NHL Free Agents: 25 Players Set to Get Paid at the End of the 2011-12 Season

April WeinerCorrespondent ISeptember 7, 2011

NHL Free Agents: 25 Players Set to Get Paid at the End of the 2011-12 Season

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    This offseason, the highest paid players were: Brad Richards, Christian Ehrhoff and Shea Weber, and we can expect to add Drew Doughty to that list, once he signs a contract. 

    Now that (for the most part) this offseason signings are done, let's look ahead to next year and guess who will garner the highest contracts then. 

    There are plenty of young players set to get new contracts, including some of the players who just signed one-year deals this summer. 

    There are many players set to become RFAs or even UFAs, who will probably get large new deals by next summer.

    Here are 25 players who will be making bank for the 2012-13 season.

25. John Carlson

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    The 2011-12 NHL season is the final season on Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson's entry-level contract.

    His current cap hit has been $845,833 and he's in for a substantial raise after the first few seasons he's had in the league.

    Last season, Carlson stepped up to lead the team's blue line, while other top defenseman Tom Poti and Mike Green spent considerable time on injured reserve.

    At only 21 years old, Carlson still has a lot to learn and as he gains more experience, he'll become an even better defenseman.

    A defenseman like him is a hot commodity, so it'll behoove the Capitals to lock him down long-term and pay him what he deserves.

    Granted, they have tight salary space so Carlson will probably only get a couple million per year or a deal similar to his partner, Karl Alzner's, who signed a two-year deal this summer and will make $1.285 million each year.  

24. Andrei Kostitsyn

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    Andrei Kostitsyn is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, unless he's locked up longer by the Montreal Canadiens.

    However, Kostitsyn might not remain in Montreal much longer, after remarks he made about the club over the summer.

    Kostitsyn was the Canadiens first round draft pick in 2003 and one might have expected him to develop into a first liner for the team.

    He hasn't played like one, with his highest point total being 53 points and the most goals he's scored was 26.

    However, perhaps with another team Kostitsyn could improve. Plus, if the high-profile 2012 free agents are signed and don't enter free agency, Kostitsyn could actually garner a lot of interest.

    After all, he's still only 26 years old and could do well with a change of scenery, perhaps even playing alongside his brother in Nashville?  

23. Cory Schneider

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    Next season is the final year on Cory Schneider's contract and he's set to become a restricted free agent next July 1.

    Schneider has been Roberto Luongo's backup on the Vancouver Canucks, but he could easily be the number one goaltender for a club.

    After all, last season, Schneider played in 25 games and posted a save percentage of .929, as well as a GAA of 2.23.

    Meanwhile, Luongo posted a save percentage of .928 and GAA of 2.11; very similar numbers.

    Luongo makes more than $6 million per year, while Schneider has made under a million.

    While Schneider won't make Luongo money and the Canucks don't have a lot of room to pay him a high amount under their current cap space, Schneider could easily garner a few million per year to be a team's starting goaltender.

    My guess is, if he doesn't get traded or get that much with his next contract, it'll be the following contract or when he's a UFA that he starts bringing in serious money.

    After all, his numbers show he deserves it.  

22. Jamie Benn

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    The 2011-12 season is the final year left on Dallas Stars Jamie Benn's entry-level contract. His deal has made him an annual cap hit of just over $820,000 per year.

    In his first two years in the NHL, Benn has scored 41 and 56 points respectively, scoring 22 goals both seasons.

    At 22, his best seasons are still ahead of him.

    Some believe that Philadelphia Flyers Jame van Riemsdyk's new deal will serve as a possible example for what Benn might receive with his second professional deal.

    James van Riemsdyk scored 35 and 40 points, respectively in his first two NHL seasons, but proved himself even more valuable in the playoffs.

    While Benn hasn't appeared in the playoffs yet so its hard to say if he'd be as valuable as JVR, he has performed slightly better in the regular season.

    Perhaps he does deserve a new deal in the ballpark of six years and $25 million ($4.25 million annual cap hit), if the Stars can find a new owner who could afford to give Benn that much.  

21. Nikolai Kulemin

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    Last season, was the first year of Nikolai Kulemin’s new two year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The deal is worth $4.7 million and an annual cap hit of $2.35 million.

    Probably not coincidentally, last season was Kulemin’s best in the league so far, as far as points go. Kulemin scored 30 goals and a total 57 points, twice as many goals as his previous career-best and 20 points higher than his previous highest points total.

    He was second on the team in goals last season, whereas the previous season he was fifth on the team in goals.

    Plus, at 25, Kulemin is entering his prime and we could see him improve even more, especially as the team as a whole improves.

