They say you get what you pay for, in hockey, that’s mostly true. While there are definitely some ugly over payments for several players, many of those deals were struck during the low supply, high demand circumstances of free agency. Only three of the 15 players on this list play for non-playoff teams. Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Anaheim each have two players on this list, and Chicago will join them next year. Those four teams are all serious contenders for the Stanley Cup. S
peaking of Stanley Cups, every cup winner since 2004 besides Chicago has a player on this list; and Chicago will have will have two at the top of it next season. The teams that can’t afford to pay their best players are stuck with either trading them or letting them walk for nothing as a UFA. History has shown us that the return on big-piece players is hardly worth it, usually bringing back a roster player, and the gambles of a prospect and draft pick. The best big player returns come from player-for-player swaps, but that usually brings back an equally large contract. If you want to win, you have to pay your big guys the big cash, there’s just no way around it.
A fascinating article touched on the idea that today's star players are actually underpaid, relatively speaking of course. Their argument was based on the data that the highest-paid players in 1997-98 (Joe Sakic) made 1,300% more than the average salary. Compare that with Crosby’s salary being just 400% higher than the average, and it makes even more sense to shell out the money for the best players. Two CBAs have significantly increased the wage for the NHL’s common man, which increases the bang-for-buck ratio on the cream of the crop.
Lets dive in like Uncle Scrooge swimming in his vault of money. Don’t hit your head on the gold.
15 Anze Kopitar $7,500,000
Kopitar burst into the league finishing fourth in Calder Trophy voting. He was the Kings most talented scorer during their leaner times, but as the team developed around him, so did his defensive presence. He is now regarded as one of the top two-way players in the league. He didn’t forget how to score however, leading the playoffs in scoring in both Stanley Cup years. Cooperate may be 15th on this list, but he definitely ranks top five among players you want to build your team around. L.A. has some cap maneuvering to do very soon, as his contract is up after 2015-16, and he will be deserving a large raise. The Kings will have to find a way to pay their best forward, and keep the nucleus that has won them two cups within three years.
14 Patrice Bergeron - $7,500,000
Patrice Bergeron plays a similar style to Kopitar. He anchors the team, is able to match against any line in the NHL, neutralizing the opposition's best players while providing consistent offense of his own. After spending what would have been his second NHL season in the AHL due to the 2004 lockout, Bergeron emerged as Boston’s scoring leader in 2005-06 with 73 points. Over the years his point production has slowly dipped as his defensive game rounded out. The Bruins wouldn’t have it any other way as he provides Selke-level play every year and his two-way dominance was a huge part of their 2011 Stanley Cup win.
Bergeron is worth every penny and Boston is happy to have him locked up until 2021.
13 Henrik Zetterberg - $7,750,000
A complete player, similar to his teammate (and list mate) Pavel Datsyuk. The Red Wings secured a huge part of their future when they drafted Henrik at a mind-boggling 210th overall in 1999. Zetterberg had been playing in the second-tier league in Sweden when Jim Nil caught a tournament he was involved in. Nil was initially checking out Mattias Weinhandl, but noticed “this little Zetterberg guy who always seemed to have the puck”. Once he hit the NHL, Zetterberg captured a Calder, won a Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe, and also took home Gold in the Olympics.
Zetterberg is a startlingly consistent scorer, posting 720 points in 759 games. He is not far off his usual production this season with 49 points in 54 games as of this writing. He also plays a valuable role, guiding and shaping the latest players to come up in the famed Red Wing system. With youngsters like Nyqvist and Tatar proving they can make an NHL impact, Detroit looks ready to challenge for the Cup once again.
12 Rick Nash - $7,900,000
The Blue Jackets were all about Rick Nash leading up to his draft year. They even swapped picks with Florida, moving from third to first overall in order to guarantee Nash came to Columbus. He made an immediate impact, scoring 41 goals in his second season. It would take another four seasons before he would hit that mark again, but he managed to score at least 27 for the rest of his Blue Jacket career.
Nash is a dynamic goal scorer with a massive frame, just Youtube “Rick Nash the goal” for possibly the slickest tally of the decade. His production tends to waver. Although it could be more of an indicator of the team around him, Nash only managed 16 assists during his first 41-goal season. He wavers from point-a-game to .75 from year to year. Fans in New York must have been a little disappointed when their mega-hyped acquisition managed just 39 points in 65 games only a year after 42 in 44.
