In general, there's usually discrepancies when you compare a list of the best a position has to offer to the list of the highest paid athletes at that position.
Part of the reason is that, in an increasingly younger world of sports, players are establishing themselves as the best of their position before their first professional contract is up, meaning lists like this often exclude the guys you would expect to be here - guys that will likely get here eventually.
The other reason is the one that gets GMs fired and has fans slamming their heads into walls out of sheer frustration every time the name of an overpaid player is uttered - the bad contracts. The bloated, crippling mistakes that result in cap-strapped teams having to pinch pennies to tiptoe around the problem - which works until the general manager steps of the proverbial rake, which ends up snapping upwards and cracking him right between the eyes.
This list doesn't have an abundance of the latter, which is a good sign for general managers across the board. It means they're getting smarter - and have properly calculated what an elite rearguard is worth.
The bar keeps going up (way up, actually) with regards to these contracts, as top end defensemen don't grow on trees, and the odd one that does sprout and fall off the branch get scooped up faster than you can say "good first pass." It wouldn't surprise anyone to see this list continuously alter in the next few years - especially with guys like Duncan Keith on the verge of huge raises - and no one will be shocked to see the numbers rise significantly at the same time.
15 Tobias Enstrom/Matt Niskanen/Dougie Hamilton/Andrei Markov - $5.75 Million
The four-way tie at number fifteen is as appropriate a place to start as there could be. For one thing, what constitutes an "elite defenseman" is fairly subjective, and even though none of these guys (save for Hamilton) is going to be a franchise cornerstone on the blueline, they are quality players to have on your roster.
Enstrom, should he return to form, is as solid a puck-moving offensive defenseman as you'll find, despite his small stature. Matt Niskanen was solid in Washington last year and a few more good years will justify what initially seemed like an inflated deal. Dougie Hamilton is a stud in the making - this deal could be a steal as soon as this year. Andrei Markov is running out of gas, but he's been worth every penny the Montreal Canadiens have ever spent on him, and while $5.75 million seems a little high now, it's the price you pay to keep a player from hitting the open market in his prime.
14 Brent Burns - $5.76 Million
Brent Burns became everyone's favorite player this year because he grew a massive beard, kept his hair untamed and generally looked like a beast (in the literal sense) out on the ice. Move past the unique look and you'll find a guy who's honed his craft and has solidified his spot as a top-flight offensive defenseman. His time as a forward no doubt helped, but he's also been able to improve his ability in the defensive end, too. If Burns continues to put up 60-point seasons, this cap hit will be a drop in the bucket.
13 Brent Seabrook - $5.8 Million
Coming off a third Stanley Cup win and another phenomenal playoff stat line, Brent Seabrook figures to get a sizable raise when his contract is up next summer. Seabrook has been somewhat in the shadow of Duncan Keith for years now and while one might think that the Hawks can do without him, Chicago should be doing everything in their power to make room for both of them. Seabrook has been an effective No. 2 throughout his career - it would make no sense for Chicago to weaken one of their biggest strengths just to save a couple of millions.
12 T11. Mike Green - $6 Million
Mike Green is our first "overpaid" defenseman on the list. Sure, he put up huge numbers during his time in Washington, but he's clearly past his days of putting up upwards of 70 points a year. If Green was considered an extremely strong defensive asset as well, we wouldn't blink an eye at the cap hit - but he isn't. Last season he got pushed down the depth chart in Washington, down past newcomers Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen, neither who are anywhere near as offensively gifted as Green (although Niskanen comes fairly close).
Another thing to keep an eye on is that while Green will still get a lot of ice-time with top-end guys like Datsyuk and Zetterberg in Detroit, he won't be setting up Alexander Ovechkin on every single power-play opportunity anymore. Expect the assist numbers to go down.
11 T11. Johnny Boychuk - $6 Million
When Johnny Boychuk was a member of the Bruins, he was viewed as a tough, defensive defenseman with the ability to intimidate opponents and play a physical style when need be (which is pretty much all the time in Boston).
In his short time with the Islanders, though, he's proven to be much more than that - even though his ice-time only increased slightly, his point totals (at even strength and on the powerplay) went up, his penalty minutes nosedived, and his overall game seemed to have improved by leaps and bounds. In Boston, he was a middling defenseman - in New York, he's a pillar of the Islanders' blueline.
10 T9. Alex Pietrangelo - $6.5 Million
Alex Pietrangelo might be one of the few NHL defenseman in "blueline purgatory." Pietrangelo is no doubt one of the best in the league and is fully deserving of his salary, but you'll rarely hear his name mentioned among the top 5 in the league. He's represented Canadian internationally and forms a fantastic top-end duo with teammate Kevin Shattenkirk, but for some reason he's never been able to squeeze himself into the class that includes guys like Shea Weber and Duncan Keith. That should change, eventually, and it might just take a bigger cap hit for that to happen.
