Prior to the 2004-05 NHL lockout (in which the entire season was lost thanks to greedy millionaires arguing about nickels and dimes), NHL general managers didn’t have to worry about a league-mandated salary cap. No, they were forced to work within only the constraints of their boss’s (team owner’s) pocket book.
While the old system worked great for the rich teams (Rangers, Canadiens), it worked against the poor (Oilers, Coyotes). Ergo, the NHL first implemented a salary cap after the ’05 lockout, and more recently it implemented revenue sharing (after the 2012-13 lockout). These two factors have created more parity in a once disparate league, and they’ve also changed the landscape for the league’s general managers.
The role of a GM is now a balancing act thanks to the salary cap, and some fare better than others. Today I took a look around the league at what some players are earning, and picked out the 8 most overpaid players, as well as the 7 most underpaid. In building the list I obviously ignored entry-level contracts, and I also looked at only the 2017-18 season, meaning the term isn’t a factor here; it's simply the worst and best contracts for 2017-18. Lastly, since this is mostly related to the salary cap, I went with cap hits rather than actual dollars earned this season.
15 Overpaid: Corey Perry - $8.625 Million
Set to cost the Ducks $8.625M toward the cap in 2017-18, Corey Perry clocks in as the first entry of our overpaid hockey players. Perry makes the most of any Anaheim Duck, and is coming off of his worst season since 2006-07, managing just 19 goals and 53 points. While I’m the first to admit that Perry is a solid bounce-back candidate, his price tag is tough to swallow for the Ducks right now.
While Perry played his way off the top line last season and actually spent much time on the third line, he is slotted back onto that top trio to start the year with Ryan Getzlaf and Nick Ricthie. Now, whether he sticks there once Patrick Eaves returns from injury remains to be seen, and it will likely depend on how he shows in his audition.
14 Underpaid: Ryan McDonagh - $4.7 Million
Ryan McDonagh has been the go-to guy for the Rangers for years now, and he does it by playing nearly 25 minutes a night. McDonagh signed a six-year deal with the Rangers prior to 2013-14, and he’s currently heading into the penultimate season of that contract. Unbelievably, New York only uses up $4.7M of cap space on the American rearguard.
The Montreal Canadiens and their fans are still kicking themselves for forfeiting McDonagh’s rights (and other assets, for that matter) for the right to have Scott Gomez waste away in the province of Quebec. Instead, not only do they have to watch McDonagh kill it year after year in New York, but they have to watch it knowing he’s one of the best value contracts in the NHL.
13 Overpaid: Justin Abdelkader - $4.25 Million
At a cap hit of $4.25M, Justin Abdelkader is actually the least expensive player of the eight on the overpaid side. Look, I’m not here to say Abdelkader doesn’t serve a purpose; I’m simply saying that Abdelkader is a good fourth line player and a decent third liner in a pinch. To commit $4.25M of your cap space to that role is a problem, and one of the reasons the Red Wings find themselves in cap hell as well as near the bottom of the projected 2017-18 standings.
The Red Wings missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 1989-90, and they haven’t actually won a playoff series since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. It’s funny that GM Ken Holland and the Red Wings were not long ago the Gold Standard on how to run a team, and now they’re a salary cap team without much light at the end of the tunnel.
12 Underpaid: Eric Staal - $3.5 Million
The Minnesota Wild signed UFA Eric Staal to a three-year contract in the summer 0f 2016, and at the time he was considered a bit of a reclamation project. Staal had a history of elite-level play, but he was fresh off his least-offensive season since his rookie year in 2003-04, scoring just 39 points. The Wild took a chance on Staal, signing him to a three-year pact with a cap hit of $3.5M.
Staal made good on his part in year one of that deal, bouncing back in a big way and managing to chip in 65 points in a full 82 game season. He actually finished second on the team in points, behind Finnish upstart Mikael Granlund. Even if Staal doesn’t quite reach 65 points this season, there’s no doubt that this player at $3.5M is a steal.
