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Hradek: Elliott, 10 others offering bang for the buck

Tuesday, 01.17.2012 / 9:52 AM / NHL.Countdown

By EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst

Last July, there wasn't any hoopla when Blues GM Doug Armstrong signed free agent Brian Elliott to a two-way contract that would pay the former University of Wisconsin goaltender $600,000 at the NHL level or $105,000 in the minors. After a difficult season split between Ottawa and Colorado, Elliott's new deal was nothing more than fodder for the transaction wire.
 
At that time, Armstrong was seeking organizational depth. He likely pegged Elliott as the No. 1 netminder for the club's top farm team in Peoria. Certainly, Armstrong couldn't have imagined that Elliott would not only earn a spot in St. Louis, but he'd merit a selection to the All-Star Game, too.
 
Now, Elliott stands among the best bargains in the League. In this week's edition of the Tuesday 10, I'll take a look at several other guys who offer their teams some serious bang for the buck.

1
Jamie Benn, C, Stars

Jamie Benn
Left Wing - DAL
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 29 | PTS: 42
SOG: 124 | +/-: 10
A fifth-round pick (No. 129, 2007) that blossomed into one of the League's bright young stars, Benn didn't have the leverage to demand a big entry-level deal. Thus, he has carried a very modest $821,667 cap hit over the first three years of his NHL career. That's going to change dramatically sometime between today and opening night of the 2012-13 season.
 
On the ice, Benn has made a successful transition from wing to center. With 42 points in 43 games, he seemed ready to top last season's career-best 56 point total. That chase was slowed over the weekend when he had to have an emergency appendectomy that will likely keep him out for the next 10-14 days and threatens his ability to participate in his first All-Star Game.
 
Barring any further health issues, Benn should return to establish new career single-season bests in goals, assists and points. And in the long term, he'll be a key piece to the club's future.
 
2
Alexandre Burrows, F, Canucks

A versatile winger who can score, check and get under the skin of his opponents, the 30-year-old Burrows is among the best bargains in the game, earning $2 million per season through the end of the 2012-13 campaign.
 
After graduating from the QMJHL undrafted in 2002, Burrows spent two seasons in the ECHL before getting a crack in the AHL. Eventually, during the 2005-06 season, he got a crack in Vancouver, becoming a full-time Canuck in the following season.
 
Over the past three seasons, he's missing just 10 games while totaling 89 goals and 166 points. In last spring's run to the Cup Final, Burrows tallied 9 goals, including the Game 7 overtime series-clincher against the rival Blackhawks.
 
This year, in his first 44 games, the Quebec native has 18 goals and 30 points as well as leading the team with a plus-20 rating. While he doesn't have many fans around the League, Burrows would be a helpful addition to nearly every team on the circuit.
 
3
Cal Clutterbuck, F, Wild

Cal Clutterbuck
Right Wing - MIN
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 18
SOG: 97 | +/-: 6
If they paid the former Oshawa Generals standout by the hit, he'd be making some serious coin. Clutterbuck has been among the League's top hit men since he arrived in St. Paul as a full-timer in 2008.
 
Now, even if the stats crew at the Xcel Energy Center is a generous bunch, Clutterbuck clearly brings the physical to the rink every night.
 
The Wild certainly understand his value, signing him to a three-year prior to last season at a cap hit of $1.4 million. That hit is definitely a lot easier to take than one of his bone-jarring confrontations that occur multiple times in any given game.
 
4
Jason Garrison, D, Panthers

On Monday night, in Florida's 3-2 shootout loss to Boston, the former Minnesota-Duluth standout netted his 12th goal of the season, in just his 44th game. That would be five more goals than he scored in the first 113 games of his NHL career.
 
The 27-year-old Garrison, who can deliver a lethal shot from the point, has found his way after a season and a half in the NHL. He's already established single-season bests for goals and points (20). And he possesses a nice plus-6 rating.
 
Last summer, Garrison took a bit of a pay cut in exchange for a one-way contract. His new deal, which runs through the end of next season, carries a very affordable $675,000 cap hit.
 
