Professional athletes in the "big four" North American leagues make a ridiculously high amount of money. The average yearly salary in the MLB is $4.4M, the NBA boasts an average salary of $6.2M, and NFL pros make $2.1M including the 20-some players on each team that sit on the bench for much of the game. Even the league with the most parity and tightest salary cap in all of pro sports, the NHL, pays its players a yearly average of $2.9M. With that average in mind, this list will analyze how much money players make each year compared to their statistics and the impact that they have on their team's games.
With the knowledge that the lowest possible NHL salary is $575,000 and the highest salary, belonging to Anze Kopitar, is $14,000,000, we can confidently pick 8 NHL players who are being paid too much and 7 who are not being paid enough to populate this list. Each entry will provide evidence as to why the player is worth more or less than they are making, with comparisons to back them up. Without further ado, happy reading.
15 Josh Gorges (Too Much)
Josh Gorges is an average defenceman who is being paid like a top-pairing stud. Gorges’ contract, which was originally signed when he was a Montreal Canadien, is a 6-year, $23.4M deal that sees him paid an annual salary of $3.9M. Although Gorges is a solid shot-blocking, team-first type of defenceman, a look at comparable contracts shows why the 32-year-old is overpaid. Capitals star John Carlson is earning $3.96M and Kings linchpins Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin are pulling in $3.9M and $4M respectively. Those men all log first-pairing minutes and post 25-40 point seasons, while Gorges averaged just 18:27 per game this season and has trouble posting double-digit points on a yearly basis. Taking on a contract like this was a terrible decision by the Buffalo Sabres and Gorges’ deal is one of many reasons why the club has been “rebuilding” for seven seasons. The Kelowna, British Columbia native is being paid more than he is worth.
14 T.J. Brodie (Not Enough)
T.J. Brodie has been one of the most underrated defensemen in the game for the past five seasons. The Chatham, Ontario native has recorded 30-plus points in each of his full NHL seasons and plays top-pairing minutes, shutting down the best that the Flames’ opponents have to offer. Brodie does all this while making a $4.83M salary. While this is a respectable amount of money, a comparison to players with similar contracts shows that Brodie deserves more. Dan Hamhuis, whom the Dallas Stars pay $4.5M per season, recorded just 16 points and averaged 19:21 TOI last season. Blue Jackets D-man Jack Johnson, who makes $5M per season, recorded just 23 points and averaged 21:49 TOI. Brodie bested both of these men with a solid 36 points and 23:34 average TOI. While these statistics don’t tell the full story for each of these players, further analysis still proves that the Calgary Flames should be paying their 27-year-old stud more money than they currently are.
13 Carl Soderberg (Too Much)
Carl Soderberg is a bottom-six centreman who is getting paid far too much by the Colorado Avalanche organization. Soderberg played with the Boston Bruins after coming over from the Swedish Ice Hockey Association. At the end of his three-year contract, he was traded to the Avalanche and immediately signed a five-year, $23.75M contract. The 31-year-old had only 14 points in 80 games in the most recent 2016-17 season. Getting paid $5M a year to produce less than stellar stats like this makes the Avalanche organization look like even more of a joke than their place in the standings does, which is saying something. Soderberg seems to be past his prime or simply not the quality player he used to be.
12 Eric Staal (Not Enough)
Eric Staal is another player that is not being paid what he is worth. Staal began his career with the Carolina Hurricanes where he remained for 10 years, becoming their captain in 2010. He was mentioned as one of the most durable players in the NHL, only missing 14 games during his time with the organization. Staal was traded to the New York Rangers during the 2015-16 season, and then again to the Minnesota Wild one year later. He signed a 3-year, $10.5M contract with the Wild. In this past season, his first full year with the organization, Staal posted a solid 65 points in 82 games. Seeing that he was the the second highest point-producer on the Wild, his $3.5M annual contract is nothing. Especially when compared to teammate Zach Parise, who just barely cracks the team’s top-10, but has a $9M salary. Staal is one of those tough, reliable players that is not getting the salary deserved of the veteran he is.
