In today's NHL, general managers are willing to be ultra-aggressive in signing top players. Sometimes, they have to pay their own players more than they're worth to ensure that they don't leave town. Other times, they have to pay free agents far more than they truly deserve, in desperation to make their teams better.
It's just the matter of today's NHL. With the league owning a pair of television contracts (with NBC and Rogers), worth billions, the NHL is earning a ton of revenue that allows teams to spend more than they could 10 years ago.
But when you take a look at some of the NHL's top players, they're inexplicably being paid far less than what they're worth. Some of them signed modest deals then broke out when we least expected it. Other players signed big extensions well before they reached their primes, and it cost them a ton of dough.
One quick note: We didn't include players on their entry-level deals like Auston Matthews and William Nylander. With that, let's take a look at the 15 biggest bargain contracts in the NHL.
*Stats courtesy of Hockey Reference. All contract details via CapFriendly.com*
15 Sam Gagner
Sam Gagner hasn't been a superstar by any means throughout his career, but he's been a consistent second-liner and has always been overlooked. With Gagner joining the Vancouver Canucks this offseason, it'll be his fifth team in as many years.
Surprising, because Gagner is a sure-bet to put up over 15 goals and 40 points a season, which are solid numbers for a second-liner in today's NHL. He's coming off an 18-goal, 50-point season with the Columbus Blue Jackets. But Gagner signed with the Canucks for a modest $9.45 million over just three years.
That means Gagner will only be making $3.15 million per season. The Canucks sure felt like they won the draft lottery by getting a player of Gagner's talents on a ridiculously cheap contract.
14 Justin Williams
The Carolina Hurricanes have playoff aspirations for 2018, so they signed clutch playoff performer Justin Williams to a two-year pact worth $9 million. Why not? He won a Stanley Cup with them in 2006, and led the Los Angeles Kings to a couple more in 2012 and 2014.
He's got a knack for coming up in the clutch, with 94 points in 140 career playoff games. Williams is a sure thing to score 20-plus goals a season too, having done so in four of the last six 82-game regular seasons.
Carolina has a new No. 1 goalie in Scott Darling, a star scorer in Jeff Skinner plus a great blue line that consists of Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. Should they make the playoffs, Williams will come through in the big games. And Carolina will realize they have one bargain on their hands.
13 Patrick Maroon
Back in 2014, Patrick Maroon signed a three-year deal worth $6 million with the Anaheim Ducks. Given that he was nothing more than a bottom-six power forward, the deal seemed fair for both sides.
But thanks to the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, Maroon had a career year in 2017, scoring 27 goals and 42 points. Assuming it wasn't a fluke season, Maroon is on his way to becoming one of the NHL's premier power forwards. So indeed, what a heckuva signing.
Unfortunately for Maroon, he may have cost himself a lot of money by signing for that third year. He's making just $2 million this upcoming season, though he is slated to hit free agent after 2017-18. Then he should get paid for what he's worth.
12 Travis Hamonic
Young defencemen who hit incredibly well, block a ton of shots, play sound in their own end and can chip in with the occasional offence usually get played big bucks. But Calgary Flames rearguard Travis Hamonic isn't one of them.
Back in 2013, Hamonic made a big mistake in signing on the dotted line with the New York Islanders, agreeing to a seven-year pact worth $27 million. Had he signed a two or three-year bridge deal, he would have been under a much more lucrative contract today.
Hamonic -- who was traded to the Flames this offseason -- will make just over $3.857 million through the next three years. Hamonic does everything on defence and will greatly boost the Flames' playoff hopes. But it's too bad he cost himself a lot of cash by signing that bang-for-your-buck deal with the Isles a few years ago.
11 Eric Staal
Following a terrible 2015-16 season split with the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers, Eric Staal probably felt like the Minnesota Wild overpaid him. Taking a chance on the 32-year-old, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher signed Staal to a three-year deal worth just $10.5 million. But Staal had a resurgent year in 2016-17, and probably wishes he only signed on for one year.
