When it comes to NHL players, it doesn’t really matter how hard they try, the bottom line is production. If you can’t produce on the ice and do your job then you’re not much use to your team and aren’t valued highly by them. Of course, different players produce in different ways since some are paid to stop the puck and others cash their paycheque for scoring goals and setting up teammates. If you’re making $7 million a year to lead the team in scoring and only manage to find the back of the net 15 to 20 times a season then you’re not earning your salary and are basically overpaid.
On the flip side of the coin, we have players who aren’t making the big bucks, but are producing at an equal or better rate than the league’s higher paid players. This list consists of 20 players who are underpaid when compared to others of similar talent in the league. This doesn’t mean they’re no-name or underrated players. It simply means they represent a great bargain for their clubs due to the relative value of their contracts. We have taken their age and contract status into consideration as well as their current and prior statistics. This includes the length of their contract and its average salary per year.
To make this a level playing field those who are presently on entry-level rookie contracts such as Connor McDavid of Edmonton and Jack Eichel of Buffalo haven’t been included. Also, players who are on the last year of a current deal and have already signed a contract extension with a well-deserved raise won’t be found here. When compared to many of their peers who make more money for offering the same or less value to their teams, these are the top 20 NHL players who are underpaid for their worth.
20 Gustav Nyquist
Speedy right winger Gustav Nyquist of Sweden had five goals and four assists after 11 games this season and could easily hit the 70-point mark. The 26-year-old had 27 goals and 27 assists last year and 28 goals and 20 assists the season before. He now has 124 points in 190 regular-season games and has become one of the Red Wings top six forwards performance-wise. The Red Wings made a good move by signing the game breaker to a four-year deal and his salary this season is $4 million, while other of his ilk are making considerably more. Nyquist won’t hit the $5 million mark until the 2017/18 campaign.
19 Max Pacioretty
Montreal left winger Max Pacioretty is another scorer who’s under contract for several more years at a bargain price. The Habs captain is the team’s top scorer and had 11 points after 13 games this season. He scored 76 goals and 127 points over the past two seasons and had 291 points in his first 412 regular-season games with another 18 in 32 playoff outings. Pacioretty is a consistent 30-goal scorer who should soon crack the 40-goal barrier before his contract runs out at the end of 2018/19. Until then, the 26-year-old American will be taking home $4 million this year and $5 million for the next three seasons with a cap hit of $4.5 million annually.
18 Lee Stempniak
American winger Lee Stempniak is 32 years old now, but still producing the way he always has. Stempniak had 377 points in his first 719 regular season games which means he’s basically a 40 to 45-point player over the course of a regular season. He’s on track for those numbers this year with eight points in his first 11 games with the Devils. He’s been a consistent player since breaking into the league back in 2005/06 and is worth more to his team than his $850,000 one-year contract would suggest, especially since he’s been playing over 23 minutes per game on some nights.
17 Mark Stone
Right winger Mark Stone of the Senators was a good find by the team as he was taken 178th overall in the 2010 draft. The 23-year-old adds toughness and grit to the squad as well as a fine scoring touch. Stone had 13 points in his first 11 games this season before being derailed with a two-game suspension, but should still be able to hit at least 70 points. That’s not bad for a plus 25 player who had 85 points in his first 114 regular-season games, including 64 last year and added five more in eight playoff outings. Stone could prove to be an NHL star quite soon. Stone will make only $2.25 million this year though on a three-year contract which pays just $3.5 million on average.
16 Torey Krug
The Bruins had enough confidence in defenceman Torey Krug’s skills to feel they could afford to trade Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames. The 24-year-old undrafted American, who stands just 5-feet-9-inches tall hasn’t let his club down yet. Krug had eight points in his first 10 games this year after scoring 39 points last season and 40 the year before. Krug has a great shot and offensive talent, but he’s also underrated in his own end. He was plus 4 early this season while playing 23 minutes per game. He’s also added six goals and 10 assists in 27 postseason contests. Krug isn’t paid like the effective defenceman he is though as he’s making $3.4 million this year before becoming a restricted free agent next summer.
15 Tomas Tatar
Slovakian left winger Tomas Tatar is under contract until the end of the 2016/17 season at $2.75 million per year. The 24-year old was drafted with the 60th pick in 2009 and has improved with each passing year in the league. He had seven points in 11 games this season and should break the 50-point barrier with no problem considering he had 29 goals and 27 assists for 56 points last season. That’s a deal for Detroit since he’ll likely improve again next year and there are numerous 50-point players taking home $4 million a year such as Toronto’s Nazem Kadri at $4.1 million. Tatar has 110 points in 193 regular-season games and is a good defensive player with a plus-16 mark.