11 Overpaid: Kari Lehtonen - $5.9 Million
It’s well-documented that the Dallas Stars have had their issues when it comes to the goal crease, but they may have finally figured it out by bringing in Ben Bishop. That said, they still have a remnant left over from the recent carousel, and that remnant goes by the name of Kari Lehtonen. Although a decent goalie in his own right—great for a backup, actually—he’s costing them way too much.
Thankfully it’s the last year of Lehtonen’s deal, but nonetheless the Stars are committing $5.9M of cap space to the Finnish goaltender in 2017-18. If you add in Bishop’s contract—as well as the $1.5M the Stars are paying Antti Niemi after the offseason buyout—Dallas is paying a fat $12.3M for their goaltending this year.
10 Underpaid: Cam Fowler - $4 million
The 2016-17 season was finally the year in which Cam Fowler realized his potential, which was welcome news for the Ducks and their fans. Fowler was already a stellar D-man, but he really came into his own last year. He’s heading into the final year of a deal that kicked in back in 2013-14, and it pays him a very team-friendly $4M.
Folwer has already signed an eight year extension with the Ducks that kicks in next season, and that contract will pay him $6.5M per year, which is much closer to market value for the defender. Fowler reached a career high in goals last season with 11, and he registered 39 points as well, which is the highest total for him since his rookie campaign when he managed to get 40.
9 Overpaid: Zach Parise - $7.5 million
This list has already featured two Anaheim Ducks—one on the good side and one on the bad—and now it’s the same for the Minnesota Wild. While they’re getting a hell of a bargain with Eric Staal, they’re paying out the nose for the services of Zach Parise. Parise, along with defenseman Ryan Suter, signed with the Wild as a UFA in 2012. They each signed a 13 year pact in the state of hockey.
While I’d consider them both overpaid, Parise is by far the more egregious overpayment here. They have identical cap hits of just north of $7.5M, but last season the Wild got a measly 42 points for their investment in Parise. At least Suter is still a legit top-pairing defenseman who eats a ton of minutes for Minny.
8 Underpaid: Roman Josi - $4 million
When it comes to defensemen who contribute at both ends of the ice, it doesn’t get much better than Nashville’s Roman Josi. If you want a guy who can shut down your opponents and put up a healthy 55 points from the blue line, look no further than the Swiss defenseman. Perhaps even more unbelievable than his play, though, is that he costs the Predators a measly $4M toward their cap for the next three seasons.
Josi normally patrols the top pairing in Nashville with Ryan Ellis, but with Ellis on the IR to start the year he will man the point with a new partner, Matt Irwin. Even without Ellis the Predators boast one of the best defense corps in the league, and it’s extremely helpful to their salary cap situation to have Josi locked into such a friendly deal.
7 Overpaid: Leon Draisaitl - $8.5 Million
Before I get into this, I’d like to say that Leon Draisaitl is a great hockey player and he could eventually prove to be well worth the $8.5M x 8 year contract extension he signed this offseason. That said, with what we know now, the price tag for German Gretzky is simply too high.
I understand that the guy had 77 points last year and finished 8th in the league in scoring. The problem with it is that he did it playing primarily as Connor McDavid’s winger. Sure, Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic were unable to produce on the generational talent’s flank, but nonetheless with a contract like that, the Oilers should be paying Draisaitl to center a second scoring line, much like Pittsburgh does with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
6 Underpaid: John Klingberg - $4.25 Million
Swedish defenseman John Klingberg burst onto the scene as a relatively unknown rookie in 2014-15, putting up a solid 40 points in 65 games. The Stars wasted no time in locking up the defender long term, singing him to a seven-year pact with an annual cap hit of $4.25M. The gamble paid off for the Stars, as Klingberg has continued to develop into one of the game’s premier offensive defensemen.
