The Most Underpaid Player on Each NHL Team
The world of professional sports is a world where athletes are made into rich men beyond the wildest dreams of the average person.
The NHL is no exception to this rule, and many fans and media members enjoy focusing on the players that don’t deserve their large salaries. However, while the term underpaid athletes may seem like an oxymoron, there are some NHL players that should be earning more money in comparison to their peers.
In some cases, these players are young stars who have already made a name for themselves at the NHL level, but are still on their entry-level contracts. In other instances, there are players who have just recently had breakout seasons and haven’t had the chance to sign a more lucrative contract. There are also players who would rather take less money to play for a specific team.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the most underpaid player on each NHL team.
NOTE: All the salary cap figures and dollar amounts for player contracts have come from capgeek.com and the amount of money a player earns is judged by his current salary cap hit.
Anaheim Ducks: Cam Fowler
At just 19 years of age, Cam Fowler is already making quite the impact in the NHL. He was one of Anaheim’s better defensemen last season as a rookie and continues to log plenty of minutes this season.
Having a top four d-man like Fowler making only $900,000 ($1.4 million with possible bonuses) is a great bargain for the Ducks.
The only other Anaheim player who is close to being that type of a bargain is Teemu Selanne, who is still a star player at the age of 41 and should probably earn more than the $4 million he is getting this season.
Boston Bruins: Rich Peverley
The defending Stanley Cup champs have a few players with reasonable contracts, but their biggest bargain this season is Rich Peverley.
Peverley signed a two-year deal worth $1.325 million per season after he recorded 55 points with the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2009-2010 season. Generally players that put up numbers like that get a lot more than $1.325 per season, which is exactly why Peverley is underpaid.
While Peverley wasn’t quite able to duplicate those numbers last season, he was an important piece to the Bruins Stanley Cup puzzle and filled in nicely on the top line after Nathan Horton suffered a concussion in the finals.
Clearly the Bruins have noticed Peverley’s importance to the team because starting next season he’ll be making $3.25 million per season.
Buffalo Sabres: Tyler Myers
The 2010 rookie of the year is a stud on the blue line for the Buffalo Sabres.
Tyler Myers is 6’8" and is every bit as talented with the puck as he is physically imposing. He’s a great skater and put up 85 points in his first two seasons as an NHL defenseman.
Since Myers is only in his third year as a pro, he’s still on his entry-level contract, which only pays him $1.3 million this season (bonuses included). However, Sabres GM Darcy Regier has recognized the value of Myers to his hockey team and had given him an extension worth an average of $5.5 million per season for seven years that begins in 2012.
Calgary Flames: Brendan Morrison
The Flames don’t have many contracts that can be considered bargains, but Brendan Morrison has been a pleasant surprise both in terms of his production on the ice and how modest his contract is by NHL standards.
Even if Morrison reaches all his bonus incentives, he’ll only make $1.25 million and that’s probably less than what he could make elsewhere considering he plays in almost all situations for the Flames and has even contributed on the top line at times.
Morrison had 43 points last season and if he can come close to putting up that many points this season he’ll be a bargain for Calgary.
Carolina Hurricanes: Jeff Skinner
The Carolina Hurricanes have the reigning rookie of the year on their roster in Jeff Skinner, who looks more and more like a superstar in the making with every game he plays. He's also making entry-level money, which makes him an easy choice as the Hurricanes most underpaid player.
Skinner had a 30-goal season in 2010-11 and he already has 12 points in the first 12 games this season so he’s clearly a special player.
Assuming Skinner achieves all his bonus incentives because he’s such a stud, he’ll still make just $1.4 million this year. If he keeps up his scoring pace, he’ll be the most underpaid player in the entire league.
Chicago Blackhawks: Nick Leddy
Even though Nick Leddy only had 46 games of NHL experience coming into this season, he’s been a very steady defenseman for the Chicago Blackhawks and is receiving plenty of ice time.