14 Kyle Turris
Centre Kyle Turris of the Ottawa Senators had 12 points in his first 11 games this season and is on pace for an 85-point year. That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to fans though since he racked up 24 goals and 40 assists last campaign and 26 goals and 32 assists the year before. The 26-year-old has also chipped in with 17 points in 27 postseason matches. Turris is in the third year of a five-season deal which pays him an average of $3.5 million annually. He’s a good faceoff man who plays about 20 minutes a night and is basically underpaid for what he adds to the Senators’ roster.
13 Jason Zucker
California native Jason Zucker is just 23 years old and has a great future ahead of him in the game. The left winger was drafted 59th overall by the Wild in 2010 and has proven to be a valuable player, especially when you consider he’s making just $950,000 this year and was paid $851,000 last season. Zucker had 12 points in his first 47 games with the Wild over three seasons, but had a breakout campaign in 2014/15 with 21 goals and five assists. He then added a pair of goals in the playoffs. Zucker started this season where he left off last year and had three goals and six assists in his first 11 games. If he can keep it up he’ll easily hit the 50-point mark this season. Zucker’s a restricted free agent next year and should be in for a decent raise.
12 Nail Yakupov
Former first-overall draft pick Nail Yakupov of Russia had a decent rookie season in 2012/13 with 17 goals and 14 assists in the shortened 48-game season. The forward took a lot of heat over the next two years though when he scored just 25 goals and 32 assists for 57 points in 144 games. He’s still only 22 years old though and seems to have matured this season, or perhaps it was just the addition of Connor McDavid that has helped him pick up his game? Regardless, Yakupov is making just $2.5 million this season and next and is on pace for about 65 points with 10 in his first dozen games. He’s also improved defensively.
11 Jiri Hudler
Centre Jiri Hudler may be slightly past his prime as the Czech Republic native is now 31 years old. However, he’s still producing at a consistent level. Hudler posted 130 points in his first 153 games with Calgary and added 10 more in his fist dozen contests this year. He also chipped in with eight points in the Flames’ 11-game playoff run last season. He’s a dependable player who adds some experience to a youthful squad and has 381 points in 616 career regular-season games. Hudler may only play just over 17 minutes per game, but he’s still putting up the points. He’s on pace for close to 80 points this campaign, but will make just $4 million on the last year of his four-year $16 million deal. Hudler can then test the market as an unrestricted free agent.
10 Ryan Johansen
The Columbus Blue Jackets are a good team, but have gotten off to a dreadful start in 2015/16. This is why 23-year-old centre Ryan Johansen had just 6 points in his first 10 games. Still, he’s arguably the team’s best player and has scored 173 points in 281 games since being drafted with the fourth overall pick in 2010. Johansen posted 71 points last season and 63 the year before with six points in six playoff contests. He’s one of the team’s leaders and a consistent scorer who is being paid just $3 million this year. His average salary on his three-year deal is $4 million, but he’s still underpaid at that.
9 Tyler Toffoli
Young centre Tyler Toffoli started the 2015/16 season like a house on fire with a league-leading nine goals in his first 10 games. There’s no way he can keep it up, but he could end up contributing 30 goals and 60 points. He’s scored 93 points in 159 games with Los Angeles since being drafted with the 47th pick in 2010. The23-year-old also has 20 points in 38 playoff appearances. Toffoli had 23 goals and 26 assists last campaign and should easily improve on that output this season. He’ll be paid $2.6 million this year and 3.9 million next year, which averages out to just $3.25 million a year, which is still a bargain for the Kings.