Staal regained his old form in the State of Hockey, scoring 28 goals and 65 points -- his best season since 2011-12 (when he had 70 points). Staal also helped the Wild produce their greatest regular season ever, though it culminated in an ugly first-round loss at the hands of the St. Louis Blues.
But the point is that Staal is now grossly overpaid. Perhaps future veterans will learn to sign the one-year "prove it deals", so they can rebound nicely and then set themselves up for a big pay day.
10 Paul Byron
Looking to fill out their bottom-six depth, the Montreal Canadiens gave career journeyman Paul Byron a three-year deal worth a modest total of just $3.5 million. Byron had never scored more than 11 goals in a season, and his career high in points was 21. So the deal looked like anything but a big deal.
But Byron came out of nowhere and had the season of his life in 2016-17, using his blazing speed to score 22 goals and 43 points. Byron helped the Canadiens reach the Atlantic Division crown after missing the playoffs altogether last season.
Byron will make just over $1.166 per season over the next two years, something that isn't really fair price for 20-goal scorers. Should he be able to show that 2017 wasn't a fluke, he should get paid handsomely in 2019.
9 Michael Grabner
It's been a roller coaster ride for Michael Grabner throughout his NHL career. The former Vancouver Canucks first round pick is on his fourth NHL team (the New York Rangers), after so much inconsistency with the New York Islanders and a forgetful year with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Grabner seemingly became a star in the 2010-11 season, scoring 34 goals and 52 points. He tallied 20 goals the following season, then completely fell off the face of the NHL earth. Last year, the Rangers signed Grabner to a two-year pact worth $1.65 million -- and boy did it ever pay off.
Grabner scored 27 goals and 40 points for the Rangers in 2016-17, adding a ridiculous plus-22 rating. Grabner once again looks like he's on the verge of breaking through as a top-line player. 27 goals and making just $1.65 million? Michael Grabner...YOU JUST MADE THE LIST!
8 Chris Tanev
Though not exactly a household name, Chris Tanev is actually one of the top defensive defencemen in today's NHL. Though not much of a goal-scorer (just 16 goals in 348 NHL games), Tanev hits, blocks shots and simply doesn't allow many goals to be scored on the Canucks when he's on the ice.
Tanev has undoubtedly been the Canucks best defenceman over the past few years, but his lack of offensive upside makes Tanev grossly overlooked. When healthy, Tanev is capable of registering well over 100 blocked shots a season. He also owns a career plus-29 rating on a team that gives up a lot of goals while also not scoring very many.
Tanev is one of the league's most underpaid players, making just $4.45 million a season over the next three years. He's going to have to wait a while until he can finally cash in on the money he deserves.
7 John Gibson
John Gibson has quietly formed into one of the NHL's top goalies, posting a career .922 save percentage and 2.22 goals against average. He helped the Anaheim Ducks reach the Western Conference Final in 2017, and he wasn't to blame in their loss to the Nashville Predators.
The 6-foot-3 Pittsburgh native came into the NHL as one of the elite goalie prospects, and he's lived up to all the hype. However, Gibson also ripped himself off by signing a three-year extension worth just $6.9 million back in Sept. 2015.
Gibson is only 24 years of age and has shown his ability to win the big games for Anaheim in the postseason. He is easily worth way more than $2.3 million a season, but at least he'll be making some nice dough when this current contract of his expires.
6 Mark Stone
Mark Stone was a sixth-round draft choice by the Ottawa Senators in 2010 (178th overall), and has absolutely defied expectations in the pros. The 6-foot-3, 206-pound right winger is among the top players on the 2017 Eastern Conference runner-ups. Stone scored 22 goals and 54 points last season, and forced a whopping 96 takeaways last season.
When discussed among the top defensive players, Stone is way overlooked. He's registered at least 90 takeaways, 20 goals and 50 points over the last three seasons. Stone also showed up big in the 2017 playoffs, scoring five goals in the 19 postseason games despite playing injured.