After recording 58 points in his sophomore year, Klingberg regressed a tiny bit in 2016-17, but still managed 49 points. Much off the drop off can be credited to the slow start Klingberg had, so watch for him to get off to a better start this year. He’s likely to be paired with Marc Methot most of this season, who knows what it’s like to play with an offensively-minded defesneman, having spent the past several years as Erik Karlsson’s partner in Ottawa.
5 Overpaid: Jonathan Toews - $10.5 Million
Much like Leon Draisaitl, I firmly believe that Jonathan Toews is a good—almost great—hockey player. He’s hailed as a great two-way player who possesses exemplary leadership skills. He’s captained the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups, capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy once. He’s a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist. And yes, the ‘Hawks are paying him way too much.
Toews is currently tied as the highest paid player in the NHL with $10.5M cap hit. Again, I’m not here to disrespect Toews, but the guy scored just 58 points last season, and that include a stretch from Jan. 22 to Feb. 26 when he notched 24 points in 14 games. This means he scored just 34 points in the other 58 games he played. Not great value on the dollar there.
4 Underpaid: Wayne Simmonds - $3.9 Million
For my money, Wayne Simmonds isn’t only on one of the most team-friendly deals in the NHL, but he’s also one of the more underrated forwards out there. The Flyers have the power forward locked up for another two years at a tremendous discount, committing just north of a $3.9M cap hit to the winger. Seriously, to have Simmonds on that deal is criminal.
Let’s put it this way. Since 2011-12, only 13 players have scored more goals than Simmonds. Traditionally a slow starter, Simmonds got off to a hot start in 2017-18 by registering a hat trick in the first game of the season against the Sharks. The totals from his five most recent full seasons range from 28 to 32 goals—could this be the season he takes another step and approaches the 40-goal milestone?
3 Overpaid: Dion Phaneuf - $7 million
Coming in as the second-most overpaid player in the NHL for 2017-18 in Senators defenseman Dion Phaneuf. Acquired in a blockbuster during the 2015-16 season, Phaneuf is costing the Senators $7M of cap space for four more seasons. Exactly why GM Pierre Dorion chose to take on this deal is anyone’s guess, and it gets only more complicated by the fact that he was aggressively shopping him this past offseason—not 15 months after acquiring him.
Predictably, no other team wanted anything to do with Phaneuf and his way-too-high cap hit. Phaneuf still serves a purpose on the ice, but that’s as a decent second-pairing defenseman who can probably still quarterback a second unit power play. I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I’d want to allocate about 10% of my cap space.
2 Underpaid: Nikita Kucherov
I’m conjecturing here, but I think Nikita Kucherov might be a little pissed off at either his agent, Tampa GM Steve Yzerman, or both. Last summer, locked out in a contract dispute, the Lightning managed to convince Kucherov to sign a three-year bridge deal that cost a measly $4.76M cap hit per season. This was after back-to-back seasons of 65 and 66 points for Kucherov, which puts his market value well north of $6M per season, by my count.
Adding insult to injury is that the Lightning were able to shed a few anchor contracts shortly after signing Kucherov to the extension, and they pretty much immediately turned around and spent that money on extensions for Tyler Johnson and Onrej Palat—two good albeit lesser players compared with Kucherov—to deals with greater cap hits. Kucherov will get paid after 2018-19 for sure, but until then he is on the most team-friendly contract in the NHL.
1 Overpaid: Dustin Brown - $5.875 Million
The way fans and pundits have viewed Dustin Brown over the years has varied greatly. Prior to the Kings' Cinderella run in 2012, he was in trade rumors everywhere. Then, he turned it up and led the Kings to the franchise’s first Cup Championship just months later. He probably would have won the Conn Smythe if it were awarded to a skater instead of goalie Jonathan Quick that year.
Since that Cup run, Brown’s slowly deteriorated as a player, but his history was enough for the Kings to ink him to an eight-year extension that kicked in in 2014-15 and carried with it a $5.875M cap hit. Prior to the 2012-13 lockout year, Brown getting between 50-60 points a season was constant as gravity, but over the past four years he’s managed between 27 and 36 points in full seasons.