Ever wondered how “Money Ball” would look in the NHL?
Welcome to a 4 part mini series where I’ll be introducing one “high value” player from each team, beginning with the Atlantic Division. A “high value” player will be characterized by any player not playing on an entry level contract who’s playing above their contractual dollar value. I’ll try to pick the not so obvious players, like Nathan Mackinnon for example. Thanks to Dom Luszczyszyn at The Athletic for making this exercise very easy for us to evaluate.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs, surprisingly had a couple of players who fit my description. To a lesser degree and to nobody’s surprise, William Nylander was one of them. There was one other player who fit the description really well and so I’ll give him an honorable mention for the Leafs, that player is forward Michael Bunting. Bunting does have the benefit of playing with some elite forwards, so I opted to go in another direction. For the sake of this article, the best player fitting the description is RW Ilya Mikheyev. Mikheyev has a projected value of roughly $5million dollars and is only making $1.645million, a savings of about $3.4million on the open market. It’s no wonder the Russian winger would prefer to play elsewhere as he’s quite capable of playing much higher in a lineup with lesser star power than the Leafs. Mikheyev will be a sought after UFA this summer and will likely choose a destination who agrees to give the speedy winger a more prominent role in the top 6.
The Sens had slim pickings for this description if I’m being honest. Wasn’t a very hard decision and I think if you’re reading this as a Sens fan it will come as no surprise when I introduce the player. Drake Batherson signed a 6 year extension with the Sens this summer, at a dollar value slightly under $5million dollars. The best part for the Sens, the savings of more than $3.3million is likely only to look better and better as time goes. In fact if Batherson’s projected value doesn’t move at all, the Senators could save upwards of $20million by the end of that 6 year term. Batherson is just 23 years-old and only scratching the surface of his potential production. Batherson trains with some of the best players in the world during his offseason and it generally shows each and every year as he continues to ascend, earning himself NHL All Star status this year.
I tried my best to avoid making the obvious selections from each team in hopes of providing readers with a new, value player to discover. Unfortunately it’s been a rough season for the Habs. There’s really nobody on the team who fits the description outside of Brendan Ghallagher. The feisty winger has always excelled at the possession game, he gets to the net and causes disturbance and often wears a fair share of criticism for his style of play. Still Gallagher is a valuable player that most people would be more than happy to have on their roster. He’s a slight valued asset, making nearly $1million less than he could on the open market. One could feasibly wonder how much longer that 6 year contract will hold it’s value as Gallagher will hit 30-years old in May.
With a rebuilding team like the Sabres, it’s only fair to mention that their most valuable assets and hopefully value players will show themselves in time. Excluding entry level deals made this challenge interesting for rebuilders and almost exposes how well they’ve surrounded their young players. For now, this exercise was equally difficult for the Sabres as it was for the Habs. For the Sabres I opted to look at a defensive minded defenseman who’s making nearly league minimum. Logging over 19min of ice time and playing an elevated role, Mark Pysyk has really excelled defensively. Pysyk, the strong, right shot defenseman, will be a very tradable asset at the deadline and could really earn himself a longer deal during the offseason. According to Dom’s model, the 30-year old comes with a current $3million dollar savings.
Unlike the previous two teams, the Bruins are absolutely loaded with value players, seemingly all their top talent has agreed to take a cut to remain competitive. For the very opposite reason, this exercise was equally difficult to pick one player. Honorable mentions for the Bruins include; Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pasternak, Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk. Truly impressive how well the Bruins have managed contract negations and have been able to keep this core group in tact. For this exercise I’ve decided on a very familiar face if you’re a Sens fan, Mike Reilly. Reilly seemed to find his game at the tail end of his time in Ottawa, in fact I thought he should have remained with the team as a great complementary player for some of the young, up and coming blueliners in Ottawa. Unfortunately, Pierre Dorion elected to trade Reilly for what was seen as a good deal at the time, a 3rd round pick. Reilly has excelled at both ends of the ice ever since and is looking like an absolute steal for the Bruins. Reilly has this season and two more years at 3million/per for the Bruins, which could save them a staggering $12million dollars if his projected value stays the same.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Much like the Bruins, the options were plentiful when it comes to the back to back, Stanely Cup champs. Although it’s been widely reported that the Lightning in fact need to continue to cut salaries to keep their winning formula in tact, the Lightning have been one of the more proficient teams when it comes to contract negotiations, I’m sure selling the sunshine and Stanely Cup, Yacht parades make the destination an easy choice for players. For honorable mentions the list includes, Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn and Erik Cernak but it’s certainly not restricted to these players. Choosing one player was tough but I elected to go with the steady, productive, two-way centre who every fanbase has “mock traded” for at least once, Anthony Cirelli. For the remainder of this year and one more year, the 24-year old Cirelli will be playing at great value for the Lightning. Saving them a total of $6million in the years combined. Cirelli will then be due for a bigger payday so I’m sure the mock trades will only heat up at that point.
The sneaky machine from Sunrise will be sneaky no more. The Panthers take centre stage as they’ve quietly been building a powerhouse and they too, have an absurd amount of underrated value players on their roster. The obvious choices here are Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Anthony Duclair, MacKenzie Weegar, Gustav Forsling and Sam Reinhart to a lesser degree. This choice though was actually obvious, despite the aforementioned talent, I went with Carter Verhaeghe. The 26-year old winger entered the equation seemingly out of nowhere last season as he fit like a glove with the Panthers top players. Verhaeghe though, went from complementary fit to a threat of his own in the process. As the numbers indicate below, Verhaeghe can drive his own offense and offers the Panthers a whopping $8million dollar savings this season in projected worth. Verhaeghe will then hit the open market where he will without a doubt get the money he’s earned in free agency this summer.