    Kulemin is only an RFA next summer, so he’s still going to be with the Maple Leafs unless they trade him or waive the rights to him; but, the team should look at locking him down long-term and that would involve another pay raise.

20. Evander Kane

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    Evander Kane just turned 20 years old last month, but will be already beginning his third NHL season next month.

    He’s at the end of his entry-level deal, that saw him earn an annual salary of $900,000.

    From his rookie season to last season, Kane improved immensely. In his rookie season, the forward scored 26 points and last season he scored 43.

    If he can improve again next season, Kane will show that he’s worthy of a pay raise and should get a pretty nice new deal.

    After all, he’s still very young and has a lot to learn before meeting his full potential in the league.

19. Ryan Smyth

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    Ryan Smyth is entering the final year of his current contract; his first year with the Edmonton Oilers.

    Despite being 35 years old, Smyth is one of those players that teams love to have on their roster. He’s a born leader, experienced veteran and he still puts up a respectable number of points.

    Last season, Smyth scored 47 points; the previous two, more than 50 each season.

    Smyth requested a trade from the Los Angeles Kings this summer so that he could end his career closer to home and chances are the Oilers will re-sign him next summer.

    Smyth currently earns more than $6 million per year (as a cap hit) and considering the type of player he is, he deserves to continue make around the same amount.

    Wherever he finishes his career, he’ll be making good money.

18. Tyler Myers

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    Tyler Myers name might be the most-recognized of names on this list, but for those that do know his name, they recognize that he’s an up-and-coming defenseman in the league.

    He’s only 21 years old and seems destined to become a great defenseman in the league, particularly due to his size (he’s 6’9”).

    Myers will be finishing his entry-level contract this year, where his annual salary has been $875,000.

    He definitely deserves a significant pay raise, especially knowing that he’ll be an exceptional defenseman in the league one day, perhaps soon, under the tutelage of veteran defenseman Christian Ehrhoff.

    Myers also contributes offensively, scoring 37 points last season and 48 the year before that.

    He deserves at least a couple million annually and perhaps in a few years, will prove that his play warrants more than that.

17. Erik Johnson

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    Erik Johnson is finishing his two-year contract, a contract that he began with the St. Louis Blues before being traded to the Colorado Avalanche.

    Johnson is currently a cap hit of $2.6 million and deserves to be around that, if not more, depending on how he plays this season.

    Johnson was traded from the Blues because they felt he wasn’t playing to his potential.

    However, at 23 years old, there’s still plenty of time for Johnson to meet his full potential and become a central part of his team.

    It would behoove the Avalanche to re-sign Johnson.

16. Niklas Kronwall

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    Niklas Kronwall is entering the last year of his five-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings.

    With the retirement of Brian Rafalski this offseason and the pending retirement of captain Nicklas Lidstrom, Kronwall is going to have to take a bigger role with the team.

    If Kronwall proves he can replace Rafalski, he’ll show that he’s worthy of more than a $3 million annual cap hit.

    In addition to his role on defense, Kronwall has put up respectable offensive numbers. Last season, he scored 37 points and two years before that, he scored 51.

    Once Lidstrom has retired as well, the team will look to Kronwall to lead and continue the tradition of the team’s defensive excellence.

    Surely, as Kronwall nears free agency, he’ll be rewarded with a larger contract to reflect the bigger expectations upon his shoulders.

15. R.J. Umberger

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    R.J. Umberger is approaching the end of his four-year, $15 million deal and will become an unrestricted free agent next summer, if not re-signed.

    Umberger has had his best professional seasons the past two years with the Columbus Blue Jackets, scoring 57 points last season and 55 the year before.

    He was the second-highest scorer on the Blue Jackets last season, behind Rick Nash.

    With Nash and the new addition of Jeff Carter, Umberger probably won’t be one of the top two scorers anymore, but he’ll be a valuable asset to have behind those two top scorers.

    The Blue Jackets should look to re-sign Umberger and give him a raise as well.

    Currently, Umberger makes $3.75 million per year, but perhaps he deserves a little bit more per year.

14. Mike Green

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    Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green is entering the final year of his deal. Green currently makes $5.25 million per year and should expect a similar, if not larger, deal in the future.

    After all, Green has positioned himself as one of the highest-producing defenseman in the league and earned himself a Norris Trophy nomination a couple seasons ago. He also broke the record for most consecutive games with a point by a defenseman.

    Last season, Green missed considerable time with various injuries, including a concussion following getting nailed in the face by a puck. That contributed to only 24 points in 49 games last season; but the prior two seasons saw Green scoring more than 70 points.

    If for whatever reason the Capitals decide not to re-sign Green, he’ll have a multitude of options waiting to sign him in free agency.

