13 Highest-Paid NHL Players: Which Ones Are Worth the Price?

Adam Graham@@adam_grahamAnalyst IINovember 26, 2011

13 Highest-Paid NHL Players: Which Ones Are Worth the Price?

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    Let’s be honest. At the highest level of professional sports the vast majority of athletes are overpaid.

    Then again, if you’re among the best at your sport in the entire world you’re likely an invaluable commodity to your team. In that sense, it’s hard to argue that the very best hockey players are overpaid, especially in a salary cap system.

    With that being said, this list is designed to reveal if the highest paid players in the NHL are really the best players and if they are truly worth the money they’re being paid.

    However, instead of simply giving a yes or no answer to the question, I’ve decided to create a pay scale rating system. The scale ranges from one to five. One represents a player who is extremely overpaid and isn’t even coming close to earning his massive contract, while five represents a player who is truly worth the money he’s making. The numbers in between represent how close a player is to being worth what he’s earning.

    The criteria for the highest paid players are based on the 13 top cap hits in the league. All contract figures are courtesy of cappgeek.com.

13. Thomas Vanek: Buffalo Sabres ($7,142,857: Three Years Remaining)

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    If you flashback to 2007, Tomas Vanek had just finished the best statistical season of his career and was floated a rather expensive offer sheet by Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe.

    Needless to say, Sabres GM Darcy Regier was not impressed. However, he reluctantly matched that offer sheet and that’s the contract that Vanek is still under today.

    That may sound like a recipe for a grossly overpaid player, but Vanek has actually come close to living up to the lofty expectations that come with such a huge contract. He has yet to match the 84 points he put up in the 2006-07 season, but he scored 40 goals in 2008-09, racked up 73 points last season and he’s averaging better than a point per game as Buffalo’s best offensive player this season.

    Is he worth over $7 million? No, but he’s not too far off considering the fire power he would bring to any NHL team.


    Pay Scale Rating: 3 out of 5

12. Brian Campbell: Florida Panthers ($7,142,875: Five Years Remaining)

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    Campbell got his big deal thanks to a weak free agent class in 2008. He was the best defenseman of the bunch and was coming off a career year in both Buffalo and San Jose. As a result, his agent was able to drive his value to the ridiculous eight-year deal he signed with the Chicago Blackhawks.

    Not surprisingly, the GM in Florida that traded for him over the summer is the same GM who signed him to that huge contract three years ago. Dale Tallon may have committed too much money to Campbell back when he was running the Blackhawks, but he’s coming pretty close to getting his money’s worth now that Campbell has 19 points in the first 22 games of the season with the Panthers.

    Campbell is the second highest paid d-man in the entire NHL. And since there is a large handful of defensemen who are better than him he’s not worth what he’s making. However, he’s a great skater and will usually be good for around 40 points per season if he’s healthy, so he’s still a great asset for the Panthers.


    Pay Scale Rating: 3 out of 5

11. Scott Gomez: Montreal Canadiens ($7,357,143: Three Years Remaining)

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    How do I even begin to articulate how badly Scott Gomez is robbing the Montreal Canadiens without sounding like I’m being too hard on him?

    Gomez has just one goal in his last 57 games and none so far this season. Even if he’s more of a facilitator than a scorer, you should still expect any forward making over $7 million annually to score more than 16 goals in a season (his best scoring season since he signed the big contract).

    If he’s not going to score, then at least Gomez should be assisting on goals in the Henrik Sedin or Martin St. Louis range given his large cap hit. Unfortunately, he’s not doing that either. The worst part about it is there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel for Gomez as he turns 32 next month and his production seems to be steadily declining.

    Will the Canadiens eventually give him the Wade Redden treatment by burying him and his large contract in the minors in order to free up cap space? Only time will tell, but the fact that the question is even being asked by many should tell you all you need to know.


    Pay Scale Rating: 1 out of 5

10. Shea Weber: Nashville Predators ($7.5 Million: One Year)

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    There are four players currently with a $7.5 million cap hit, so I’ve separated them on this list by how much longer their contracts last for. Since Shea Weber’s deal expires at the end of the season, he sits below the others.

    As for whether or not Weber is worth the dough, I’m going to have to say he is. How can you argue against one of the top three defensemen in the world?  Along with Pekka Rinne, Weber is the only reason the Nashville Predators continue to compete for a playoff spot year after year. He scores, he hits and he shuts down the opposition's best players.

    Pay him what he wants because he’s worth every penny.


    Pay Scale Rating: 5 out of 5

8 (Tie). Marian Gaborik: New York Rangers ($7.5 Million: Three Years Remaining)

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    When Marian Gaborik initially signed his lucrative contract with the New York Rangers he appeared to be worth every penny. He confirmed his value by scoring 42 goals and racking up 86 points in 76 games during his first season with the Rangers.

    However, last season Gaborik battled the injury bug (a regular occurrence in Minnesota) and he only managed 48 points in 62 games.

    This year he is averaging just under a point per game, but he doesn’t look like the same explosive player he was a couple of years ago. Due to his injury problems and slight inconsistency on the score sheet, it’s hard to make the argument that Gaborik is truly worth his $7.5 million cap hit. However, he’s not far off and at 29 years old, he still has a few more prime years left to light up the lamp at a 40 goal per season rate.


