- Scott Burnside, NHL
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The Stanley Cup isn't the only thing at stake during a playoff run. For those players coming to the ends of their contracts, a long postseason run and their performances during that run can literally mean millions of dollars.
There are 10 potential unrestricted free agents getting consistent ice time in the Eastern Conference finals. Here's a look at how the playoffs have affected their earning potential come July 1.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Acquired in the offseason by general manager Steve Yzerman, Gagne continues to be a thorn in the Boston Bruins' side with three goals and two assists in this series. He has five goals and seven assists this spring, but a head injury sustained in Game 1 of the second round will weigh on any team thinking about signing the longtime offensive threat, who has a long history of concussions. It is certainly hard to imagine any team approaching the $5.25 million the 31-year-old Gagne earned this season. And his play since returning from injury has been one of the factors in the Lightning's recent power-play woes.
One of the great playoff bargains, Bergenheim made just $700,000 this season but is the Stanley Cup playoffs goal-scoring leader with nine goals. Although he had only 14 regular-season goals, Bergenheim will certainly have suitors if he hits the open market, in spite of his questionable health status for Game 6. Still, it is hard to imagine Yzerman won't do his best to keep Bergenheim in the fold moving forward. How big a raise he is due will be interesting to track, but he is definitely someone whose bank account will benefit from a strong playoff performance.
Hall has been a solid penalty killer for the Lightning at a modest $600,000 price tag. Seems like a good fit for the Lightning and for Hall.
The veteran defenseman has seen his stock go up significantly this spring since being acquired by the Lightning from St. Louis at the trade deadline. Brewer made $4.25 million this season, and that's a big bite for a 32-year-old. But with Brian Rafalski retiring in Detroit and a paucity of top defensemen ready to hit the marketplace, Brewer likely will cash in on a playoff performance in which he logged more minutes than any other Tampa player and led all playoff performers in blocked shots.
The diminutive defenseman with a cannon of a shot is an interesting case. He was signed midseason ostensibly to help the power play, and coach Guy Boucher has given Bergeron more and more responsibilities as the playoffs have progressed. Bergeron has been considered a significant defensive liability throughout his career. But in the past couple of games, Boucher went with six defensemen, which means Bergeron has seen more and more ice time. He has responded well, and it's hard to imagine his stock hasn't risen as a result. Bergeron made $1 million (prorated) this season, but he could see at least a modest raise in his future thanks to his playoff play.
Although he has been pulled twice in the Eastern Conference finals and was given a rest in Game 5, Roloson's play at age 41 has been exemplary. He was a key factor in the Lightning's rebound from a 3-1 series deficit in the first round against Pittsburgh, and he might yet be a catalyst to an even longer playoff run this spring, as he will be back between the pipes for Wednesday's Game 6. Roloson's cap hit was a relatively modest $2.5 million this season, and it wouldn't be a shock if Yzerman tried to keep Roloson next season for around the same amount of money.
Here's where it gets interesting for Smith and the Lightning. After being waived, being sent to the minors and then returning to the Lightning, Smith was terrific in a limited role during the last half of the regular season. But it's been in the Eastern Conference finals where Smith's stock has to have taken a giant surge. Coming on in relief of Roloson in Games 2 and 4, Smith didn't allow a goal as the Lightning mounted comebacks in both games, winning one and losing one. And Smith was solid in his first playoff start in Game 5, a 3-1 loss Monday night. Does Yzerman try to lock up Smith, whose cap hit was $2.2 million this season, for another year or two at a reduced price? If not, it would be a surprise if a team looking for goaltending depth didn't give Smith a shot given his work at improving his game.
It has been a rather shocking fall from grace for the former longtime Toronto defenseman, as his ice time under coach Claude Julien has dwindled dramatically. Essentially, Julien's confidence in Kaberle has waned so much that apart from power-play time, Kaberle is generally playing less than 10 minutes a night of even strength time. Julien continues to defend Kaberle, but any thought of signing him to a contract extension surely must be on hold. As for Kaberle's market value, it would have to be a pretty specific situation for Kaberle to thrive. Someone suggested he might be a fit in Detroit with Brian Rafalski retiring, although we're not sure how Mike Babcock would feel about that. There are few prominent defensemen available this summer, but you have to figure the days of pulling in $4.25 million annually are long gone for Kaberle.
A bit of an enigma for the Bruins, Ryder has had another solid playoff year for the B's with five goals and six assists. He has worked his way both into and out of Julien's doghouse at various points of the season. But he has been a regular on the Boston power play in the conference finals and has 30-goal ability. He has played for Julien for many years, starting in junior, and it seems this is a pretty good fit for the big winger with the wicked shot. Will the Bruins pay the $4 million Ryder is making this year? Not likely. Would someone else? Hard to imagine it, but with a lean free-agent market, stranger things have happened.
If the Bruins come up with their first Stanley Cup championship since 1972, look for the league's oldest player to call it a career. If the Bruins come up short, Recchi might want to give it one more go. If that's the case, it's hard to see Recchi anywhere other than Boston next season, even if it's at a lower price point than the $1.95 million plus bonuses he made this season.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Scott Burnside takes stock of which players coming to the ends of their contracts have helped or hurt their leverage as free agents.