    The more likely situation though will have Green re-signing with the Capitals, but probably giving them a slight hometown discount.

    He’ll still be getting paid a good amount though.

13. Mikhail Grabovski

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    The 2011-12 season is also the final year on Toronto Maple Leafs Mikhail Grabovski’s three-year deal.

    Grabovski has been a cap hit of $2.9 million and if he continues to play as well as he did last season, he could be in for another pay raise as well.

    Last season, Grabovski scored 29 goals and 58 points and could improve upon that in the coming seasons.

    He’s also set to become an unrestricted free agent if not re-signed and another team could be taking into consideration that Grabovski could put up even better numbers on a higher scoring team than Toronto.

    Either way, Grabovski will more than likely be getting a nice new contract either before next summer or next summer.

12. Victor Hedman

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    Victor Hedman is on the final year of his entry-level deal, where his annual salary has been under a million, but because of bonuses, his cap hit has been more than $3 million.

    Hedman is still only 20 years old and has a lot to learn still before becoming an elite defenseman in the league.

    However, Hedman has been a core part of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s young team and the team would probably like to retain him.

    He’ll be in for a pay raise though, although even a substantial pay raise could make him a lower cap hit if his bonuses aren’t as large.

    Hedman will be guaranteed a pretty new contract next year though.

11. P.K. Subban

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    P.K. Subban is generating a negative reputation across the league, but the Montreal Canadiens and their fans love him.

    Subban is entering the last year of his deal, which is currently worth $875,000.

    If Subban keeps at the pace he’s been, he’ll be in for a significant pay raise and probably make at least a couple million per year.

    It may not be the highest of the expected salaries on this list, however, it’s still a pretty good amount and increase over his current salary.

    Plus, Subban is only 22 years old and most defenseman in the league take until their late 20s or early 30s to be at their prime.

10. Ryan Suter

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    Ryan Suter is entering the final year of his four-year, $14 million deal with the Nashville Predators. His current cap hit is $3.5 million.

    Suter is the third of the team’s pending free agents next season, the others being Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne.

    Suter has been a big part of the Predators team, but he may be the odd man out if they can get both Weber and Rinne.

    Suter averages between 35 and 40 points a season, with his best season being 2008-09 when he scored 45 points. Last season, he scored 39 points.

    If the Predators don’t re-sign Suter and he enters free agency, he’ll for sure garner plenty of interest.

9. John Tavares

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    John Tavares was the first overall pick a couple of years ago and he’ll be entering his third NHL season and the final year of his entry-level contract this season.

    His current salary is $900,000, plus bonuses.

    While Tavares doesn’t get too much recognition, playing for the New York Islanders, he is a really good player. In his first season, he scored 54 points and last year, 67. He scored more than 20 goals both seasons and was one shy of 30 last season.

    And remember, this is for the New York Islanders.

    Tavares definitely deserves a long-term, hefty deal, especially if the Islanders would like to keep him for the majority or all of his career.

8. Carey Price

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    Carey Price is an emerging hot young goaltender in the league. Last season, Price became the Canadiens starter after they traded Jaroslav Halak in the offseason, after an exceptional playoff performance in 2010.

    Price proved he was capable of being a consistent starter, finishing in the top 10 of both save percentage and GAA, of .923 and 2.35, respectively.

    Goaltenders are another position that typically take into their late 20s to hit their prime and Price is still only 24 years old.

    His best years are in front of him and with more experience, he could very well become one of the top goaltenders in the league.

    He deserves to be paid accordingly.

7. Matt Duchene

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    Matt Duchene is on his third season in the NHL and the final year of his entry-level contract. He currently makes $900,000, plus bonuses.

    He’s in for a considerable pay raise though, once his current deal is up next summer.

    Last season, he scored 67 points, more than 10 more than his rookie season, when he scored 55. He scored 27 goals last season as well.

    At 20 years old, there’s still plenty of time for him to improve upon that and become one of the top young players in the league.

    He deserves to be paid like it.

6. Pekka Rinne

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    Next season is the final year on Pekka Rinne’s deal with the Nashville Predators. He’s had an annual cap hit of $3.4 million per year, but as an emerging top goaltender, Rinne definitely deserves more.

    He had his best season in the NHL yet last season, posting a save percentage of .930 and GAA of 2.12 during the regular season and save percentage of .907 and GAA of 2.57 in the playoffs.

    His regular season save percentage was the second-highest last season in the NHL, second to only Tim Thomas, who obviously went on to win the Stanley Cup.

    His regular season GAA last season was the third-highest in the NHL, behind Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo, the two starting goaltenders in the Stanley Cup Finals.

