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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
8 Corey Perry - $9,000,000
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.
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.
5 Phil Kessel - $10,000,000
4 Pavel Datsyuk - $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.
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.
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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