Los Angeles Kings owner Philip Anschutz poses with his Stanley Cup-winning team.
Money isn’t everything. Oh, it’s a great deal, certainly, but with the National Hockey League prepared to lock out its players on Sunday, September 16, there’s a lot more at stake here than a few dollars and sense… okay, a lot of sense, because right now it doesn’t make much.
To those fans who find themselves siding with the players, consider for a moment that while they represent the on-ice product, there would be no league at all without the owners.
Conversely, to those who believe the owners are in the right, the players aren’t just insanely rich professional athletes losing their salaries. They're insanely rich people too...with the possible exception of Zdeno Chara. Here are the top 10 NHL players with the most on the line.
Jonathan Quick of the Stanley Cup-winning Los Angeles Kings.
What they have to lose: A chance to repeat as Stanley Cup champions
Los Angeles has a pretty good hockey team, that is, if you haven’t heard. The Stanley Cup win was a dead giveaway, in case you had your doubts.
However, like the Tampa Bay Lightning before them following that team’s 2004 championship, the Kings stand a very realistic chance at losing out on a chance to repeat in two straight seasons.
Sure, if the season does end up being cancelled, there’s always 2013-14, but let’s be realistic here.
Not only will the Kings have potentially lost the services of such key players as Rob Scuderi, Simon Gagne and Dustin Penner, by then—as it did during the last lockout a lost season eats up one year of your contract—decreasing the likelihood of two straight championships, but that second straight championship the Kings might win? It would forever be tainted.
“The Kings, like the 1996-98 Detroit Red Wings?” all analysts would ask, almost rhetorically.
“Don’t be crazy,” would be the implied response, with those questioning the Kings’ legitimacy as consecutive champions, conveniently forgetting how their collective impression of a knife through warm butter these past playoffs made us all run to our computers and order Jonathan Quick jerseys thinking they were Miracle Blade substitutes.
They’re not, by the way… I have a severely stained Jonathan Quick jersey to prove it. Okay… two, before I learned my lesson. What? Quick sounds like it could be the name of a knife set.
Jonathan Bernier of the Stanley Cup-winning Los Angeles Kings.
What he has to lose: Another year without having established himself as a No. 1 goalie
Why single out Jonathan Bernier? It’s bad enough to lose out on a chance to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. It’s worse yet when you arguably weren’t a part of the Stanley Cup championship team to begin with.
Indeed, Bernier’s last game played this past season predates the playoffs. So dominant was Jonathan Quick this past postseason that all Bernier had to do was brush up on his acting and feign interest in the on-ice action. On the plus side, the reviews are in and he’s better than Gretzky (but everyone’s a better actor than Gretzky, aren’t they?).
Sure, his team was in the midst of one of the most impressive post-season runs in NHL history, but it still must have been hard, convincing everyone you were happy, when your chance to ever start in goal for the Kings against teams other than the Columbus Blue Jackets of the league was slipping through your fingers like sand through a sieve.
While Bernier’s no sieve himself, few teams requiring a starting goalie coming out of a season-long lockout will care.
All they’ll see is a 25-year-old unproven goalie who spends more time sitting on his behind than Dean Cain during a Lois & Clark marathon, trying to relive his time as Superman…or, you know, as an actor.
Okay, so not everyone’s better than Gretzky in that department. But Bernier’s no Kryptonian either. He’s only human, and logic dictates a lost season would be the equivalent of a speeding bullet to his career.
Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils (center).
What he has to lose: A really fat paycheck every few weeks
While Shea Weber is technically the highest-paid player in the NHL ($14 million per season this year and the next three after that), $13 million of that money is a signing bonus, which he will get paid no matter what happens between the league and the players’ union. Yes, apparently the big man (or his agent) has got brains to match his brawn.
However, in terms of sheer salary, Ilya Kovalchuk makes the most at $11 million, which hilariously enough is all he would make should the entire season be miraculously saved. So, in the event of a lockout, he won’t see one penny from the New Jersey Devils.
