It’s crunch time in the NHL, with a little under three weeks to go in the season and much to be determined about playoff positioning, or team’s just making the playoffs.
For those making big bucks, this is also the time to shine and get their teams a better place, or over the hump and into the Big Dance. Or, they get a little extra rest because their team has already clinched.
Salaries in hockey don’t approach the monster deals proffered in the NBA, MLB and NFL, but for those with talent, the money they receive is nothing to sniff at.
Not on this list are some of the game’s brightest young stars, like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, who will have to wait until their entry level deals expire to cash in. Leon Draisaitl, McDavid’s teammate who has 65 points this season, is due to get paid though.
Here are 17 established stars who are raking in the biggest yearly salaries (for 2016-17) at their positions. It’s structured like a team, with two goalies, nine forwards and six defensemen, starting from the net out.
17. Henrik Lundqvist, G – $9.5 million
King Hank signed a monster contract in 2014 that will keep him in the Big Apple until 2021. He inked a seven-year, $59.5 million pact that sees him earn $9.5 million this season, the highest salary of any netminder in the NHL. The deal is on a sliding scale that will see his yearly salary dwindle to $5.5 million in the last season (2020-21). For the money, the New York Rangers have gotten a lot of value, as Lundqvist has started 162 games in the three seasons since negotiating the contract. He has posted 95 wins, 11 shutouts and in 2015-16, he saw the most shots against in the league (1,944) and made the most saves (1,788). In the playoffs, he has gone 12-11 since 2014, and is 55-59 overall with a 2.28 goals against average. He owns just about every New York Rangers’ goaltending record, including wins (404), shutouts (61) and most games played, combined (852).
16. Sergei Bobrovsky, G – $8.5 million
No other goalie in the NHL is giving their team the value per dollar spent than Sergei Bobrovsky. The Columbus Blue Jackets no. 1 netminder is currently leading the league in wins (39), save percentage (.931) and goals against average (2.04). He’s also tied for third in shutouts with a career high six. In 2012-13, Bobrovsky was a first team all-star and Vezina Trophy winner, earning him a two-year deal that paid an average $5.5 million per season. His good goaltending continued and in 2015, he inked a brand new four-year, $29.7 million contract. As with a lot of athletes on new pacts, Bobrovsky had his worst season since winning the Vezina, going 15-19-1, with a 2.75 GAA and .908 save percentage in 2015-16. Now making $8.5 million, Bobrovsky is rewarding the Blue Jackets’ brass with a stellar campaign that could see him take Vezina honors for the second time, and maybe, just maybe enjoy a deep playoff run.
15. Shea Weber, D – $12 million
The Montreal Canadiens knew what they were doing when they swung one of the biggest trades in recent memory last summer. Getting a proven leader and powerplay specialist in Shea Weber for enigmatic but popular fellow powerplay specialist P.K. Subban, even though unpopular with the fans, was a coup. Habs’ management also knew they were taking on the remaining 10 seasons of Weber’s giant 14-year, $110 million contract that pays him a league leading $12 million this season. The average cap hit of the deal, which runs out in 2026 when Weber is 40, is $7.857 million. Across the board, Weber’s numbers bear out the Montreal braintrust’s decision to bring him in, as he has 16 goals (11 on the powerplay, most by any defenceman) and 25 assists for 41 points. Weber is also +17, just one year after posting a -7 in 78 games with Nashville.
14. P.K. Subban, D – $11 million
The dollar-for-dollar, superstar-for-superstar trade doesn’t happen all that often in the NHL — much less in all of the Big 4 — like the one that saw Montreal’s P.K. Subban dealt to Nashville for Shea Weber. And it’s apt that they are the top two highest paid defencemen in the league this season. As for Subban, while his salary is a $1 million shy of Weber, his cap hit of $9 million is highest among all defenders. On the offensive side, Subban hasn’t been as productive as years past, scoring eight goals and 27 assists in 56 games. It’s quite a dip considering his 51-point output in 68 games with the Canadiens in 2015-16. Looked at another way (and a thanks to the folks at Cap Friendly), it is costing the Preds an average of $257,143 per point that the former Norris Trophy winner logs, which is well down the overall list of “affordable return on investment.”
13. Brent Seabrook, D – $9 million
The Blackhawks are well represented here, with three core players eating up a large chunk of their salary cap. In veteran defenceman Brent Seabrook’s case, the Hawks made a wise investment, in that they are a favorite to win it all yet again and Seabrook is providing the kind of two-way play they have gotten used to. For his $9 million in salary ($6.875 million cap hit), Chicago has received 35 points (13 on the powerplay), 22:29 average minutes, 105 hits and 124 blocked shots in 70 games. Seabrook has been as consistent as they get in 12 seasons with Chicago, rarely missing a game (just 11 in the last 11 seasons) and putting up anywhere from 20 points (low, during the lockout season) to 48 (high recorded in 2010-11). The great two-way defenceman has also performed like a beast in the playoffs, especially during three Stanley Cup runs where he had 14 goals, 12 assists, 210 hits and 118 blocked shots in 68 hard games.
