Building a team from within your organization is of the utmost importance in today's NHL. Cherry picking star players from other teams is no longer an option in the salary cap era. Teams that develop their own talent and lock them in long-term at a young age are better off. They have a star player on their hands that doesn't cripple their cap, allowing them flexibility to constantly improve their team.
Here are the 12 biggest player bargains in the NHL for the 2014-15 season.
12 Cam Fowler - Anaheim Ducks - $4 million
The Anaheim Ducks need bargains on the blue line, because so much of their payroll is dedicated to their top forwards. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry account for nearly $17 million of the $69 million salary cap. That's nearly a quarter of the team's payroll for two players.
After Ryan Kesler, nobody on the team makes $5 million.
Cam Fowler is the team's no.1 defenseman, and his price tag comes in at $4 million. Fowler's taken on a lot of responsibility at the age of 22. He recorded 36 points last year in 70 games and helped lead Anaheim to the best record in the Western Conference and within one game of defeating the eventual Stanley Cup champions the L.A. Kings.
Anaheim manages their salary cap well. They have the eighth most cap space in the league and it's because they got younger this past offseason. They'll remain a cup contender for a while.
11 Jaromir Jagr - New Jersey Devils - $3.5 million
Ignore Jaromir Jagr's age for a second. If your team needs a short term solution for scoring, who do you think is one of the best options in the league? The Devils signed Jagr to a team-friendly deal at $3.5 million just through this season.
Jagr has remained productive throughout his second stint in the NHL. In fact, last year he put together a 67-point season in New Jersey. It'd be difficult for you to find someone around the NHL who puts up those kinds of numbers, yet only gets signed to a short-term deal under $4 million. Jagr looks like an ageless wonder and the Devils appear to be getting themselves a steal with the future Hall of Famer on their roster. We don't know how long Jagr can keep this up, but in the mean time, one-year deals with him look like a good investment.
10 Justin Williams - L.A. Kings - $3.65 million
The Los Angeles Kings have the re-signing Conn Smythe Trophy winner on their roster, all for the sum of $3.65 million. Justin Williams earned his salary and more with his playoff season alone.
He's Mr. Game 7 which is important because the Kings seem to like going to Game 7s. Williams put up respectable numbers in the regular season, scoring 19 goals and 43 points in 82 games, but it's his constant playoff production that makes him so valuable. His playoff stats last year included 26 points in 25 games. Even in the Kings' first Cup run in 2012, Williams scored 15 points in 25 games and nine in 18 games in 2013.
There are players that get you to the playoffs and get you through the playoffs. It's so valuable for the Kings to have the latter at such a manageable cap hit.
9 Victor Hedman - Tampa Bay Lightning - $4 million
It's a good thing Victor Hedman only carries a $4 million cap hit. The Tampa Bay Lightning don't have much wiggle room on their payroll - only $311,000 in cap space.
With players like Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan, Valtteri Filppula, Matt Carle, Jason Garrison, and recently acquired Anton Stralman, the Bolts' cap space is limited. At least their first-round draft pick from 2009, who has shown vast strides of improvement in recent seasons, is locked in at a good price. His contract runs through the 2016-17 season.
Last year, Hedman was among the league's top scoring defencemen with 55 points in 75 games. He added three points in the Lightning's short playoff series with the Habs.
Tampa has a luxury with Hedman on a low cap hit, but they'll eventually have to make some sacrifices on their roster in order to keep him down the line.
8 Kyle Turris - Ottawa Senators - $3.5 million
Kyle Turris was already carrying a big responsibility last year for the Senators. That burden became even greater when Ottawa shipped off Jason Spezza to Dallas, making Kyle Turris the de-facto no.1 centre on the team.
A no.1 centre signed for four years at $3.5 million a year is an incredible deal in theory, though the jury is still out as to whether Turris could be a top centre.
Either way, his numbers have been magnificent. He racked up 57 points in a full 82-game season last year. He was one of Ottawa's few bright spots in a very tough season. The good news for Turris is that Bobby Ryan is locked in long-term with the Senators, so he'll have a top winger next to him for the foreseeable future.
7 Jamie Benn - Dallas Stars - $5.25 million
Is there not something off about the fact that Jamie Benn carries a lower cap hit than Shawn Horcoff?
The Dallas Stars are on the right path to building themselves a contender and it's revolved around their young captain Jamie Benn. The Stars have added Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza to their core, but their best player is also their best bargain.
The 25-year-old captain does it all for Dallas and the team was very wise to lock him in at a young age. Last year, he rewarded them with a 79-point season and scored four goals in their first-round series against Anaheim, giving the heavily favoured Ducks a huge scare.
6 James Van Riemsdyk - Toronto Maple Leafs - $4.2 million
Pinpointing a player's contractual value hasn't exactly been a strong point for the Toronto Maple Leafs in, well, a long time. See, David Clarkson.
Here's one they got right though. They gave a young Van Riemsdyk (23 at the time) a six-year deal with an annual cap hit of $4.2 million, after trading Luke Schenn to get him. He has rewarded them with solid back-to-back seasons, with 32 points in the shortened 2012-13 campaign, helping the Leafs reach the playoffs for the first time in nine years. He added seven points in their seven-game series with Boston.