9 T9. Erik Karlsson - $6.5 Million
Erik Karlsson must stay up at night sometimes, hoping that he could go back in time with the knowledge that he has now - specifically knowing that he could be making a lot more money than he is right now. Six and a half million is nothing to scoff at, but based on the current market, Karlsson could have been making at least nine million a season, if not more. The Ottawa Senators are in a position to parlay the cap space they saved into making their roster formidable and the best part for them is that they still have Karlsson at this number (which will look minuscule by 2017) for several more seasons.
8 Zdeno Chara - $6.91 Million
Bruins fans might be wishing now that they had unloaded Chara's salary instead of trading away up-and-coming superstar Dougie Hamilton, but the salary cap era has shown us that there is always a price to pay for success. The Bruins signed Chara to a mega-deal while he was in his prime and it paid off in spades - including a long-awaited Stanley Cup championship. You have to spend to win, and while you can try to stay at the top forever, every powerhouse needs to crumble before it can return to its former glory.
The Bruins are going through that deterioration as we speak - and Chara's cap hit today is not helping the rebuilding effort - but no one was complaining about his salary when he was brushing the rafters with the Stanley Cup, so Bruins fans should be able to let this one slide.
7 T6. Dion Phaneuf - $7 Million
Luckily for Dion Phaneuf, there's a name further down this list that arguably qualifies as a worse contract than his, so he gets a bit of reprieve because of that - but not a lot. Phaneuf's contract is, simply put, horrendous. While there's no doubt that he's a solid NHL player, he's nowhere near a No. 1 defenseman - some might argue he's not even a No. 3. Phaneuf, like Phil Kessel and many others before him, was and still is brutally miscast in Toronto, and it has effectively ruined whatever good he did for his career while he was still a Flame.
The Leafs miscalculated badly on Phaneuf (among others) and they are now paying for it dearly.
6 T6. Drew Doughty - $7 Million
Drew Doughty must have the same nightmares Erik Karlsson has about his salary every once in awhile.
The fact that Doughty makes the same as Dion Phaneuf and less than Brian Campbell is a travesty. In the hockey world, it's a practically tragic. It makes Dean Lombardi look like a brilliant, evil mastermind and makes the Florida Panthers look like fools.
The Kings have built a rock-solid roster and it helps when their best player is making pennies on the dollar. Doughty is arguably the best all-around rearguard in the league, but his cap hit doesn't reflect it.
5 Brian Campbell - $7.14 Million
Look, Brian Campbell seems like a decent guy. He looks like the kind of guy you could have a beer with in a regular bar and have a regular conversation about his regular life.
Everything about him - including his game - is "regular," or at least appears to be, except for his ridiculous contract. He's been good - but not 7+ million dollars good. His numbers have dipped every year (save for his solid 2011-2012 campaign) ever since he signed his big contract in the summer of 2008, meaning the Blackhawks and now the Panthers have essentially been paying him for what he did during his time in Buffalo and his short stint in San Jose.
Of course, if there's a team that can live with this deal, it's Florida. Getting to the cap floor seems to be a yearly issue for them and if they get 30-40 points and decent defensive play from him, the Panthers will be content signing this check.
4 Kris Letang - $7.25 Million
Kris Letang has established himself among the premier puck-moving offensive defenseman in the NHL from the moment he donned a Penguins jersey years ago. Letang has had a rash of bad luck over the past several seasons, however he's been his dominant self whenever he's been able to hit the ice.
One thing that is often overlooked and underestimated by fans and pundits alike when looking at massive contracts is the kind of person the money is being awarded too. At the very least, the Penguins know they are paying for a driven, dedicated player who won't let much get in the way of him stepping on the ice.
3 Ryan Suter - $7.54 Million
Ryan Suter isn't the flashiest player on the ice. He won't put up Letang or Subban like offensive numbers - but if there is one defenseman in the league you know you can put on the ice at any moment, no matter the situation, and - most importantly - no matter how many minutes he's already played in that game, it's him.
Suter has set the bar for "workhorses" across the league, having averaged 29 minutes a game each of the past two years - while often surpassing the 30-minute mark in regular season games that didn't even go to overtime. Suffice to say Suter is earning his cap hit, a cap hit the Wild will love for several more years.
2 Shea Weber - $7.8 Million
Shea Weber was a very content recipient of one of the largest contract offers in league history when the Flyers decided to sign him to a 14-year offer sheet in 2012. The Predators, who, at the time, we're devoid of any other top-end talent and desperately needing to retain their franchise's cornerstone, swallowed hard and matched the offer sheet, meaning Weber will likely retire a Predator.
At the time, the deal seemed absurd, even for a player of Weber's stature, but today, $7.8 million a year for arguably the best defenseman in the league seems like a steal.
1 P.K. Subban - $9 Million
P.K. Subban gave Montreal Canadiens fans heart palpitations for months last summer when his contract negotiations dragged out a lot longer than they probably should have. When the deal broke, Habs fans we're just happy that their favorite player (besides Carey Price) would be a Hab for a long time.
While many will criticize the Habs for "caving" to Subban's demands, Subban answered his naysayers with a Norris-nomination worthy season. In a few years, nine million probably won't seem like much for a guy of Subban's stature, considering the deals guys like Brent Seabrook, Dustin Byfuglien and Marc Giordano are bound to get over the next couple of summers.
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