6
Kris Letang, D, Penguins

Kris Letang
Defense - PIT
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 19
SOG: 64 | +/-: 5
When you consider the dollars that elite defensemen can make in this league (see: Drew Doughty), Letang seems like an absolute steal at $3.5 million per year through the end of the 2013-14 campaign. He's a dynamic puck-mover who isn't afraid of a more physical game. I see him as a player who'll challenge for a Norris Trophy in the not-too-distant future.
 
Penguins management put the club in such a great contract situation by identifying Letang as a key piece of the puzzle and getting ahead of the curve out of his entry-level deal.
 
Last season, Letang put up a career best 50 points without missing a game. This season, he was poised to get into the 70-point range before being sidelined by a concussion in late November. He's slated to rejoin the club's practice schedule and his return to active duty appears to be imminent.
 
6
Ryan O'Reilly, C, Avalanche

While Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny are the first two names that come to mind when considering the Avalanche roster, third-year center Ryan O'Reilly is the guy that leads the team with 33 points in 47 games.
 
The 33rd pick in 2009, the Ontario native surprised many by earning a roster spot in Denver as an 18-year-old. He impressed with his mature-beyond-his-years, two-way game.
 
Avalanche coach Joe Sacco doesn't hesitate to use O'Reilly in all game situations and he's a go-to guy for big draws, winning 53.4 percent of his faceoffs.
 
He's currently drawing a $900,000 annual salary in the final year of his entry level deal. This summer, he figures to bank a nice raise on his next deal.
 
7
Jonathan Quick, G, Kings

Jonathan Quick
Goalie - LAK
RECORD: 19-11-8
GAA: 1.95 | SVP: 0.933
Identifying and signing core players can be vitally critical to a franchise's success in a salary cap league. The Kings' young goalie, who will turn 26 on Saturday, is a great example of that.
 
After watching Quick perform well in the latter half of the 2008-09 season as a rookie, team management signed him to a second contract some nine months before his previous deal was due to expire. Quick appreciated the confidence and security of a new three-year deal, while the team figured the price would only go up if they opted to wait.
 
It would have.
 
In the second season of a three-year deal that carries an ultra-reasonable $1.8 million cap hit, Quick leads the league with six shutouts and stands among the League leaders with a 1.95 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in 38 starts. Those numbers make him a serious Vezina Trophy candidate and a terrific bargain at his current price.
 
8
Matt Read, F, Flyers

The 25-year-old Philly rookie quickly gained the confidence of head coach Peter Laviolette, who hasn't been afraid to use him any game situation.
 
Read has 27 points -- including 3 game-winning goals -- and a plus-10 rating in his first 40 NHL games after completing his four-year college career at Bemidji State in Minnesota.
 
That's a great start for Read, who's in the first season of a three-year deal that carries a $900,000 cap hit. If he can build on his strong start, he could turn out to be even a bigger bargain than he is now.
 
9
Kevin Shattenkirk, D, Blues

Kevin Shattenkirk
Defense - STL
GOALS: 6 | ASST: 17 | PTS: 23
SOG: 91 | +/-: 17
In the middle season of his three-year, entry-level deal that carries a $1.3 million cap hit, the former Boston University captain has become a puck-moving minute-eater for Blues coach Ken Hitchcock.
 
"He's got excellent offensive instincts," Hitchcock says. "He reads things well and he knows when to jump into the attack."
 
After a 43-point rookie campaign that was split between Colorado and St. Louis, the 22-year-old Shattenkirk seems headed for similar offensive numbers. Offensive production aside, he's averaging 21:33 minutes per game with a strong plus-17 rating. No doubt, Shattenkirk has been a big part of the club's recent resurgence.
 
10
Derek Stepan, C, Rangers

A second-round pick in 2008 (No. 51), the Minnesota native has found a nice chemistry with Rangers' star sniper Marian Gaborik. That's important. After putting up 21 goals and 45 points in his rookie year; Stepan is making a steady progress in his sophomore season, putting up 10 goals, 30 points and a plus-15 rating through 43 games.
 
In the middle of his three-year entry level deal, Stepan's cap hit is a very manageable $875,000. If he continues on his current career path, that number will go up sometime in the summer of 2013.

Playing for my favorite team growing up, I've probably scored that goal a million times in my driveway. It feels good to actually do it in real life.

— Dale Weise, who grew up a Canadiens fan, on scoring the overtime winner in Montreal's 5-4 victory against Tampa Bay in Game 1