That’s roughly $134,000 per game, or, if you’re thinking in average-people terms, per 60 minutes of work, or, of course, 30,981 Big Macs (what? I like me my Big Macs).
In any case, based on that 60-minute rate, if Kovalchuk worked a nine-to-five job he’d be making $1.07 million every single day (247,845 Big Macs).
Of course, these are all hypotheticals, just like his salary right now or his ability to pass the puck.
Admittedly, Kovalchuk could theoretically go to the Kontinental Hockey League and make loads of money there this season, but where’s the fun in that? No, really. Where’s the fun? The rumor is the ice over there is made of the tears of offensive-minded players who have their point totals die slow, horrible deaths.
Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets.
What he has to lose: A whole lot of weight
So big does Dustin Byfuglien look in a recent photo taken at former teammate Dave Bolland’s wedding (via Puck Daddy) that you’d think he swallowed the entire cake whole as if straight out of some cartoon.
To gain the proper perspective of just how big Byfuglien really is in that picture, that toothpick of a man directly next to Byfuglien who actually does look like he’s about to be picked up and thrust into the latter’s mouth? Brent Seabrook, who weighs 220 pounds.
While photos aren’t generally considered to be an accurate way to estimate weight, to quote comedian Jimmy Carr, if “the camera adds 10 pounds, stop eating damn cameras.”
As such, it’s clear Byfuglien will have a whole lot of work to do to get into proper game shape, and we’re not talking football.
Nail Yakupov of the Edmonton Oilers.
What he has to lose: The start of his NHL career
While it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that Nail Yakupov would make the Edmonton Oilers out of training camp (in the event of a regularly scheduled NHL season), it was definitely assumed he would.
So, like fellow Russian Alexander Ovechkin before him, who was drafted No. 1 a year before a certain Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native (Nathan MacKinnon anyone?) following a long labor dispute, Yakupov stands to lose out on the first season of what stands to be a glorious NHL career…that will obviously eventually degrade in quality to the point that analysts will start questioning his superstardom and whether or not Mikhail Grigorenko was the better choice eight years after the fact.
Indeed, there are too many parallels to count, which leads me to believe one day Yakupov will score his 50th goal in a season and then do some kind of weird “dance” around his stick as if it were on fire. Personally, I still can’t make sense of it. But on the plus side, we will clearly get another chance to analyze it, whatever it is, a few years down the road, so look for that.
P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens.
What he has to lose: A highly lucrative second pro-level contract
Like a whole bunch or other current restricted free agents (Evander Kane, Michael Del Zotto, Jamie Benn, etc.), P.K. Subban is in the throes of a trying negotiation process with the team that drafted him.
According to TSN analyst Bob McKenzie, one key issue for owners moving forward is reining in salaries of players just out of their entry-level contracts (via TSN). Of course, these are the same owners that feel glorified third-liner Troy Brouwer is worth $11 million over three years. Go figure.
So, assuming the raging hypocrisy of these owners wins out in this latest cold war, all these RFAs will have potentially left a whole lot on the table when they eventually get to signing their next deals.
In Subban’s case specifically, the reported two-year, $5.5-million deal he was offered but rejected (via Yahoo! Sports) came with him holding a whole lot of leverage. He was to be the Montreal Canadiens’ No. 1 defenseman this year. That maybe won’t be the case next season.
In the event of a lost NHL season, not only will Andrei Markov have had a full season to find his legs, but prospects like Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu will be at the very least one step closer to full-time NHL duty and more likely actively vying for roster spots.
That means there will be no less than nine defensemen looking to fill six spots and Subban no longer will be the lone legitimate offensive threat on a second-rate defensive corps. He’ll be one of a few legitimate offensive threats on an up-and-coming, second-rate defensive corps!
That isn’t to say Subban doesn’t or won’t deserve the money he’s seeking or that Montreal won’t necessarily want to give him more, but Habs management may very well have its hands tied, depending on how loose the language is in the new collective bargaining agreement.
Jose Theodore of the Florida Panthers.
