Even if the NHL didn't have a salary cap, getting excellent value on one's dollar would be extremely important. But the existence of the cap puts a real spotlight on value, to the point that straight up performance isn't as much of a focus for many fans as performance per dollar. It's been a pretty interesting shift from those halcyon pre-lockout days when overpriced talent seemed to always find its way to New York or Toronto, Detroit, or Dallas, or one of the other big spenders.Now even those teams are looking for bargains, which brings me to the guys on the bottom of the food chain, the guys who have a cap hit of $643,000 or less, the one percenters.
My question is, which of these guys will be the very best in 2011-12? After the jump, I'll make a few suggestions, but I'm looking for more in the comments. I'll then make some executive decisions and set up a tournament bracket. When the dust clears, we'll have a community prediction for who might be the best one-percenter in the NHL for the 2011-12 season.
Nashville Predators - Niclas Bergfors ($575,000) - He's now on his fourth organization in less than two years, and Dale Tallon didn't even qualify him, and given the number of barrels filled with money he set fire to this summer, you'd probably think Bergfors was terrible. But just like Melchizedek's age, it ain't necessarily so. Bergfors played with both the Panthers and Thrashers last season so the advanced statistics are a bit jumbled, but he did end the year with a Corsi number in the black, a Relative Corsi number deep in the black, a Zoneshift that beat expectations, and all of it while playing pretty tough competition. He even scored 36 points on the year!
Chicago Blackhawks - Bryan Bickell ($541,667) - Last season was his first full year in the NHL, and it was a beauty for the 6'4'' power winger. He finished fifth on the Blackhawks in even-strength scoring with 34 points, but only had 3 points on the power play because of limited ice time. He wasn't playing the toughs, but he was making the most of his minutes, and if he earns more minutes this season (he averaged just 13:50 per game last season) he could do some real damage.
New York Islanders - Evgeni Nabokov ($570,000) - The oldster of the group signed a sweetheart deal with the Red Wings that he now gets to play out with the Islanders. He played poorly in the few KHL games he actually played last season, but his last year in the NHL was outstanding. His EV Sv% that year was .928, and the long-term trend suggests that he's an above-average netminder. At age 36, his performance is bound to fall off a cliff soon - and it may have already happened - but if he can provide quality goaltending, that's a darn good price.
New York Islanders - Frans Nielsen ($525,000) - There aren't too many forwards making minimum wage who will play almost eighteen minutes per night. Nielsen has scored more than thirty points in each of the last three seasons, and had his best offensive output last year with 44, but the story goes well beyond putting pucks in the net. Nielsen also starts in his own end a tonne and plays top six competition, and yet still comes out ahead in terms of possession. Add to that his role as the team's top PK'er and a knack for staying out of the penalty box, and you've got yourself a tremendous hockey player.