showed flashes of brilliance last season, #44 knows it is his time to prove he's worth a contract in the bigs. The former first-rounder has put up some incredibly exciting numbers in the past and could prove to be a worthy sidekick for John Tavares or any of the bounty of talents that the Island is possessed with.
Bust U25 : Nino Niederreiter, 18, $900k, Cap hit $2.825m
This young fellow is blessed with monster talent and over 200 pounds on his 6'2" frame. He's a reasonably tough Swiss power forward who loves to score goals. But he's a year or two away. He's got limited North american experience and is still growing. He'll cost a ton of money while he learns how to play, but will be a bargain in two years.
New York Rangers
After dumping off Wade Redden to the minors, the Rangers have a little bit of space to move and a great crop of stars young and old. The problem is that the spending insanity of the past is still on the shoulders of present management. This is a team that may not make the playoffs, particularly if fragile Marian Gaborik breaks a nail.
Bargain 25+ : Martin Biron, 33 , $950k, Cap hit : $875k
Good goalies who can come off the bench are hard to find, and happy backups who can play for months on end if #1 gets hurt are gold. Locking up this guy for 2 years may be the goaltending bargain of the division. Henrik Lundqvist will finally be able to take a night off without spiraling into a panic attack. What a gem.
Bust 25+ : Chris Drury, 34, $8M, Cap hit $7.05M
This was a difficult choice. Redden's salary is huge, but he's in the minors where those $6.5 million won't screw up the cap. Chris Drury is the captain of this team, a fantastic leader and great guy. Unfortunately, the little American Olympian is coming off of his worst season ever. What's more, his best doesn't come close to that expected of Marian Gaborik, Ilya Kovalchuk, or an infinite number of guys who make less bread. Nice guy, nasty paycheck.
Bargain U25 : Brandon Dubinsky, 24 , $2M, Cap hit $1.85M
Excellent player in the final year of his second contract. This is the player your team covets- ballsy, brainy, and full of heart. He's not blessed with the huge history of guys who were always stars, he's earned it every step of the way and will do anything to win. Barring injury, look out for a career year.Sweet.
Bust U25 : Mark Staal, 23, $3.1M, $3.975M
Blessed with good size and a hockey name, you'd think this guy is can't-miss. The thing is, he's neither a power play point man nor your #1 shut down guy. This Staal is not Superman, and doesn't have the flash nor the splat to warrant $20 million over the next 5 years.
This is my favourite team and has been since I started watching. That aside, the Flyers have a bounty on the blueline, with 8 guys who can step in at any time. Combine it with good forwards that can score and worries about injury-prone goaltenders may be put to rest. Make no mistake though, if too many defensive stalwarts get hurt, this team will be in serious trouble.
Bargain 25+ : Nikolay Zherdev, 25, $2M
After spending a year in Russia following some inconsistent play, this will be a fun year for fans of the big Ukranian winger. With Bill Guerin and Ian Laperriere on the shelf, this talented project will be able to fill a place on the anemic starboard side. With 4 possible pivots to set this guy up look for 30 or more goals, or 40 if he actually listens to Mike Richards.
Bust 25+ : Jody Shelley, 34, $1.2M, cap hit $1.1M
Goons have a short shelf life, and Mr. Shelley is getting up there. A former heavyweight scrapper needs redeeming talents to survive, and Jody Shelley can't score or defend particularly well. He'll probably be bought out by the playoffs.
Bargain U25 : Claude Giroux, 22 , $765k Cap hit $821, 666
If the playoffs are a taste of what this kid is made off, fans in Philly are going to shower this kid with mad love. As a natural centre ranked #4 on the depth chart, look for the wiry playmaker to shift to a wing on the powerplay or fill in for an injured player. He's an excellent 2-way player, reasonably brave, and on his way up. Steal him as a sleeper for your pool and thank me later.
Bust U25 : Andrej Meszaros, 24, $4M
The big Slovak is a young veteran with boatloads of talent and excellent leadership skills. All of these things make it difficult to slam him, but he's just overpaid given his situation. With the best core in the division, he'll spend most of the season in the #5 or 6 spot. $4 mil is just too much cheddar for this biscuit.
The champs of a year ago are out for revenge. Blessed with snipers, grinders, and goaltending; this could be a team to get excited about. Look for the usual big shots to bring the noise for the next decade or so.
Bargain 25+ : Mike Comrie, 30, $500k
This is the last chance for the diminutive husband of Hilary Duff. Coming off a monster contract that he petered out on, he could be a dandy little sniper in a pinch. With other guys hurting, Comrie will step in, and if he doesn't it's not much money lost. Even if he scores 15 goals, he'll be a great steal. If he garners more, look out for a big pay increase.
Bust 25+ : Paul Martin, 29, $5.5M Cap hit $5M
Paul Martin is a quality guy with a university degree and 6 years in the bigs. But he's never been the kind of star that would warrant being among the highest-paid blueliners in the pros. He missed most of last season with a devastating injury, but still has impressive skills and speed. He just lacks the terror factor and has $25 million in guaranteed wages that are too rich for what he is. If he crumbles under the pressure to replace longtime star Sergei Gonchar, he'll be an utter failure. Chris Kunitz is a close second in this category.
Bargain U25: Tyler Kennedy, 24, $725k
Was pushed in camp and responded nicely. The diminutive pest knows that the time is now. He's shown flashes of brilliance and clutch scoring. A playoff performer and sneaky little demon. Look to him for 20 goals, 40 points, and a whole pile of opponents annoyed.
Bust U25 : None
This crop of kids makes huge dough, and every one has been proven worth every penny. If absolutely required, I'd say Malkin's $8.75 million is a tad large.