This year is a different story. Perhaps Nash just needed time to adjust to life in the Big Apple, but he is on a torrid pace so far. If he keeps it up, he could bag his first 50 goal season. Rangers fans and Nash could care less however, as long as they get another crack at the Cup, and finish what they started last year.
11 Marian Hossa - $7,900,000
In 2009, it was all the rage to sign 12-year contracts, front-loaded, to circumvent the cap. That’s changed with the new CBA, but Hossa is one of those many contracts still in the league. Even though he makes $7.9 million this year in cold hard cash, he only takes up $5.2 million of cap space in Chicago. The massive deal with Chicago came after two very interesting seasons for Hossa. After failing to win a cup with the Penguins, he declined their massive contract offer to sign a one-year deal in Detroit, the very team that beat them. The hockey gods were against Hossa as the two teams met again in the finals and Hossa lost again. He signed his current whopper of a deal with the Blackhawks and promptly won the cherished championship.
Hossa is well worth the cash, providing an elite combination of scoring and shutdown play. But as the Hawks face their third year of cap crisis, Hossa could be on his way out, if someone is willing to take on the term on his contract.
10 Steven Stamkos - $8,000,000
The young gun on the list. Tampa was lucky to draft first overall in 2008 (though Drew Doughty at second is no slouch). Stamkos is the face of the revitalized Tampa Bay Lightning. In just his second season, he scored a whopping 52 goals and 95 points. He followed that up with two more +90 point years and remains one of the NHL’s most dangerous snipers at just 25. His contract ends in 2016, but Stamkos has already hinted he would like to stay in Tampa Bay, and everyone outside of Leafs Nation would agree it’s the wisest choice.
Tampa GM Steve Yzerman has done a masterful job surrounding Stamkos with the types of quality pieces required for a Stanley Cup. They have the goaltending, defense, and emerging talent on the second line to get it done. By the time Stamkos re-signs, he should be at the top of this list and might even have a Stanley Cup as well.
9 Ryan Getzlaf - $8,750,000
Right behind his buddy Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf makes similar coin and provides similar results. He and Perry might place even higher on a list of first round steals, picked 19th and 28th respectively. Getzlaf is well deserving of his large paycheck, leading the Ducks with his Mark Messier type game (and hairline). All NHL teams covet the type of center the Ducks have in Getzlaf. Big, mean, skilled, he sets the tone for the team.
The Ducks knew they had something special in him when he helped them win their Cup in 2007. With Anaheim dominating for most of this season, it looks like they could do something special once again come playoff time.
8 Corey Perry - $9,000,000
The other half of Anaheim's dominant duo. Corey Perry is the kind of player you want to pay $9,000,000. He’s scored 37 goals at least three times, including his 50 in 2010. Along with his puck skills, Perry is a nasty player to play against, making full use of his 6-foot-3, 213 pound frame. He and Getzlaf are the modern day legion of doom line, consistently one of the toughest pairs to defend against. Perry has also already won a Cup with Anaheim back when he made $9 million less, when he was on the best second line in the NHL. Now that the Ducks have Ryan Kesler to bolster their second line, Perry and the Ducks look set to contend for a second Stanley Cup.
7 Eric Staal - $9,250,000
It’s hard to believe Eric Staal is only 30. It seems like a lifetime ago that he was the newest star center in the league, scoring 100 points, and bringing a Stanley Cup to Carolina. Since his lone 100 point season 10 years ago, Staal has scored more than a point per game in a season just once. With Carolina sinking to ridiculous lows this season and Staal’s contract ending in 2016 there have even been trade rumours circulating around the big center.
He is an interesting trade piece. His cap hit is quite high for a contending team, but the term is short enough to make sense as a year-plus rental. The free-agent market is usually incredibly kind to centers of his calibre. He compares strongly to Paul Stastny, and will probably end up with a similar valued deal, if not higher with two years of NHL inflation.