    Pay Scale Rating: 4 out of 5

8 (Tie). Dany Heatley: Minnesota Wild ($7.5 Million: Three Years Remaining)

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    Heatley has played on three different teams since he signed his six-year, $45 million deal back in 2008. This has more to do with his attitude than his play on the ice, although the disappearing act he pulled in the 2011 playoffs for the San Jose Sharks didn’t help matters. If this was 2007, then Heatley would be worth $7.5 million annually and then some. Unfortunately he seems to be on the decline statistically.

    Then again, the Minnesota Wild probably don’t mind that Heatley only has 13 points in the first 22 games of the season because they currently sit atop the Western Conference standings.

    Overall, Heatley is still a very good player, but he’s hardly the sniper he was when he initially signed the lucrative contract three years ago.


    Pay Scale Rating: 3.5 out of 5

7. Steven Stamkos: Tampa Bay Lightning ($7. 5 Million: Five Years)

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    Normally an athlete is paid based on what he’s done in the past, but in the case of Steven Stamkos, he’s in the rare situation of getting a big contract with his best years still ahead of him.

    Stamkos looks like he’s going to be a 50 goal scorer and a 90 to 100 point player for years to come. He’s the true definition of a sniper and is the face of the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise. It’s hard to argue that a player who might enter the same category as Crosby and Ovechkin soon isn’t worth the money.

    Stamkos is definitely worth it.


    Pay Scale Rating: 5 out of 5

6. Vincent Lecavalier: Tampa Bay Lightning ($7,727,273: Nine Years Remaining)

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    The former face of the Lightning franchise, Vinny Lecavalier is now overshadowed by Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and possibly even Tampa Bay’s young defenseman Victor Hedman.

    He’s clearly not the same player he was five years ago, as he hasn’t reached the 30 goal mark since the 2007-08 season. Then again, his stats are still extremely respectable. Lecavalier has averaged close to 70 points per 82 games in each of the last three seasons. He’s just not putting up the same superstar numbers he put up earlier in his career, which should be expected from a player making more than $7.7 million over the next nine years.


    Pay Scale Rating: 2.5 out of 5

5. Rick Nash: Columbus Blue Jackets ($7.8 Million: Seven Years Remaining)

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    It’s not Rick Nash’s fault that he’s played on a terrible team for the majority of his career. Nash is one of the most dangerous goal scorers in the world and he’s the only legitimate scoring threat for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Perhaps Jeff Carter can be entered into that equation this season, but he certainly hasn’t helped the Blue Jackets win many games.

    When looking at all the 30 and 40 goal seasons Nash has recorded over the years, it’s hard to imagine how much better he might be if he played with a legitimate top-line center.

    As it stands, it’s impossible to say that Nash is fully worth his $7.8 million cap hit because his numbers aren’t quite there. However, he’s still one of the top 10 forwards in the world and he’ll be an All-Star for years to come.


    Pay Scale Rating: 4 out of 5

4. Eric Staal: Carolina Hurricanes ($8.25 Million: Five Years Remaining)

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    It might surprise you to find out that Eric Staal is making an average of $8.25 million annually for the next five years, and it should because he’s not worth it.

    In 24 games this season, Staal is already a minus-17 and he only has 10 points. Granted, he’s averaged close to a point per game over the last four seasons, but he isn’t close to being one of the four best players in the game and he also isn’t close to being worth $8.25 million per season.


    Pay Scale Rating: 2 out of 5

3. Sidney Crosby: Pittsburgh Penguins ($8.7 Million: Two Years Remaining)

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    I shouldn’t even need an explanation as to why this player is invaluable. He’s the best player on the planet.

    It’s Sidney Crosby! Did you watch his first game in 320 days earlier in the week?

    He’s worth the type of money that A-Rod makes as far as I’m concerned.


    Pay Scale Rating: 5 out of 5

2. Evgeni Malkin: Pittsburgh Penguins ($8.7 Million: Three Years Remaining)

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    If it wasn’t for a couple of injuries over the last two seasons, Evgeni Malkin would likely still be in the discussion as one of the best three or four players in the world. In 2008-09, Malkin actually put up more points than Sidney Crosby in both the regular season and the playoffs, while taking home the Conn Smythe Trophy for the MVP of the 2009 playoffs.

    If you can outplay Crosby for an entire season, then it should go without saying that you’re worth every penny of our contract.

    Geno is a stud!


    Pay Scale Rating: 5 out of 5

    Note: The reason why Malkin is higher on this list than Crosby is because he has one more year left on his contract, even though the two players both have the same cap hit.

1. Alexander Ovechkin: Washington Capitals ($9,538,462: 10 Years Remaining)

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    While Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world, Alexander Ovechkin is the most explosive and probably the most talented player in the world.

    Last season may have been a subpar year for him statistically, but he still managed 85 points. I don’t know about you, but I’d love to have a player who considers 85 points a subpar year on my team. I’d probably pay him anything he wanted as well, assuming I was a billionaire and could afford to.

    Ovechkin could probably score 50 goals with his eyes closed, even if Capitals Head Coach Bruce Boudreau is stressing defence first. Even though he isn’t off to a great start this season, I’m predicting Ovechkin will bounce back and rack up another 50 goals and 100 points in 2011-12.

    He’s definitely worth the money, even if he isn’t the best player in the world.


    Pay Scale Rating: 5 out of 5


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