What he has to lose: His last chance to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL
Jose Theodore is no spring chicken. In the right light, he might look the part, sure. I mean, for a time, it looked like he was deathly afraid of the puck for one thing. Hair loss for another (via CBCSports).
In truth, however, he’s a 36-year-old goalie on the downside of his career who has been more inconsistent than the recent weather of the Sunshine State, where he currently resides.
He finally had a decent season last year after swallowing his pride and taking a job as a backup goalie with the Minnesota Wild in 2010-2011.
Now, not only are there rampant rumors that the Florida Panthers are looking to acquire Roberto Luongo, but he also has to contend with the advances of a 22-year-old Jacob Markstrom who’s at the very least due to challenge for Scott Clemmensen’s job as his back-up.
Theodore’s contract runs out at the end of next season, and there are few teams who are willing to take a chance on a goalie whose best days are behind him. On the plus side, his hair still looks great.
Wojtek Wolski, then of the Florida Panthers.
What he has to lose: His best chance at resurrecting his career
When the Washington Capitals reached out to Wojtek Wolski this past offseason, they weren’t really going out on too much of a limb.
They were signing a player with some skill for one year, for about as much money as they would a fourth-line plug with about as much chance at staying in the NHL as being demoted.
It was Wolski who was absorbing all the risk, because he knows this is it. If he doesn’t perform in Washington, where he has been reportedly told that he’ll be playing top-six minutes (via The Washington Times), the next stop is the KHL or worse…I believe Australia has a hockey league, for your information.
He would fit right in with all the possums playing dead, at least in terms of his on-ice production, now wouldn’t he? And his career off the ice would match as an added bonus. How convenient.
If the season is lost, Wolski potentially loses out on that opportunity to play alongside Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Ribeiro, etc. Let’s not forget, Wolski wasn’t exactly beating off suitors with a stick this past July, even for the $600,000 for which he eventually signed. Once this one-year deal runs out, few, including Wolski, must know what the future holds.
Teemu Selanne of the Anaheim Ducks.
What he has to lose: A last kick at the can
Still playing a high-impact role at 42 years of age, Teemu Selanne is as impressive as they come, and that’s including the current Big Brother 14 contestant who can kick himself in the face. I think it’s safe to say Selanne, though, would prefer one last kick at the proverbial can instead.
Thankfully, Selanne has already one Stanley Cup to his name (2007), but he’s at the stage of his career where it could very well be his last. One-year deals have become the norm for him, because, following each season, he’s not sure he wants to keep playing. Take away a season of hockey and he may decide to walk away altogether.
This lockout could very well rob him of at least one more chance at a championship and that’s a shame in the most sincere use of the word. It’s times like these I wish someone would kick the NHL and players’ union in their faces.
Jeff Halpern, then of the Washington Capitals.
What he has to lose: His only kick at the can
After being dealt from the Dallas Stars to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008 (the Brad Richards trade), Jeff Halpern notched an impressive 18 points (including 10 goals) in 19 games. As most would expect, never before or since has he been able to replicate that type of production.
In fact, as a defense-first forward, he’s usually lucky to crack the 30-point mark. The last time he was able to accomplish that feat, however, was that same 2007-2008 season. Last year, returning to the Washington Capitals, he scored just 16 points and 4 goals, marking career lows in both categories.
At 36, Halpern clearly doesn’t have much left in the tank. Case in point: He appeared in only two playoff games this past postseason for the Caps, who nearly made it to the third round. Now, a New York Ranger, Halpern must realize this could be it. This is the third straight year he’s signed a one-year deal. There’s a chance there won’t be a fourth.
Of all the teams in the league, though, Halpern did sign with the one with arguably the best chance to win it all. It’s new territory as he’s rarely played if at all for a legitimate contender. He’s only reached the playoffs seven times and played only 36 games (13 points) over the course of a 14-year career.
So, Halpern is between a rock and a hard place, and it all must seem completely out of his control as to just how this all works out (fans can certainly relate). Throughout his career, Halpern has played under the radar, but he’s played hard and he deserves much better.
Few get to win a Stanley Cup and the sobering reality of a lockout is fewer still will end up getting what they want.