Steve Montador's toughness and versatility make him a player worth having. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
When looking around the NHL, it's easy to check out the stats and determine which guys would be a dream come true if they came to your hometown team. Wouldn't the Penguins love a high profile winger like, say, Jarome Iginla? The Flyers could end their perennial goaltending woes by taking on Vezina winner Ryan Miller. And the Capitals defense would look rock-solid with the addition of Chris Pronger.
But in a salary cap world, it's impossible for a team to buy its way to perfection. So each club has to decide who makes up the core, then build the rest of the squad with character guys and role players. The Penguins have solidified their defense and centers, hoping that the wings will come around. The Flyers have gone cheap in net (again), banking on a great defense and some high-powered scorers. And the Caps are leaning on rookies Karl Alzner and John Carlson to fill out their defense.
So if you're an NHL GM, who do you fill your roster with? Here's a player from each team that I'd love on my roster that (mostly) won't break the cap piggy bank.
Anaheim: Todd Marchant may not be the 15-goal scorer he was once upon a time, but the 37-year-old can still be an asset in the right situation. He's versatile, a reliable penalty killer and still a great skater — all for a $1.125 million cap hit this season.
Atlanta: Ben Eager has bounced around early in his career, but the agitating winger has made a niche for himself by getting under opponents’ skin while also having just enough skill to contribute from time to time. Part of the cap exodus from Cup-winning Chicago, Eager could get even more ice time with the Thrashers. He'll make $965,000 in his final year before unrestricted free agency.
Boston: Frankly, the reason I'd want Andrew Ference on my team has nothing to do with his admirable on-ice contributions. Ference is arguably the biggest environmental proponent in any of the major sports, helping form a carbon-neutral program for NHL players among other endeavors.Ference's cap hit is $2.25 million, but you can't put a price on the significant things he's doing off the ice.
Buffalo: Steve Montador's versatility has helped him emerge into a useful player. While the middleweight can still drop the gloves when needed, Montador's ability to play both defense and forward is what makes him such an asset. His 23 points last season also matched a career high. He makes $1.55 million this season.
Calgary: He might make more than $4 million and only put up 15 to 25 points a year, but Robyn Regehr is a throwback defender that every successful team could use. He's tough, steady and durable, and — despite the big price tag — worth every penny in my book.
Carolina: Grinder Tom Kostopoulos doesn't stand out on the ice: he's an average, though willing, fighter; hustling, but again average, skater; and a limited point producer. What you do get from Kostopoulos every night is an honest, consistent effort. He finishes his checks, goes all-out on the penalty kill and will stand up for his teammates — all for less than a million a year.
Chicago: No team know how important it is to add cheap players as the Blackhawks, who were forced to ship out a bunch of their Stanley Cup-winning players to clear cap space. Fernando Pisani has proven in the past that, when healthy and the right situation, he can be a key part of a winner. The Hawks are banking on that, bringing in the long-time Oiler for a one-year, $500,000 contract. Pisani was Edmonton's best forward during the team's run to the Cup Finals in 2006, but he's been sidelined by injuries and a bout with colitis. If he can stay healthy, he could prove a wise signing for the defending champs.
Colorado: Adam Foote may not be the player he once was, but the Avalanche captain has seen just about everything there is to see on a sheet of ice. The 39-year-old continues to play a significant role on an otherwise young team, and in his first year with the C led a surprising Colorado team to the postseason. Not bad for $1.25 million.
Columbus: There's no denying Mike Commodore is overpaid. But having watched up-close how Commodore's on-ice play and off-ice demeanor can help a team (see Carolina, 2005-06), I think he might be worth the $3.75 million cap hit. Commodore's not only tough, but he's an underrated puck mover and an undeniable plus with the fans. Furthermore, his annual hair growth (start of with a close crop, finish with a Ronald McDonald-esque mop) is like seeing a changing of the seasons for hockey fans.
Dallas: Step aside, Sean Avery. Steve Ott is the face of agitators, doing his job on the ice without the drama off it — be that in the locker room or away from the rink. The 28-year-old forward costs the Stars nearly $3 million a year against the cap, but he makes opponents' lives a living hell and also contributes offensively, including a career-high 22 goals last season.
Detroit: Chris Osgood's days as a starter are over (though we've heard that before), but the three-time Cup winner — twice as the Red Wings’ starter — has always been willing to fill whatever role his team needed, be it starter, platoon goalie or backup. He's in the final year of a deal that pays him $1.1 million this year ($1.41 million cap hit) and lost his job to Jimmy Howard last year, but you never heard Osgood — then or in years past — complain. That's a team player.
Edmonton: Kurtis Foster has overcome adversity — both personally and professionally — to again become a solid NHL defenseman. After a good season in Tampa Bay last year, he signed with the Oilers for a reasonable $1.8 million annually for two years. His rocket shot will be an asset on the Lightning blueline.
Florida: Yes, his cap hit is $4.25 million a year. Yes, he has a concussion history. But is there a more exciting little-known player (among average NHL fans) than David Booth? The 25-year-old wing is electrifying, capable of turning any situation into a goal. He's the Panthers brightest light — along with promising goalie Jacob Markstrom — for the future.