Leddy was a first-round draft pick just two years ago and he already appears to be a top-four defenseman. Considering he’ll barely make over a million dollars even if he reaches his bonus incentives this season, the Blackhawks are getting a good deal on his services.
Colorado Avalanche: Erik Johnson
The 2006 first overall draft pick didn’t quite live up to the hype in St. Louis and the Blues traded him to the Colorado Avalanche midway through last season.
However, Erik Johnson is still a very good defenseman and has the potential to blossom into one of the best in the entire NHL. He currently has a cap hit of just $2.6 million, which is a huge discount for a top-pairing d-man regardless of whether or not Johnson has lived up to the lofty expectations that come with being a No. 1 draft pick.
By the way, if you’re wondering why I didn’t choose the entry-level salary of Matt Duchene for the Avalanche, it’s because he could actually make up to $3.4 million if he reaches all his bonus incentives. Furthermore, Duchene has not had a good start to this season and was even demoted to the fourth line at one point.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Fedor Tyutin
The Columbus Blue Jackets have the worst record in the NHL so far this season, but they have the fifth highest payroll in the league. Therefore, it wasn’t easy to find anyone on their roster that’s truly underpaid.
However, Fedor Tyutin is a solid defenseman who could play in the top four for any NHL team and his cap hit is barely over $2.8 million.
Apparently Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson thinks Tyutin is currently underpaid as well. Howson signed the 28-year-old to a contract extension that will pay him $4.5 million per season starting in 2012.
Dallas Stars: Jamie Benn
With 22 goals and 56 points in just 69 games last season, Jamie Benn is one the league’s most underrated players. Not only does Benn have great offensive numbers, but he is responsible in his own zone, he plays physical and he even fights on occasion.
Benn also earns far less than one million dollars per season, which is all you need to know about how underpaid he is. He’ll surely be receiving a hefty raise next year as he’s a pending restricted free agent and is off to a fast start this season with 14 points in the first 12 games.
Detroit Red Wings: Niklas Kronwall
Niklas Kronwall is, without question, among the top 40 defensemen in the NHL today and he should be earning more money than his current $3 million cap hit when you compare him to the salaries of the other top NHL defensemen.
Kronwall is overshadowed by Nicklas Lidstrom on the Red Wings defensive unit, which is understandable, but he’s still a physical d-man who put up 37 points last season and also has a 51-point season on his resume.
Edmonton Oilers: Jordan Eberle
The Oilers have many young talents who are still on their entry-level contracts, but Eberle is getting the least in comparison to what he’s brought to the Oilers so far in his young NHL career.
Eberle had nearly 20 goals in his rookie campaign and managed 43 points in just 69 games. Sure, the likes of Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have more upside, but this list isn’t about the future, it’s about the present. Hall and Nugent-Hopkins also have the potential to earn over $3.7 million with bonuses, while Eberle will only get a maximum of just over $1.1 million.
Florida Panthers: Stephen Weiss
With Panthers GM Dale Tallon over-spending on free agents this summer just to reach the salary cap floor, it’s hard to find a player on this team that’s truly underpaid.
However, Dmitri Kulikov is a solid young defenseman with a modest salary and Stephen Weiss is the Panthers best forward and he only has a $3.1 million cap hit.
Weiss has reached the 60-point plateau twice in the last three years. He also has 11 points in the first 12 games of this season and is underpaid when you compare him to most other top-six forwards.
L.A. Kings: Dustin Brown
As good as Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick has been early in the season while making less than $2 million annually, the most underpaid player on the L.A. Kings is their captain.
Dustin Brown only has a $3.175 million cap hit and brings a number of different elements to this Kings team. He scores, he hits and he is one of the Kings emotional leaders. The U.S. Olympian could surely earn more elsewhere, but his alliance is in Los Angeles and he is hoping to lead the Kings on a long playoff run this season.
Minnesota Wild: Cal Clutterbuck
Not only is Cal Clutterbuck the reigning NHL hits leader, but he also scored nearly 20 goals last season for the Wild. Furthermore, he'll take on almost anyone in a fight, even the linesmen!
