No matter how passionate an NHL player is for the game of hockey or for his team, the topic of money is an inevitable one. In a league where even the lowest paid players make more than most doctors or lawyers, superstars have the opportunity to make millions every year and build a financial cushion for themselves to remain wealthy for the rest of their lives. Every league is filled with its horror stories of former players left destitute after flagrant spending or business ventures gone awry, but there are just as many who saved their money wisely to achieve their post-retirement dreams. Whether their money was gained primarily through salary in their playing days, endorsement and sponsorship deals or in other capacities after their retirement, several NHLers, both former and current, have used their on-ice skill to vault themselves comfortably into the ranks of the richest in the world.
This list features a comfortable mix of young and older players from several decades. Some names will come as no surprise to many, while others might cause an eyebrow to raise here and there. Some have likely reached their peak financial state, barring successful investments, while others still have the bulk of their salary-earning years ahead of them. The thing that unites them is their ability to use their on-ice success to achieve off-ice success, specifically in the financial sense. Each of these players is, or was, good to the game of hockey, and it, in return, is good to them.
Note: There are many other NHLers whose career earnings would, theoretically, place them on this list. There is not enough existing data, however, to judge their current net worth, so this list limits itself to players whose current or very recent net worth can be confirmed.
T19. Tuukka Rask, $20 million
The 2014 Vezina winner has become one of the NHL’s highest paid goalies, and still has seven years to go on an eight year, $56 million dollar contract signed last year. At the age of 27, Rask could have a decade or more ahead of him, which not only gives him a chance to add a second Stanley Cup to go along with the one he won in 2011, but the chance to make a lot more money.
T19. Ray Bourque, $20 million
The longtime Bruins hero finally won the Stanley Cup he deserved as a member of the Colorado Avalanche in 2001 to cap his storied 21 year career, during which he made his millions and hit several milestones. Bourque made the first All-Star team a record thirteen times, won the Norris Trophy for best defenseman five times and has more career points than any defenseman in NHL history.
T19. Sidney Crosby, $20 million
This estimate for the two-time MVP lies on the extreme low end, as Crosby, according to Forbes, made $16.5 million dollars last year alone between his salary and various endorsement deals. Just one year into a 12 year, $104 million dollar contract, and with more lucrative endorsement deals than any other current player, Crosby seems destined to rise much higher on this list in the near future, if he has not done so already.
T19. Ryan Smyth, $20 million
As a player who exemplified the heart, soul, physical toughness and mental determination that so many hockey fans cherish, Smyth is a deserving member of this list. The longtime Oiler was never able to add a Stanley Cup to his resume, but there is little doubt that he would have traded every cent to win hockey’s highest prize. The image of him crying after his trade from the Oilers is a lasting image in the heart of Oilers fan.
T19. Trevor Linden, $20 million
Linden just can’t stay away from the Vancouver Canucks. Linden left the Canucks in 1998 after playing for them for ten years, only to return three years later to remain until his 2008 retirement. In April 2014, he then returned to the team once again as President of Hockey Operations. Ever a loyal servant to the team, Linden will only continue to add to his earnings from the Canucks as he proceeds in this role.
T19. Tim Thomas, $20 million
Now known as much for his political views and blunt personality as he his for his unorthodox goaltending techniques, Thomas is unquestionably one of the true characters on this list. Few would deny Thomas’ talents, as his two Vezina Trophies, Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe Trophy and four All-Star appearances are a testament to his goaltending prowess. The combination of his style and personality, however, have led Thomas to become one of contemporary hockey’s most divisive figures.
T19. Owen Nolan, $20 million
Nolan, the first overall pick by the Quebec Nordiques in 1990, was never a true threat for the Hart or Art Ross Trophies, but his scoring touch and physical play made him a valuable asset to any team. Though he never won the Stanley Cup, Nolan did win an Olympic gold medal in 2002 as a member of Canada’s team in Salt Lake City.
T15. Scott Niedermayer, $30 million
An easy choice for any list of hockey’s all-time best defensemen, the only divisive part of Niedermayer’s career is whether he should be best remembered for his seemingly effortless skating abilities, his offensive skill, or his ability to win. Niedermayer is the only player in history to win a Memorial Cup, World Junior Championship, World Championship, Stanley Cup and Olympic gold medal.
T15. Eric Lindros, $30 million
No current Hockey Hall of Fame debate is as fascinating as the one surrounding Lindros. On one hand, Lindros was a seven-time All-Star and one-time MVP winner, dominating the sport in the mid to late 90s and finishing his career with an average of 1.13 points per game, good for 19th all time. On the other hand, Lindros’ concussion issues cut his career short, and he burned bridges with many fans for his refusal to play for the Nordiques, as well as the contract dispute that led him to miss the entire 2000-2001 season. Did he have a Hall of Fame career, or does he fall into the good but not quite good enough category?
T15. Alexander Ovechkin, $30 million
Ovechkin may have many millions of dollars, but, as he said so succinctly himself, “Cups is cups.” While he still has time to remold his game to become a complete player, as Yzerman, Modano and others did before him, few will consider him one of the all-time greats, no matter how many goals he scores, until he at least leads the Capitals on a deep playoff run. The good news is that he still has plenty of tread left on his tires.
T15. Sergei Fedorov, $30 million
As the first European player to win the Hart Trophy, Fedorov was one of the league’s most skilled offensive talents in his prime as well as a two-time Selke winner. The result was three career Stanley Cups with Detroit, a record for most career overtime points and a reputation as one of the most complete players of recent memory.