    Obviously, these numbers show that Rinne is emerging as an elite goaltender and deserves to be compensated accordingly.

    Comparatively, Thomas will make $5 million this coming season and Luongo will make more than $6 million.

    At the very least, Rinne deserves a pay raise upwards of $4 million per year, but if he is the top three amongst goaltenders again next season, he really deserves more than $5 million.

5. Ales Hemsky

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    Ales Hemsky is on the final year of his deal with the Edmonton Oilers and there is a lot of speculation that he will be traded.

    There is likely no shortage of interest in the forward, but even if he isn’t traded, he could possibly be lured away next July.

    Hemsky is only 28 and he’s put up pretty good numbers with the Oilers. He could probably do even better on a higher-scoring team.

    He currently makes $4.1 million per year in cap hit and will more than likely garner much more than that either from Edmonton or on the free agent market.

    In fact, Hemsky very well could become 2012’s Brad Richards, in that he’s the most sought-after free agent.  

4. Alexander Semin

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    Alexander Semin is constantly criticized for his inconsistencies, especially this offseason. It’s true that Semin is a fantastically talented player, but isn’t often in the list of the top players in the league. Plus, he’s generally nonexistent in the playoffs.

    However, Semin’s talent will still garner a large deal. The past few seasons, Semin has been signing one-year deals with the Washington Capitals, hovering in the ballpark of $6-7 million per year.

    The Capitals already have Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom locked down long-term and taking up a substantial portion of the team’s salary cap, so that, along with Semin’s inconsistencies have caused many to believe that Semin’s tenure with the team is nearing an end.

    That could be next summer, as Semin will be a UFA or the team could trade him before that.

    If Semin hits the free market, he’ll surely garner a significant deal. There are teams like the Detroit Red Wings who could use a top six forward and might take the chance on him, considering veteran Russian Pavel Datsyuk’s presence could have a positive effect on Semin.

    After all, this is a player that two years ago, scored 40 goals and 84 points. If he can do that consistently, he’s well worth the more than $6 million price tag.

    Plus, if he doesn’t get those type of offers in the NHL, you know there are plenty of KHL clubs that will be offering him contracts of that size.

    Either way, he’ll be making bank next summer.

3. Tomas Vokoun

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    The Washington Capitals got a complete steal when Tomas Vokoun signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million with the team in free agency over the summer.

    Vokoun had been making more than $5 million per year with the Florida Panthers and probably could’ve made about the same if he had stayed or signed with another team in free agency.

    However, Vokoun wanted to sign with a team he thought gave him the best chance of winning a Stanley Cup before he retires.

    If the Capitals don’t work out or don’t decide to re-sign him next summer, Vokoun will probably be in high demand.

    After all, he’s one of the top goaltenders set to become a UFA next summer and look what Ilya Bryzgalov garnered this summer, when in the same boat.

    Granted, Vokoun is older, but he should still garner a lot next summer, unless of course, he re-signs for cheap with Washington.

2. Zach Parise

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    Zach Parise became a RFA this summer and eventually he and the New Jersey Devils agreed to a one-year deal.

    Parise missed most of last season, which makes it easy for people to forget how talented a player he really is.

    In 2008-09, Parise had his personal-best year, scoring 45 goals and 94 points. In 2009-10, Parise scored 38 goals and 82 points. If Parise hadn’t gotten injured last season, it’s safe to assume that he would have put up another good amount of points.

    Since these are the type of numbers to reasonably expect from Parise, he deserves to be compensated accordingly.

    Parise will make $6 million this season, but easily deserves more than that.

    Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin all will make $9 million next season and Steven Stamkos will make $8 million. Parise easily deserves more than $6.5 million per year and probably deserves more than $7 million.

    Surely, many teams will agree and would gladly pay Parise that much, if the Devils are unwilling. Otherwise, an arbitrator would probably side with Parise as well.

1. Shea Weber

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    This summer, Shea Weber’s negotiations with the Nashville Predators were one of the hottest topics.

    The two sides went to arbitration and Weber was awarded a one-year, $7.5 million contract, the largest contract ever awarded in NHL arbitration.

    Weber will still be an RFA next summer, so even if the Predators can’t sign him to a deal again and they return to arbitration, Weber will more than likely be awarded another massive amount.

    After all, Weber is one of the best defenseman in the league and as some of the older players start to retire and he gets more experience, Weber will easily be considered the greatest current blue liner in the game by some.

    As such, plenty of teams will be interested in paying Weber massive, Christian Ehrhoff-like deals to get him on their team.

    Nashville will have to give him a substantial deal to prevent this from happening.