The 2011 unrestricted free agency period appears that it will be remembered as the year of inflated contracts and a poor man's rendition of Lebron James's 'The Decision' of last summer. However, despite Florida's aggressive spending, Brad Richard's antics, and Jagr's mullet, the summer of 2011 had, in my estimation, some incredible bargains and steals that could wind up paying dividends for many organizations, as well as jump starting some players' careers.
5. Tomas Vokoun - Capitals - I put it this at number 5 considering it is the most obvious bargain. After having a successful season in terms of GAA and save percentage, the 34 year old Czech goaltender signed with the Washington Capitals for 1.5 million dollars over 1 year. If this isn't a steal then you must consider Bryzgalov a bargain, and Paul Holmgren a genius.
4. Michael Rupp - Rangers - This bulking center was a former 9th overall draft pick in '98. He has size, intensity, and surprising skill for someone of his stature. For you Ranger fans, at 1.5 million dollars over 3 years he is a bargain considering the fact that Glen Sather didn’t pay him 4 million over 6 years.
3. Cam Barker – Oilers – I’m sure many of you would suggest that this is one of the awfully inflated contracts given out in the 2011 free agent period. However, my opinion is that Barker will develop into the player the Blackhawks organization once thought he could in Edmonton. At 2.5 million over 1 year Barker will have the opportunity to prove himself as that once highly touted stud 2-way defenseman. As Edmonton will rebuild their franchise, Barker will be rebuilding his career at the same time.
2. Benoit Pouliot – Bruins – As Bruins announcer Jack Edwards opined, ‘one of the biggest failures in NHL draft history’, Benny will get another chance to play in the NHL, this time with the Bruins. Pouliot, a former 4th overall pick combines speed, skill, and size. The only thing supposedly missing with his game is the one thing that Bruins have an abundance of: heart and determination (read testicular fortitude). At 1.1 million dollars over 1 year Pouliot has an opportunity to play on a Stanley Cup Champion/contender as a top 6 forward. He has the ability to be a 20-30 goal scorer and he has yet another chance to prove he can tap into his potential.
1. Anthony Stewart – Hurricanes – Who? Former 1st round pick for the Florida Panthers. Stewie is a 6 foot 2, 235 pound power forward. At only 900k/yr over 2 years the Canes acquired a power forward who in my opinion has yet to reach his peak. Last year with the Thrashers he scored 14 goals in a limited capacity. I would love to see what he could do playing in a Milan Lucic type role with Staal and Skinner. Bar none, Stewart has the potential to be the most underrated signing and biggest bargain of this year’s free agency class.