A player like Clutterbuck is indispensable and any NHL team would love to have him, especially when his annual cap hit is only $1.4 million.
Montreal Canadiens: P.K. Subban
Pernell Karl Subban is quickly becoming an elite NHL defenseman in just his second year in the league.
He might be a loose cannon at times, but he’s a great skater, he dishes out big hits and he put up 38 points last season.
His $875,000 salary is nothing by NHL standards and it makes Habs fans slightly more accepting of the Scott Gomez contract when they have a player that’s as underpaid as Subban.
Nashville Predators: Pekka Rinne (Sergei Kostitsyn Honourable Mention)
Before I get comments about Pekka Rinne’s new contract that pays him $7 million per season, I must remind you that Rinne’s cap hit is still $3.4 million for the remainder of the 2011-2012 season. This makes him grossly underpaid for the time being when you consider he is one of the top five goalies in the world.
Perhaps I should also choose an honourable mention for the Predators because of Rinne’s new massive deal that starts next season, in which case I’ve chosen Sergei Kostitsyn.
Kostitsyn was always in coach Jacques Martin’s dog house when he played in Montreal, but he’s flourished in Nashville and was one of the Predators top scorers last season, recording 50 points. The Predators are getting good value for the $2.5 million they’re paying Kostitsyn this season.
New Jersey Devils: Johan Hedberg
The Devils certainly have more than a few overpaid players, but there isn’t much to choose from when it comes to underpaid players on their roster.
However, a 38-year-old journeyman goaltender named Johan Hedberg has been a pleasant surprise so far this season. In nine starts, Herberg has a 2.34 goals against average and a .920 save percentage and might even push Martin Brodeur for his starting job if Brodeur doesn’t raise his game.
Hedberg is earning $1.25 million and he was also solid last season, with a 2.38 goals against average and a .912 save percentage in 34 games.
New York Islanders: Frans Neilsen
As tempting as it is to choose John Tavares, the truth is that he has the potential to earn $3.75 million against the salary cap this season if he achieves all his bonus incentives.
Frans Neilsen, on the other hand, makes only $525,000 annually and is one of best defensive forwards in the game. He is great in the face-off circle and is an underrated checker, so don’t be surprised if he’s a nominee for the Selke trophy in the next few years. He also put up 44 points last season, which definitely helps the argument that he’s one of the most underpaid players in the league, let alone the most underpaid on the Islanders.
New York Rangers: Brandon Prust
Brandon Prust is much more than just a tough guy. He’s a solid third-line player who racked up nearly 30 points last season. He brings a lot of different positive elements to the table and is worth more than the $800,000 he’s making this season.
Prust is off to another decent start on the score sheet this season as well, with five points in the first 13 games. He’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and will certainly be given a raise by an NHL team somewhere.
Ottawa Senators: Erik Karlsson
Karlsson is Ottawa’s best defenseman and might just be their best overall player as well. He was an all-star last season and put up 45 points from the blue line, but he’s only in his third season in the NHL so he’s still on his entry-level contract.
His contract also has minimal bonuses, so Karlsson is an easy choice for the Senators most underpaid player.
Philadelphia Flyers: Claude Giroux
Claude Giroux is a stud and he’s only getting better. He went from recording 47 points in the 2009-10 season to racking up 76 points last season. Through 14 games this season he already has 19 points and is among the top 30 players in the world at the young age of 23.
The Flyers have Giroux locked into a contract that will pay him $3.75 million for each of the next three seasons and that’s a steal for them considering the best players in the world are making much more than that.
Phoenix Coyotes: Lauri Korpikoski
There’s not a lot to choose from on the Phoenix Coyotes. Even though they have sixth lowest payroll in the entire NHL, the Coyotes amazingly don’t have anyone who is grossly underpaid on their roster.
However, Lauri Korpikoski scored nearly 20 goals and recorded 40 points last season and the majority of players who put up those types of numbers make a minimum of $2 million per season. Korpikoski makes only $1.8 million per season so he is underpaid by comparison.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Kris Letang
Kris Letang is among the best offensive defensemen in the game and is averaging a point per game this season in addition to his 50-point season in 2010-11.