8 Kyle Okposo
American right winger Kyle Okposo has been with the Islanders ever since being drafted by them with the seventh-overall pick in 2006. Okposo has been a steady and consistent scorer with 314 points in 463 regular-season contests and another seven in 13 playoff outings. Okposo is a top-six forward who started the 2015/16 campaign with nine points in his first 12 games and should be able to reach the 60-point mark. He had 120 points in 131 games over the past two seasons which ranks him right up with the best. However, the 27-year-old’s contract pays him an average of $2.8 million a year. Luckily for Okposo he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
7 Ondrej Palat
Twenty-four-year-old left winger Andrej Palat of the Czech Republic was a steal for the Lightning as he was drafted with the 208th pick in 2011. He’s also a steal when it comes to his salary. Palat will make $3.2 million this year and is paid $3.33 million on average in his three-year deal which runs out at the end of the 2016/17 season. Palat, like most of his Lightning teammates is off to a bit of a slow start this season. However, he’ll undoubtedly pick things up. Palat had 132 points in his first 183 regular-season appearances and 19 points in 29 playoff games. He contributed 63 points in 75 games last year and 59 points in 81 games the year before. Toffoli will make just $2.6 million this year.
6 Tyler Seguin
At just 23 years old, Dallas forward Tyler Seguin is still a few years from his prime. However, he’s still one of the league’s top producers with 159 points over the past two seasons and 298 in his first 365 regular-season contests. Seguin led the league in assists with 12 and was second in points with 17 in early November, just one behind his teammate Jamie Benn. There’s no reason Seguin won’t be a top-5 scorer in the league for the next five or six years, but he’s not being paid as one as of yet since he’s making $6 million until the end of 2017/18 and then gets a $500,000 raise for the final year of his six-year deal with an annual cap hit of $5.75 million.
5 Tyler Johnson
Tyler Johnson is a small 5-foot-8-inch player who puts up big numbers. The 25-year-old American-born undrafted centre has been with Tampa Bay since 2012/13 and had contributed 135 points in his first 187 games. Johnson also turns it up a notch in the playoffs with another 25 points in 30 postseason contests. The crafty player is a fine faceoff man who can handle as many minutes the coaching staff throw at him. Johnson recorded 72 points in 77 games last season on 29 goals and 43 assists. The odds are good that he’ll finish this season close to last year’s numbers. The Lightning are getting a lot of value from their speedy centre considering he’s under contract until the end of next season at an average of $3.333 million a year.
4 Jamie Benn
Jamie Benn is the go-to guy for the Dallas Stars and his four-point output in last season’s finale earned the forward the scoring title. He’s another guy who has picked up where he left off last season and a second straight Art Ross Trophy isn’t out of the question. Benn was leading the NHL in goals and points in early November and could improve on last year’s totals of 35 goals, 52 assists and 87 points. Benn has been producing in Dallas since his rookie season of 22 goals and 41. Other than the shortened season, Benn’s goal and points total has increased each year and he’s just 26-years-old. He also chipped in with 4 goals and 5 points in 6 postseason games last year. Benn is the team captain, plays the power play and big minutes and at $5.75 million until the end of next season is quite a bargain.
3 Roman Josi
Nashville’s 25-year-old Swiss defenceman Roman Josi is already widely regarded as one of the best blue liners in the game, but is being paid an average of $4.125 million up until the end of the 2019/20 campaign. Josi is an elite player in both ends of the ice and finished last season with 15 goals and 40 assists for 55 points. He’s not a one-year wonder as he had 40 points the previous year. Josi logs huge minutes by quarterbacking the power play and killing penalties for the Predators and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he takes home the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenceman before his current contract runs out.
2 John Tavares
John Tavares is the captain and face of the New York Islanders. He’s simply their best player and one of the tops in the league at just 25 years of age. Tavares is easily a top5 to 10 scorer each season and may even get better than he already is. He’s the team leader in just about every offensive department and its most valuable player. The centre is underpaid though when compared to many of his peers since he’s making $6 million this year. He’s in the fourth year of a six-year deal which pays him an average of $5.5 million per season. Tavares has 412 points in 442 regular-season games with the Islanders and 11 in 13 playoff outings. He missed out on the NHL scoring title last year as his 86 points was one shy of Dallas’ Jamie Benn. Tavares could easily challenge for the title again this season.
1 Victor Hedman
Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman should win the Norris Trophy sooner or later due to his excellent play in both ends of the rink. The 24-year-old Swedish defenceman was drafted second overall by Tampa in 2009 and has lived up to his billing. Hedman had 192 points in his first 402 regular-season games and 23 points in 48 postseason encounters. He scored 93 points in 134 appearances over the past two years and led the Lightning to the Stanley Cup finals last season. He’s off to a fine start this season as well. However, he’s currently in the fourth season of a five-year deal which pays him an average of $4 million annually. This makes Hedman the fifth-highest paid blue liner on his own team.
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