12. Ryan Suter, D – $9 million
Like Brent Seabrook in Chicago, the Minnesota Wild lean on 12-year veteran Ryan Suter for scoring, two-way play, leadership and intangibles he brings to the table. Acquired in the summer of 2012, the Wild immediately signed the star defender to a 13-year, $98 million contract that expires in 2024-25. Now in his fifth season with the Wild, Suter’s game has matured, to the point he is leading all players in the NHL with a +33 rating. The native of Madison, WI plays big minutes for the Wild, coming in at a shade over 27 minutes per game, while also contributing eight goals (four powerplay) and 28 assists in 71 games. He, like Seabrook, has also been very durable and has missed just five games since joining the Wild prior to the lockout shortened 2012-13 campaign. Suter has thrived under new coach Bruce Boudreau’s system and he and the Wild currently sit second in the Western Conference.
11. Keith Yandle, D – $7.5 million
In a bid to solidify gains made last season, like making the playoffs, the Florida Panthers locked up one of the NHL’s better puck-moving defenceman in Keith Yandle to a seven-year, $44.45 million contract with a no movement clause. The Panthers have squeezed the most they can from the durable workhorse, getting two full minutes more ice time out of him (22:09 vs. 19:58 with the Rangers last year), as well as four goals and 31 assists in 71 games. Unfortunately for Yandle and the Cats, the playoffs may be out of reach, as they sit with 73 points, eight out of the last wild card position occupied by the Toronto Maple Leafs. In the post-season, Yandle has been slightly more productive, scoring 31 points in 51 career games (.61 points per game), than in the regular season (404 points in 732 games, .55 PPG).
10. Dion Phaneuf, D – $7.5 million
The Toronto Maple Leafs executive team no doubt breathed a sigh of relief when they got Dion Phaneuf’s seven-year, $49 million contract off the books at last year’s trade deadline. However, Phaneuf was unfairly maligned in a lot of quarters (including a bit of grief from us), despite the value he adds to a line-up. The 12-year veteran has never lived up to a monster 2007-08 season where he scored 60 points with Calgary, but he plays hard minutes against the opposition’s best forwards and plays a fairly sound two-way game now with the Senators. In 71 games this season, Phaneuf has nine goals and 20 assists, a -6 rating, 115 hits and 143 blocked shots in 22:57 average ice time. With the Sens poised to finish second in the Atlantic Division, Phaneuf’s experience and steadying influence on the blue line could be key for Ottawa.
9. Anze Kopitar, F – $14 million
At $14 million, Slovenian superstar center Anze Kopitar is the highest paid player in the NHL this season. We don’t begrudge the Kings best player being well remunerated, yet, his robust salary is looking rather large for his so-so output this season. For a guy who was averaging about 68.5 points per season in his first 10 campaigns, the 29-year-old star has slipped this season to 44 points in 66 games, which extrapolates to about 51 points in 76 contests. Now, we’re not going to beat his stats to death, considering he’s the reigning Lady Byng and Selke Trophy winner. Kopitar plays big minutes at almost 21 per game and is an above average face-off man who has won 51.5 per cent of his draws this season. The Kings, as a whole, haven’t been very good this year and might likely miss the playoffs. Expect Kopitar, the catalyst, to bounce back next season.
8. Jonathan Toews, F – $13.8 million
Captain Serious just might be the best on-ice leader in the league, and he is paid like it. A key component of three Stanley Cups and a big part of the team’s renewed success this season, Toews has been the consummate pro. Especially with a Hawks team that has seen a lot of churn and the insertion of more rookies this season than any in recent memory. Now in his 10th season, Toews is producing at his usual rate (53 points in 63 games) as well as providing excellent two-way awareness and face-off ability. He has won 55.4 percent of his draws and has been drawing just over 20 minutes of ice time, usually playing against his foes’ best players. In Chicago’s three title drives, Toews has upped the ante, scoring 20 goals and 44 assists in 68 games and winning over 55 percent of his face-offs. The Hawks, with Toews leading the way, are a “serious” threat to win it all, again.
7. Patrick Kane, F – $13.8 million
While Jonny Toews is the quiet, contemplative leader, his comrade-in-arms Patrick Kane — also in his 10th season — is the brash straw that stirs the Blackhawks’ scoring drink. It’s fitting then, that the NHL’s reigning MVP and scoring champion has his bank account stuffed to the max in the same way Toews’ is. With just 10 games to go in the season, Kane isn’t tracking to have the career 106-point campaign he had in 2015-16. But, he does have 79 points (32 goals, 26 even strength) in 72 games and sits fourth in scoring, just three points back of leader Connor McDavid. Kane’s worth to the Hawks is measured in playoff success, the same as Toews. In three Stanley Cup runs, Kane has fired 30 goals and added 40 assists in 68 games. More amazing, fully 26 of his post-season markers have come even strength. The Hawks are on the verge of greatness and Kane will play a huge role.