Letang is already an NHL star at just 24 years old and only makes $3.5 million per season and is locked up through 2014. Most elite NHL blue liners make much more money than that, so Letang is extremely underpaid.
San Jose Sharks: Logan Couture
Logan Couture was a finalist for the rookie of the year award last season and he only makes a little over $1.2 million and that’s with all his bonuses. He had 56 points last season and already has 10 points in 12 games so far this season.
Couture will be getting a raise at the conclusion of the 2011-12 campaign, but even then he’ll only be earning an average of $2.875 million per season and that’s a very good deal for the Sharks.
St. Louis Blues: Kevin Shattenkirk
The St. Louis Blues have a couple of very talented young defensemen in Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. While Pietrangelo is a budding superstar and slightly better than Shattenkirk at this point, he also has the capability of earning over $3 million dollars a year if he achieves all his bonus incentives.
Shattenkirk, on the other hand, only has the possibility of earning $1.3 million this season. In 72 games last season, Shattenkirk picked up 43 points with two teams and is already one of the better defensemen in the league at just 22 years old.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Steve Downie
Steve Downie helps the Lightning in a number of different ways. He scored more than 20 goals two seasons ago and he was outstanding in the playoffs last season, recording 14 points in 17 games.
Of course, what Downie is known most for is his physicality and the way he gets under the skin of his opponents. It’s hard to find players like Downie who can provide both the offensive numbers and drive the opposition crazy, which is why he is underpaid by the Lightning with just a $1.8 million cap hit.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Mikhail Grabovski
With nearly 30 goals and 60 points last season, Mikhail Grabovski is one of the Toronto Maple Leafs best forwards. You wouldn’t know it by his salary though.
Grabovski has a modest $2.9 million cap hit, which is only the seventh highest of all the Leafs forwards. Needless to say, something doesn’t seem right about that situation. Clearly a few of the Leafs forwards are overpaid while Grabovski deserves a raise.
Vancouver Canucks: Alex Burrows
The Canucks have a few players who are underpaid by NHL standards.
Alex Edler and Sami Salo are both very good defensemen and could likely make more money on another team. Cory Schneider is also a star goaltender in the making and earns less than a million dollars annually.
Alex Burrows tops all of these players in the underpaid player category, though. Burrows plays on the Canucks top line and scored 35 goals just two years ago. In addition to his scoring, Burrows is also a wonderful skater, a solid playmaker and is one of the leagues better penalty killers.
He’s one of the most complete players in the world and he only makes $2 million per season, so he’s clearly one of the NHL’s most underpaid players as well.
Washington Capitals: Tomas Vokoun
Vokoun was arguably the biggest bargain free agent signing over the summer. The Capitals managed to sign the 35-year-old Czech goalie to a one-year, $1.5 million contract.
Considering Vokoun is an Olympian and one of the top 15 goalies in the league, that’s a great deal for Washington. In 12 NHL seasons, Vokoun has never had a save percentage of below .900 and is keeping up that pace again this season. For those reasons, he is the most underpaid goalie in the league and the most underpaid player on the entire Capitals team.
Winnipeg Jets: Tobias Enstrom
With a $3.75 million cap hit, Tobias Enstrom isn’t getting robbed by the Winnipeg Jets. However, he should be making a lot more than that considering he’s among the best defensemen in the world.
Enstrom has put up back-to-back seasons with at least 50 points and is perhaps the only star player on a subpar Jets team. He’s usually not brought up in the discussions of who the best d-man in the NHL is, but with his steady play in his own zone and his offensive numbers he definitely should be. At the very least, he could be the most underrated defenseman in the NHL.
Is there a player that you think should be mentioned on this list? Or are you still having a hard time believing that I just made the argument for 30 different millionaires to be paid even more money? I know, I'm having trouble believing it myself. Let's just hope none of their agents read this.
Feel free to use the comment section below to voice your opinion or you can follow me on Twitter.
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