In a full season last year, he reached the 60 point mark for the first time in his career, with 61 points in 80 games. The former second overall pick seems to have found a comfortable home in Toronto, a much better fit than he was in Philadelphia.
If only the Leafs could pull off savvy signings more often.
5 Duncan Keith - Chicago Blackhawks - $5.5 million
A two-time Norris Trophy winner on your roster for just $5.5 million? Yes, please.
Duncan Keith has been the anchor on the Blackhawks' blue line for a while now, and the Hawks have him locked in for a long time, at $5.5 million for another nine years. This contract will eventually get too pricy (when Keith is in his late 30s and his play starts to slip), but the Hawks have built a team to win now, not five years down the line.
Having Keith on their team keeps them a Stanley Cup contender for the foreseeable future and that's what's important to Chicago right now. Win as many cups as you can with the current crop of stars.
4 Wayne Simmonds - Philadelphia Flyers - $3.9 million
The L.A. Kings have won two Stanley Cups since the Philadelphia Flyers traded Mike Richards to the Kings and Jeff Carter to Columbus, who would go to L.A. months later. The Flyers remain stuck in limbo, but Wayne Simmonds has been the bright spot in that deal for Philly.
He's signed to a reasonable contract with an average cap hit of $3.9 million. What comes with that price tag are 30-goal seasons and a force on the powerplay. His big frame makes him hard to move from the front of the net and he's often seen popping in rebounds or finishing a setup from Claude Giroux.
Whether you feel Simmonds is as good as his numbers or is just a beneficiary from playing next to Giroux, the bottom line is the Flyers have a 29-goal scorer and 60-point man who's a great fit for their team and who is signed to a team-friendly deal.
Cap management has never been a strong suit of the Flyers, but here's one they can be proud of. He's signed for five more seasons at 26 years old, so there's every reason for the Flyers to think that his best seasons are still ahead of him.
3 Max Pacioretty - Montreal Canadiens - $4.5 million
The Montreal Canadiens have managed their cap extremely well over the last few years, especially considering they've had to lock in several of their stars to long-term contracts. One of Marc Bergevin's first moves as general manager was signing Max Pacioretty to a six-year extension, worth an average of $4.5 million a season.
With the year Pacioretty just had, the contract looks like an absolute steal. Pacioretty recorded 39 goals last year, and reached 60 points. Had Pacioretty not missed nine games early in the season, he likely would've easily had 40. Try to find a guy with the ability to score 40 goals around the league whose cap hit is under $5 million. It's an extremely rare commodity and the Canadiens have him signed through his prime.
At 25 years old, Pacioretty still has many great years ahead of him and he'll play throughout his twenties in Montreal, a team that's inching closer and closer to Stanley Cup contention.
Pacioretty is also now one of the Canadiens' four alternate captains and there is the possibility of him being named captain in the near future. He's already outplayed his contract by NHL standards and he likely hasn't peaked yet.
2 Ryan McDonagh - New York Rangers - $4.7 million
The New York Rangers' run to the Stanley Cup final last year was an improbable one, and while many feel Henrik Lundqvist would've been the unanimous Conn Smythe winner had the Rangers won it all, there's a case to be made for Ryan McDonagh.
McDonagh's impact was felt all over the ice, shutting down opposing forwards, logging an enormous amount of minutes and even producing offensively. McDonagh recorded 17 points in 25 playoff games and was constantly an X-factor in the Rangers' playoff series.
The Rangers gave him a long extension this past offseason, a six-year deal with an AAV of $4.7 million. That's less than his defence partner Dan Girardi and many would argue McDonagh is the more valuable commodity right now. At just 25 years old, McDonagh is one of the league's most reliable defensemen. Rangers fans will be anxious to see if McDonagh can play anywhere close to where he was in this year's playoff run.
1 John Tavares - New York Islanders - $5.5 million
So much talent, so much ability, so much production, so much leadership and so little to work with. That's been the story of John Tavares's career with the New York Islanders and he certainly deserves more around him.
His $5.5 million cap hit isn't the cheapest on this list, but considering that he's practically been a one-man show for the Islanders throughout his career, he's earned every bit of his salary. He helped the Islanders reach the playoffs in the shortened 2012-13 season and many argued that he deserved to win the Hart Trophy.
Last year, he was on pace for his best season yet, with 66 points in 59 games, before an injury at the Sochi Olympics ended his season.
The Islanders definitely improved their team late this offseason with the defensive additions of Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy. Still, it would be a valuable service to their captain and the face of their franchise to give him some help up front. Adding Thomas Vanek didn't quite work out for them last season, but maybe it will improve through the organization. Brock Nelson has certainly been a nice surprise for them so far this season.
Tavares has never failed to live up to the enormous expectations that were set when he was drafted first overall back in 2009. He's been extremely valuable to the organization and hopefully all his hard work and patience pays off soon in Long Island.