Friday January 18th, 2008

Two thoughts came to mind when I learned on Thursday that the Blackhawks had signed Patrick Sharp to a four-year, $15.6 million extension. Value can be a pretty nebulous concept, and $3.9 million [Sharp's average salary beginning next season] sure doesn't go as far as it used to.

That's not a dig at Sharp, a hard-working, well-liked player who finally found a role and excelled in it with Chicago. The Hawks have identified the 26-year-old winger as part of their core and, despite a previous career high of 35 points, plan to pay him as such.

It's a situation that echoes many of the signings this season. Despite the constraints of the salary cap, general managers are throwing boatloads of cash at players whose potential casts a much more convincing light than their actual accomplishments. Other than last week's Alexander Ovechkin signing, many of this season's deals are being made with by GMs with fingers crossed and eyes cast heavenwards in the fervent hope that promise is realized...and that the cap keeps rising, just in case they need to cover their caboose for a mistake.

And that bring us back to value. Despite the drunken sailor spending of late, teams still have a very real limit on what they can pay overall. And that means getting contributions out of players on the dollar menu end of the scale.

To honor the players who are delivering the biggest bang for the buck, we present our first half All-Value Team.

Two points: Since we're looking strictly at this season's performance, the salaries listed below represent the player's 2007-08 paycheck, not the averaged cap hit. And since entry-level salaries are locked in at rock-bottom rates by the CBA rather than the shrewd skills of a parsimonious front office type, those players -- sorry Sid -- were excluded from consideration.

Here are the honorees (all stats as of 1/18):

Center: Mike Ribeiro, Stars ($2.8 million)

The engine that drives the Dallas offense, Ribeiro (22 goals and 50 points in 46 games) plays a more mature game than he ever did with the Habs, but his most surprising skill may be his strength on the puck. He won't be as much of a bargain next season when his new five-year, $25 million deal kicks in.

Left wing: Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings ($2.7 million)

He might be the most dangerous two-way player in the game. At 58 points in 43 games and a +18, he'd be a bargain at twice the price.

Right wing: Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa ($4.69 million)

Depending on the day of the week, the Senators captain (29 goals, 60 points, +15) might be the game's best player. If you think he looks good at this price, just wait until 2009-10. His salary drops to $3.8 million for the final three years of his contract.

Defenseman: Mike Komisarek, Canadiens ($1.5 million)

A monster in his own end, Komisarek leads the league in blocked shots (149) and ranks third in hits (154).

Defenseman: Brian Campbell, Sabres ($1.75 million)

Despite the team's struggles, Campbell is putting up career numbers (26 assists, 30 points) while bolstering his reputation as the most proficient offensive blueliner in the Eastern Conference.

Goaltender: Chris Osgood, Red Wings ($800,000)

Alright, he's looked like Chris Osbad since signing a new three-year deal earlier this month, but prior to applying the ink he was an absolute marvel. He won 19 of his first 22 games -- let that sink in for a moment -- and still boasts a league-leading 1.95 GAA.

Center: Daymond Langkow, Flames ($2.44 million)

Always a solid two-way pivot, Langkow (17 goals, 42 points, + 9) has found the consistency that's eluded him in the past while skating on the best line in the league with Jarome Iginla and Kristian Huselius.

Left wing: Kristian Huselius, Flames ($1.4 million)

Though he still struggles to find his A game on a nightly basis, he's on pace for nearly 40 goals, thanks to his ability to rack up the big game.

Right wing: Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks ($825,000)

His 22 goals have opened eyes, but not as many as his league-leading seven shorties.

Defenseman: Duncan Keith, Blackhawks ($1.4 million)

His offensive numbers aren't dazzling (5 goals, 17 points), but Keith has emerged as a solid second-tier No. 1 defender and a legitimate recipient of that All-Star invite. He's averaged more than 30 minutes a night over the last month, and is +15 on a team that is even at five-on-five.

Defenseman: Francois Beauchemin, Ducks ($1.65 million)

Granted, his game (16 points, - 9) has slipped since last season, but he still eats up 26 minutes a night and brings the speed and malice that the Ducks require for a title defense.

Goaltender: Tim Thomas, Bruins ($1 million)

Even if Manny Fernandez were healthy enough to play, you have to believe he'd be stewing on the bench while his intended backup usurped his No. 1 minutes. Thomas' style maybe ugly to watch, but his league leading save percentage (.930) is a thing of beauty.

Center: Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens ($1.4 million)

His surprising scoring pace (41 points in 46 games) aside, Plekanec earns his spot with his attention to detail. Even when he's not on the board, he finds ways to make you notice him night after night.

Left wing: Dustin Brown, Kings ($1.175 million)

One of the few bright spots for the Kings this season, Brown has established himself as a power forward in the grand old style. His 205 hits lead the league by more than 50, and he's already set a career-high with 23 goals.

Right wing: Brad Boyes, Blues ($1.4 million)

On his fourth team at just 25, the goal-scoring prowess of Boyes ranks as one of the season's brightest surprise stories. Among his 25 tallies are five game-winners.

Defenseman: Ron Hainsey, Blue Jackets ($900,000)

The Jackets picked him up off the scrap heap last season hoping his transitional skills could be useful in limited doses. Under Ken Hitchcock, he's become more adept in his own zone (+6), and a far more valuable asset as a result.

Defenseman: Greg Zanon, Predators ($700,000)

In his first season as a full-time NHLer, Zanon has become the Preds' most important penalty-killer and one of the league's top shot blockers (123, second).

Galtender: Ilya Bryzgalov, Coyotes ($1.362 million)

Where would the 'Yotes (24-21-1) be without him?

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