11 Jimmy Hayes (Too Much)
The fact that Hayes is overpaid at just $2.3M tells you how dismal his recent production is. The Boston, Massachusetts native had his season shortened to just 58 games, that was no excuse for posting a measly 5 points for the entire season. To make things worse, he was a -3 on a Bruins squad that ranked ninth in the league in goal differential. For comparison’s sake, let’s look at Sabres forward Marcus Foligno and Senators grinder Zack Smith. They earn $2.25M and $2.35M respectively and each was able to put up 23-plus points in similar roles on their teams. Jimmy Hayes belongs in the AHL, not on the Bruins squad taking up cap and roster space from other players.
10 Jake Muzzin (Not Enough)
Jake Muzzin is one of the most underrated, and underpaid, defencemen in the National Hockey League. Lost in a non-traditional hockey market with the L.A. Kings and overshadowed by his Norris Trophy-winning D-partner Drew Doughty, Muzzin has been unfairly neglected as a star player. The Woodstock, Ontario native brings in a solid $4M per year on his current 5-year deal. While this salary does rank him 67th among NHL D-men, his play certainly ranks much higher than that. Muzzin has a racked up a respectable point total for a defenceman in his young NHL career, posting 150 points in 372 games. Discounting his last season, which was a clear outlier, Muzzin had a +25 plus-minus over 5 NHL seasons. The statistic that truly shows his worth to the Kings, however, is his average TOI, which has been over 22 minutes the past three seasons. Jake Muzzin deserves a million-dollar raise in order to properly compensate his spectacular abilities.
9 Dion Phaneuf (Too Much)
Dion Phaneuf is a 32-year-old Canadian who currently plays for the Ottawa Senators. He was originally drafted to the Calgary Flames, where he played for five seasons before being part of a blockbuster, multi-person trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He played with the Leafs for seven seasons before being part of another multi-person trade to the Sens. Ottawa not only took him on as a player but they also took on his 7-year, $49M contract. During his two seasons in Canada’s capital, he has played 101 games and only posted 38 points. He's definitely not worth $7M a season. Comparing his contract to Sens Captain Erik Karlsson, who consistently produces at a point-per-game pace and is the best defenceman in the game, the deal looks even worse: Karlsson also makes $7M. This decision by the Sens to take on an average defender that gets paid the same amount as their top player is preposterous.
8 Sam Gagner (Not Enough)
Gagner has shown potential at certain points of his career, and after the Columbus Blue Jackets took a chance on him, he broke out this past season. The London, Ontario native was originally drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He played with the club for seven seasons before bouncing around between a couple teams and ending up signing a one-year deal with the Blue Jackets. In Gagner’s single season with the squad, he posted 50 points in 81 games, putting him in the top 5 point-getters on the team. He is only being paid $6.5K which is significantly lower than the four people producing more points than him. For example, Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno has a $5.5M salary but only achieved 51 points in the most recent season. That is ONE point… but the pay difference is huge. Gagner is definitely a player who is not being paid what he is worth and the 27-year-old Canadian is sure to receive a handsome raise this offseason.
7 Petr Mrazek (Too Much)
The goaltending of Petr Mrazek is a large reason why the Detroit Red Wings' 25-year-long playoff streak came to an end this past season. At the beginning of the season it seemed as if the Czech native would split starter’s duties with Jimmy Howard but after Howard suffered injuries, Mrazek was thrown into the job. He posted a lowly .901 SP and an inflated GAA of 3.04, all while earning a salary of $3.85M. Two other NHL starters who made about as much as Mrazek, Steve Mason and Cam Ward, recorded goals against averages of 2.66 and 2.69 respectively while playing at least eight more games for their squads than Mrazek did. Petr Mrazek hurt the Wings more than he helped them this season and he does not, in any way, deserve to be paid the 28th-highest salary among NHL puckstoppers.