14. Bobby Orr, $35 million
If there is an argument stating Orr was anything less than the greatest defenseman of all-time, few people will give it any credence. The eight-time Norris winner, three-time Hart winner and two-time Art Ross Trophy winner (Orr is still the only defenseman to lead the league in points) also published a best-selling autobiography in 2013. He also produced one of the greatest moments in sports history when he flew through the air after scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal versus the Blues.
13. Roberto Luongo, $36 million
Few would consider a twelve year, $64 million contract as imprisoning, yet that exact situation transpired for Luongo in Vancouver, until his move to the Florida Panthers at the 2014 NHL trade deadline. His Twitter account, @strombone1, however, marks him as one of hockey’s funniest personalities, as it did throughout the entire trade saga with Vancouver. He’ll be hoping that Florida’s young talent will be enough to let Luongo play in the playoffs again.
T8. Henrik Sedin, $40 million
Since there is little reliable finanical data on his brother Daniel, Henrik Sedin, for once, gets to stand on his own. As the playmaker of the duo, Henrik has quietly become the Canucks’ all-time leading scorer, a distinction to add to his 2010 season where he won the Hart and Art Ross Trophies. While the brothers are inseparable in conversation, perhaps Henrik deserves more consideration as a talented player on his own merits.
T8. Teemu Selanne, $40 million
The “Finnish Flash” is not only the highest scoring Finn in NHL history and the record holder for most goals as a rookie with 76, but is also one of the most respected players today. With 684 career goals, 1,457 career points, the Olympic record of 43 career tournament points and a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007, Selanne has more than earned his retirement, which he’ll finally take this year.
T8. Nicklas Backstrom, $40 million
The young Swede has partnered with Ovechkin on the ice to put up impressive offensive numbers, but must also step up alongside Ovechkin to become a more complete player. A dazzling assist machine throughout his young career, Backstrom still has plenty of time to mature and develop the other facets of his game (not to mention earn a considerable amount of money).
T8. Steve Yzerman, $40 million
One of the NHL’s all-time greats, the longtime Red Wings captain has since moved on from the organization to become GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Whether he can add a Stanley Cup there to add to the three he won as a player, as well as the three combined Olympic gold medals he won as a player and team executive director, remains to be seen, but none can doubt his love of the game, his understanding of its minutiae and his unrelenting desire to win.
T8. Jaromir Jagr, $40 million
Jagr’s career has gone through several phases, from mulleted young sidekick to Mario Lemieux to goal-scoring machine of the Dead Puck era to grizzled but still talented veteran, and has displayed his immense talent in each one. An easy first-ballot Hall of Famer when he retires, one can only hope Jagr will continue to wow fans for another year to come. We will get another year of Jagr and we can only assume he’ll remain as incredible as awesome.
T6. Vincent Lecavalier, $45 million
Immediately burdened by the label of the “Michael Jordan of hockey,” Lecavalier achieved stardom and success but never quite became the singularly dominant force some expected. His career has been hindered by injuries over the last year, specifically to his back. While not in the same ranks as the all-time greats, he did get to play one in a movie, appearing as Jean Beliveau in the 2005 Maurice Richard biopic The Rocket.
T6. Mario Lemieux, $45 million
Lemieux has saved the Penguins twice in his career. First, as the first overall pick in 1984, he led them from the NHL basement to win two Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992. The second time, he saved them off the ice as team owner, buying the Penguins in 1999 to rescue them from bankruptcy. Lemieux is still owner and chairman of the team, as well as one of the best players to ever play the game.
5. Mark Messier, $55 million
Considered to be the best leader in NHL history, the six-time Stanley Cup winner is also one of the highest scoring and one of the richest hockey players of all time. Whether you remember him best as a young Oiler, Rangers captain or as a spokesman for Lays in their “Betcha can’t eat just one” commercials, Messier stands as a true hockey icon, both on and off the ice.
T3. Nicklas Lidstrom, $60 million
While Orr has the top defenseman of all time distinction wrapped up, Lidstrom, according to many, has one of the best claims to second all-time on that list. Lidstrom’s smooth play, seeming incapability to make mistakes and ability to make even the most difficult plays look effortless sometimes disguised just how truly talented he was as a player. Ever since his departure from the Red Wings, their defense has been in shambles, which is a testament to his ability.
T3. Jarome Iginla, $60 million
If there are any current NHL players adored across the league, Iginla is certainly one of them. His scoring prowess, unyielding yet clean physical play and deserved reputation as a kind and generous person off the ice have endeared him to the hearts of many. His quest for a first Stanley Cup will undoubtedly draw the support of many fans to his current team, the Colorado Avalanche.
2. Pavel Bure, $68 million
Bure didn’t just skate and shoot, he flew down the ice and fired his shots with precision, seemingly born to score goals and thrill fans across the NHL. Few honors could demonstrate his abilities as well as the Vancouver Canucks’ decision to rename one of their team awards to become the Pavel Bure Most Exciting Player Award.
1. Wayne Gretzky, $200 million
What else needs to be said about Gretzky at this point? Greatest player ever, holder of dozens of records, ambassador for the game and the reason why the league now has so many teams in the southern United States, after his trade to and subsequent success in Los Angeles. Even after his retirement, his fame has guaranteed him several endorsement deals that will keep him rich long after even the youngest members of this list retire.
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