6. Ryan O’Reilly, F – $11 million
Ryan O’Reilly’s rich contract extension that he signed in 2015 — seven years, $52.5 million — kicked in this season and his $11 million salary makes him the fourth highest paid forward and sixth highest paid player in the game. Now, he has been all as advertised in 2016-17, yet, he’ll be unfairly judged on his remuneration if the Sabres don’t soon make the playoffs. O’Reilly has seen action in 63 games for the Sabres, who are currently 14th in the Eastern Conference and nine points out of a playoff spot with nine games to go. Suffice to say, their chances are slim. O’Reilly has fired 17 goals and added 31 assists to put him second in team scoring behind Jack Eichel (who makes considerably less). O’Reilly’s worth doesn’t stop there, though, as he is -1 on a defensively suspect team and plays sound, virtually penalty free two-way hockey. He has also won an astounding 57.6 percent of his draws and has stolen the puck 53 times from the opposition, while giving it away just 22 times.
5. Sidney Crosby, F – $10.9 million
We find it kind of galling that the game’s best player for the last 12 years isn’t the highest paid. Well, we can’t feel too sorry for a guy who is making $10.9 million this season, yet, he’s still $3 million behind Anze Kopitar, who has just over half Sid the Kid’s points. Crosby is paid like a superstar and plays like one, having copped two Art Ross trophies, a Rocket Richard, two Hart Trophies, two Stanley Cups and two Olympic gold medals. This season, Crosby is uncharacteristically leading the scoring race with 40 goals and has added 40 assists in just 65 games to sit second in scoring behind Connor McDavid. It was Crosby’s effort in the playoffs last year (19 points in 24 games) that propelled the Pens to their second Stanley Cup in the Crosby era and won him his first Conn Smythe. There is a lot of noise about what other teams are doing this season, but we think the Pens are going to surprise a few of them.
4. Alex Ovechkin, F – $10 million
The NHL’s premier goal scorer gets a ton of clams to put the biscuit in the basket. Sid the Kid’s foil in Washington, also in his 12th season, has scored 553 goals in 910 games, leading the NHL in that department six times and scoring over 50 seven times in that span. With 472 assists, Ovechkin is averaging well over a point per game, so his $10 million salary this season is entirely warranted. For OV, however, his detractors will never point to his salary again if he wins that elusive Stanley Cup with Washington. He’s won just about every major individual trophy there is, including the Hart three times. But, the Conn Smythe still eludes him and if he wants to solidify his name among the true greats, he’ll go on a tear this spring and bring Lord Stanley’s mug to D.C. for the first time ever.
3. Corey Perry, F – $10 million
Perry, who entered the league the same year as Crosby and Ovechkin, hasn’t been as prolific a scorer but does have a Stanley Cup ring to his name. The Anaheim Ducks’ sniper has been earnings his $10 million salary, scoring 46 points in 72 games this season (third on the team). For 12 seasons, he has been the Ducks’ most consistent scoring threat, notching 344 goals in 876 games, including a league high 50 in 2010-11. Perry was just a sophomore forward when the Ducks charged to their only NHL title in 2007, but he acquitted himself well, scoring six goals and nine assists in 21 playoff games. Otherwise, Perry has 32 goals and 46 assists in 97 post-season tilts. Now 31, Perry’s production has tailed off a bit, which in itself may be cause for concern, but the Ducks are getting more balanced scoring, which bodes well for a deep playoff run.
2. Jakub Voracek, F – $10 million
Voracek is a recent addition to the high rollers club, having signed an eight-year, $66 million contract extension in July, 2015. His $10 million in salary this year is highest on the Flyers — even higher than Claude Giroux — but his cap hit is $8.25 million. Voracek was handed that generous extension after scoring a career high 81 points in 82 games during the 2014-15 campaign. He dipped to just 55 points in 2015-16, and in this, his first season of the new deal, Voracek has another 55 points in 71 games. Where people will point to his deal and say he’s not quite worth it, is in his plus-minus, which sits at an ungainly -26. Voracek, though, is paid to score and make great passes that result in goals. With 330 assists (38 this season) in 675 games, that kind of production looks good. The Flyers, however, haven’t been consistent all year and are seven points out of the playoffs with 11 games to go, which will put more heat on well-paid help like Voracek.
1. Evgeni Malkin, F – $9.5 million
Like his confrere Sidney Crosby, Malkin continues to light it up in his 11th season, scoring 33 goals and 39 assists in just 62 games. His 72 points put him sixth overall on the scoring ledger, adding to his career totals of 328 goals and 504 assists in 706 career games. So, for $9.5 million per season, the Penguins are getting fair value for their dollar. He’s won two scoring titles in his career, a Calder, a Hart and a Conn Smythe. He was a dynamo during Pittsburgh’s 2009 Stanley Cup run, scoring 14 goals and 22 assists in just 24 games. Career-wise, Malkin has put up 48 goals and 81 assists in 124 post-season contests. Pittsburgh sits just one point out of first place overall in the NHL, and with all the focus on Washington and Columbus this season, Malkin, Crosby et al might have a surprise in store come playoff time.