6 Jonathan Marchessault (Not Enough)
The Florida Panthers’ most recent breakout star, Jonathan Marchessault is earning chump change compared to other NHL players of his ilk. The diminutive Quebecer posted a career-high points total with 51 in 75 games, putting him third among Panthers players. This solid production only cost the Panthers a measly $750K, a ridiculous salary when you look at other 51-point producers this past season. The lowest-paid among them is Patrick Eaves at $1M and the highest is Henrik Sedin at $7M, but the average wage for those who put up 51 points in 2016-17 is $4.06M, miles above what Marchessault is making. The 26-year-old is sure to earn a raise after his current deal expires in 2018, but for now Marchessault is stuck bringing in a fraction of what he is truly worth.
5 Marc Staal (Too Much)
Marc Staal is the second Staal on this list, but unlike his brother, Marc is getting paid too much. Staal was drafted in the first round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft to the New York Rangers and has been with the organization ever since. He is currently signed to a 6-year, $34.2M contract. The past two seasons, he has only produced 25 points in 149 games and averaged second-pairing minutes. He is getting $5.7M a year for producing below-average stats. The 30-year-old is the highest paid defenseman on the Rangers. He makes more than the defenders who produce more quality hockey than him. Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh is a D-man who only makes $4.7M yearly, and he produced 76 points in 150 games, while playing almost 5 minutes per game more than Staal. It’s crazy to think the Rangers would waste so much money on a player that is not living up to his potential.
4 Cam Talbot (Not Enough)
Cam Talbot was one of the busiest and winningest goalies in the NHL this past season. After originally signing with the New York Rangers where he played for two seasons, Talbot was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for three draft picks in 2015. After being traded, Talbot was competing for the position as number one goaltender with Anders Nilsson during his first season with the Oilers. He won the number one goaltending spot while posting a 2.55 GAA and 0.917 SP in his first season with the organization. In the 2016-17 season, Talbot signed a 3-year deal with the Oilers for $12.5M. Considering he has become their uncontested franchise goalie and put up 42 wins to finally get the Oilers back to the postseason, his salary does not reflect that. Among goalies in the NHL, he has the 26th-highest salary despite posting top-10 stats in almost every category. Cam Talbot deserves a raise from his $4.15M salary.
3 Semyon Varlamov (Too Much)
Its tough to determine whether Semyon Varlamov brought down the Colorado Avalanche in 2016-17 or whether it was the other way around. The Avs had the worst season that any team has had in seventeen years and their Russian netminder posted a horrendous save percentage of .898 and an even worse goals against average of 3.38. The worst part about the entire scenario is that the Denver-based club payed Varlamov $6M to do so. In comparison, Corey Crawford and Ben Bishop, who earn $6M and $5.95M respectively, both recorded GAAs under 2.55 and SPs over .910. Based on Varlamov’s statistics over the past three seasons, he belongs as a backup or minor-league goaltender - not as the 13th-highest-paid goalie in the NHL.
2 Nikita Kucherov (Not Enough)
The Tampa Bay Lightning's star player Nikita Kucherov is yet another person on this list who is not getting paid enough for the quality of hockey he plays. After playing three seasons with the Lightning, he signed a three-year, $14.3M contract which paid him $4.25M for the 2016-17 season, during which “Kuch” was the point-leader among his teammates and even finished 5th in the league in points. Considering his great success in the past three seasons, it’s crazy to think he would sign such a cheap contract when he is amongst point holders who are getting paid $8M-12M yearly. The Lightning are lucky to be getting such a well-rounded player who is only 23 years old for such a discounted cost, making it easier to help build the squad around him in upcoming seasons.
1 Dustin Brown (Too Much)
Dustin Brown is an NHL winger who has only played for the Los Angeles Kings. Prior to the start of the 2013-2014 season, the Kings signed Brown to an eight-year, $47M contract extension. Since his extension, he has only posted 118 points in 323 games. His performance in the past seasons led to the removal of his captaincy in 2016. While playing approximately 16 minutes a game, it’s crazy to think teammates such as Tanner Pearson are playing the same amount of time and earning significantly less money, but producing many more points. Dustin’s $6.5M salary is definitely not worthy of the play he is producing. With the 32-year-old having such a large contract, the Kings do not have the space to bring in the quality players they need to support their core. This, in turn, can be one of the key reasons the Kings have done so poorly since their Stanley Cup win in 2014.