6 Evgeni Malkin - $9,500,000
Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Anaheim both have two players on this list, and Chicago will join them next year. Success comes at a price, but better to pay it than sit at the bottom watching the other teams have all the fun. It’s insane to think Malkin is undervalued. But he sits at number six on our list, and is arguably the second best center on his team. Of course he is one of the most talented players in the world, and has proved it multiple times in the NHL.
His most impressive run was undoubtedly the 2008-09 Stanley Cup season. Malkin led the league in scoring, was nominated for the Hart, and absolutely destroyed in the playoffs, taking home a much-deserved Conn Smythe. The scary thing is that as time goes on, Malkin and Crosby’s contracts become more and more valuable. They’re both under 30 and Phil Kessel already makes more than Geno. Pittsburgh's present and future looks bright.
5 Phil Kessel - $10,000,000
Much can be written about Phil the Thrill. Perhaps a better nickname is Punxsutawney Phil, named after the famous groundhog, who keeps people guessing when the sun will shine. One thing is for sure, Kessel can score goals with the best of them. Since 2008-09, he’s scored at a 30-goal pace each season. A nice comparison would be Mike Gartner. Gartner had the same lightning speed, played for the Leafs, consistently scored goals…..and never won a Stanley Cup. With Phil signed to the Leafs until 2022, and the way things have been going, he might suffer the same fate, unless he's spared with a trade.
4 Pavel Datsyuk - $10,000,000
The second-oldest player on the list, younger than Hossa by half a year. Detroit was happy to sign Datsyuk to a contract extension in 2013, for fear that he might enjoy his offseason at home in Russia a little too much, and take the big bucks out there. His days of plus-90 points seasons are gone, but the 36-year-old still produces close to a point-per-game and is equally impressive on the defensive side of the game. The Wings haven’t been close to the Stanley Cup for a few years, but as their new cycle of players start to make an impact, Datsyuk should still have a year or so left in his championship window. When this dynamic player decides to hang ‘em up, the Wings will be hard-pressed to find a better way to spend $10,000,000.
3 Claude Giroux - $10,000,000
Philadelphia looked vastly different in 2011. Handing out mega-contracts to Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, it seemed they were set as the Flyers' core for the rest of their careers. In one of the biggest surprises of the decade, the Flyers moved both out of town and rebuilt the team on the fly. This was just one year removed from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
With the old boys moved out, a giant spot was created, and subsequently filled by Claude Giroux. Giroux centered the new first line with wingers Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr, leading the league in scoring for much of the season. Giroux has remained a dynamic player, scoring at least a point-per-game since taking over the top spot in Philly. That's $10 million well spent.
2 Alex Ovechkin - $10,000,000
When he and Crosby first broke into the NHL, they were almost always mentioned in the same breath. Their large personalities, franchise-changing presence, and prodigal scoring kept them both in the NHL spotlight. Now a decade later, Ovechkin is looked at in a less favorable light. He lit the NHL on fire with five straight seasons of at least 92 points, but his lack of Stanley Cup success will always stay with him. At times his playoff play was labeled selfish. He had a bad habit of ignoring his teammates, stubbornly forcing plays without success. After a few seasons of point production below his usual standards, his value sank a little lower. Suddenly people are questioning if Washington could ever win a Cup while paying Ovechkin $10 million.
With new coach Barry Trotz bringing a more defensive approach to Washington and Ovechkin reportedly buying in to the system, there is hope yet. While no one is betting Alex will become the next Steve Yzerman, if he can have success with Trotz, the fans won’t care how many millions he makes.
1 Sidney Crosby - $12,000,000
The face of the NHL, arguably the best player on the planet, surely Sidney belongs at the top of this list. Combined with his lucrative sponsorships and how incredibly unlikely it is for him to take a huge downfall, and Crosby looks to be set for life. The funny thing with the NHL is how fast the salaries have risen in the past few years. Next season will see two Blackhawks usurp Crosby for the position of highest paid with their matching $13.8 million salaries. If the salary cap continues to rise, the Penguins will finally have a bit of wiggle room for bringing in some help for their dynamic duo. Until then, they make do with bargain bin players like Blake Comeau, who plays in their top six and makes a cool $700,000. Besides Malkin and Crosby, no other forward on Pittsburgh makes more than $4.2 million, and eight make $1.1 million or less. That's the price of business in Pittsburgh PA.
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