Los Angeles: You have to admire an undrafted player making the NHL. Defenseman Davis Drewiske has done just that, establishing himself as a role player for the up-and-coming Kings. He's no superstar, but Drewiske is the kind of filler guy you need when you have spent (or will spend) big bucks on the likes of Drew Doughty, Matt Greene, Rob Scuderi, Willie Mitchell and Jack Johnson. At $616,667, Drewiske costs L.A. less than half against the cap of any of the aforementioned players but isn't half the player.
Minnesota: Cal Clutterbuck has made a name for himself quickly in the NHL. How? By leading the league in hits in each of his first two full seasons. He's only listed at 5-11 (though 213 pounds), but he shows no fear in hitting anyone and everyone on the ice. He could also one day push for 20 goals — all for $1.4 million against the cap.
Montreal: The Habs lost deadline acquisition Dominic Moore to free agency, but filled his spot nicely with veteran Jeff Halpern. Halpern will never fill up the boxscore over the course of a season, but he's reliable and versatile, plus has a tendency to get hot in the offensive end from time to time. And the Canadiens are only on the hook for $600,000.
Nashville: Marcel Goc, a former first round pick, never lived up to expectations in San Jose. But the German center has carved himself a nice spot as a role player in the NHL. He had a career year with the Preds last year (30 points), and he gives his team a solid third- or fourth-line center who can win faceoffs. His cap hit is $775,000 in 2010-11.
New Jersey: I've long thought Johan Hedberg was the perfect NHL backup. Able to step in and perform after long stretches without playing, Hedberg has become the perfect No. 2 netminder, capable of providing 20 to 30 games of rest for your starter or stepping in and being the man if injury or struggles set it. Now the question is: will the Devils finally get serious about giving Martin Brodeur a rest? Hedberg gets $1.5 million from New Jersey this season.
N.Y. Islanders: Still only 30, Trent Hunter seems like he's been in the NHL forever. He's never been a big-time scorer, but he can be counted on for 30 to 40 points when healthy — all of which is a bonus when you consider the other things he brings to the table each night. Hunter carries a $2 million cap hit for the next three seasons.
N.Y. Rangers: The Rangers’ cap mistakes are well-documented, so it's tough to find a silver lining to the mess that is the Blueshirts roster. But signing backup Martin Biron for $875,000 a year for two seasons was a smart move by GM Glen Sather. Biron, like Hedberg, is a proven backup who can ease the workload off a big-time No. 1 goalie.
Ottawa: Signing Jarkko Ruutu didn't put the Sens over the top in their quest for a Cup, but the feisty forward has held up his end of the bargain in Canada's capital. Not only does he continue to agitate with the best of 'em, but his scoring is up — the 26 and 21 points he had the last two seasons are the best of his career. This is the final year of his deal, which costs $1.3 million against the cap.
Philadelphia: Ian Laperriere's concussion problems could put his career in jeopardy, but the veteran grinder has already proven his worth. He's tough as nails, a fair and willing fighter, and still capable of scoring the occasional goal — in summary, perhaps the perfect fourth liner. And he gets only $1.16 million a season.
Pittsburgh: Max Talbot proved how clutch he was two postseasons ago, scoring twice in the Pens Game 7 win over the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals. he'll never put up big regular season numbers, but being clutch in the postseason (0.28 ppg in the regular season, 0.49 in the playoffs) makes him well worth $1.05 million a year.
San Jose: Douglas Murray — who played at Cornell, sounds perfectly American, yet hails from Sweden — is an unsung hero with the Sharks. He is always at or near the team lead in hits and is willing to block shots, and with Rob Blake retiring he will be even more important to San Jose in 2010-11. His cap hit is $2.5 million.
St. Louis: He's not even going to make the Blues, but I absolutely need to have 6-7 goalie Ben Bishop on my team — if nothing else, for those hard-to-reach places.
Tampa Bay: Nearly without a job last season, Dominic Moore is again a legitimate NHLer after a solid campaign split between Florida and Montreal (where he scored four goals during the Habs’ improbable postseason run). Steve Yzerman got Moore to sign for $1.1 million a year over two years, a move that could pay off if Moore continues his solid two-way play.
Toronto: For all the talk about getting rid of him, you'd think Tomas Kaberle was the reincarnate of Wade Redden. But Kaberle is a solid top-pairing D at a good price ($4.25 million). Brian Burke knows this, which is why he hasn't settled for a 50-cents-on-the-dollar trade for the career-long Maple Leaf.
Vancover: Surely Alexandre Burrows is kicking himself for signing an extension that averages $2 million a season. He's scored a combined 63 goals the past two seasons and has emerged as one of the game's better pests. On a team with several high-priced players, having a guy like Burrows on the cheap for through 2012-13 is huge to the Canucks.
Washington: Mike Knuble will cost the Caps $2.8 million against the salary cap, but the 38-year-old can still produce, putting up around 25 goals every season since the lockout. With Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green getting most of the publicity, Knuble quietly compiled his fifth 50-point season.