Stone signed a three-year deal worth $10.5 million in 2015, and has cost himself some big cash. He's set to make $3.5 million in 2017-18, then will be a free agent. Hopefully Senators GM Pierre Dorion is set to pony up the bucks, because the underpaid Stone will want to get paid the right way.
5 Cam Atkinson
Cam Atkinson is often forgotten when fans discuss the NHL's most underrated players, hence why he's so overlooked. This is a man who has scored at least 20 goals in each of the past four seasons, but is coming off an All-Star-like season in 2016-17. Atkinson scored 35 goals and 62 points, leading the Columbus Blue Jackets to their best regular season in franchise history.
Atkinson is among the top right wingers in the NHL, but the Blue Jackets have avoided all charges for grand larceny of their star player. Atkinson is in the final season of a three-year deal that will give him a modest $3.5 million in 2017-18.
He's given the Blue Jackets a hometown discount for far too long, so expect Atkinson to really get the big cash next offseason. And rightfully so.
4 Max Pacioretty
Back in the 2012 offseason, the Habs gave Max Pacioretty a six-year extension worth $27 million after scoring a career-high 33 goals. The deal seemed fair at the time, but Pacioretty is surely kicking himself for signing an extension far too son. He could have easily earned a deal worth nearly double $27 million.
Pacioretty has scored at least 30 goals and 60 points in the last five 82-game regular seasons, helping the Habs reach the playoffs in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017. The Habs' captain has been their lone consistent goal-scorer in the 2010s, and he's a huge fan favorite. Pacioretty easily deserves a salary worth around $6.5-7.5 million.
But Pacioretty has earned just $4.5 million since 2013-14, and that will remain the case over the next two years. He's undoubtedly been one of the biggest bargains of this decade.
3 Matt Dumba
Matt Dumba has emerged as one of the few quality players from the awful 2012 NHL Entry Draft, but the Minnesota Wild haven't quite showed him the money yet. Dumba has quietly been one of the top scoring blueliners in the NHL, having scored 10 goals in 2015-16 and 11 in 2016-17.
With Dumba in the fold, Minnesota has been one of the top teams in the Western Conference. They've made the playoffs every year since Dumba turned pro in 2013-14, and he's been a great fit in their defence-first system.
Dumba also owns a career 53.6 Corsi For percentage, further suggesting just how underrated of a defenceman he really is. Oh, and how much will Dumba be making in 2017-18? A mere $2.55 million. Good thing he's an RFA next year, because Dumba will then receive that massive deal he deserves.
2 Wayne Simmonds
In an era where elite power forwards are extremely rare, Wayne Simmonds stands out as one of the few remaining in a dying breed. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound winger has been a scoring sensation with the Philadelphia Flyers, but he's also been a little too nice to them in taking below-market value.
Back in 2012, the Flyers extended Simmonds for six years worth a modest total of just $23.85 million. That was after Simmonds had scored 28 goals and 49 points. Since that time, Simmonds has scored at least 28 goals in the past four 82-game regular seasons. That includes a pair of 30-goal seasons.
Simmonds is doing all of that for just $3.975 million a season, and it's easily to believe that another team would pay him double that in today's free agent market. Simmonds has just two years left on this deal, then will finally get the chance to earn the real bucks in the 2019 free agent market.
1 Roman Josi
When fans discuss the best blueliners in the game, they often think of Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Brent Burns, Victor Hedman, Shea Weber and P.K. Subban. But lost in that shuffle is Nashville Predators rearguard Roman Josi, who is easily among the league's elite defencemen.
Not only is he one of the best in defending against the league's top players, but Josi also brings a ton of offence. He's scored double-digit goals in four-straight seasons, while hitting the 50-point mark twice.
Josi has been instrumental in taking the Predators to great distances in the playoffs. And yet, Josi is only being paid $4 million a season. The Predators got a huge win when they extended Josi for seven years, only costing them $28 million. In today's market, Josi should easily be making over $7.5 million a season. But instead, he takes the top spot on our list of the most underpaid players.
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