Since the NHL introduced the salary cap after the 2004-05 lockout, general managers across the league have faced the difficult decision of how to spend their limited money.
While some teams have chosen to invest in a handful of superstars, others have taken a more balanced approach and spread their dollars out accordingly. And while some teams focus on shoring up their defense and goaltending, others put offense first and pour the majority of their funds into forwards. Some general managers even go a step further and spend a disproportionate amount of their budgets on a single line.
Given the success of the Buffalo Sabres’ French Connection (Rene Robert, Gilbert Perreault and Richard Martin) in the 1970s, the Los Angeles Kings’ Triple Crown line (Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor) in the late 70s and the Philadelphia Flyers’ Legion of Doom line (Eric Lindros, John LeClair and Mikael Renberg) in the mid-90s, it has been proven that the right combination of players can carry a team. If history reveals anything, however, it is that throwing a trio of superstars together does not guarantee chemistry – and that throwing big money at them does not guarantee results.
Still, some teams have chosen to put all their eggs in one basket, a few of them spending nearly a third of their entire $64.3 million salary cap on a single line. And while it may be too early to tell if the lines will ever be worthy of a catchy nickname, general managers are hoping they will click enough to justify their investments.
For better or worse, here are the top 10 highest paid lines in the NHL for the 2013-14 season.
Note: salaries are based on each player’s cap hit for the 2013-14 season, as opposed to his actual salary
10. Henrik Sedin – Daniel Sedin – Alex Burrows, Vancouver Canucks: $16.7 Million
Back in 2009, when Alex Burrows scored 35 goals and 67 points, it looked as if the Vancouver Canucks had finally found a winger to play with the uber-talented Sedin twins. Since then, however, Burrows has failed to score 30 goals in a season and appears to be on the decline; despite first-line minutes and a brand new four-year/$18 million contract. The winger has failed to score a goal and has recorded only five assists in 28 games this year. With Burrows locked up through the 2016-17 season and the Sedins’ inked to four-year/$28 million contract extensions beginning next year, the Canucks are clearly optimistic the trio will rediscover the chemistry that made them so successful in the past – hopefully for Vancouver fans it pays off.
9. Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski – Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks: $16.76 Million
With all of their talent down the middle, the San Jose Sharks are often forced to move their center icemen to the wing. When your stable of centers includes the likes of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture, however, it’s a good problem to have. Since the Sharks acquired Thornton from the Boston Bruins in 2005, Jumbo Joe has been one of the most productive players in the league, amassing 664 points in 593 games entering this season. And while he’s managed to succeed regardless of who’s played on his wings over the years, Thornton seems to have really clicked with Pavelski, who is having a career year with 29 goals and 54 points already this season, and Brent Burns, who has performed well (14 goals and 16 assists in 46 games this season) since head coach Todd McLellan moved him from defense to left wing in 2013. As long as they keep producing at the pace they have been, $16.8 million for these three is a bargain.
8. Brandon Dubinsky – Marian Gaborik – Nathan Horton, Columbus Blue Jackets: $17 Million
Of all the lines on this list, the trio of Dubinsky, Gaborik and Horton have the least experience playing together, as they still have never played a single game together. In addition to Horton only arriving in Columbus at the beginning of the 2013-14 season, both he and Gaborik have missed extensive time with injuries (each have played in only 18 games). And with Gaborik still on the IR and set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, it is unlikely the Blue Jackets will ever find out if their highest paid line has any chemistry. Fortunately, the team is currently getting great value out of some of their lower-paid players, particularly restricted free agent Ryan Johansen (24 goals and 22 assists in 58 games this season, with a salary of $870,000), who is quickly emerging as the team’s No. 1 center and may well find himself on this list in years to come.
7. Steven Stamkos – Martin St. Louis – Ryan Malone, Tampa Bay Lightning: $17.625 Million
Since breaking into the NHL in 2008-09, Steven Stamkos has combined with winger Martin St. Louis to form one of the most explosive duos in the league. With 340 goals and 793 points between them over the past five seasons, it has hardly mattered who’s played with them. When the Lightning bought out captain Vincent Lecavalier in the offseason, however, it looked like American Ryan Malone would be the one to reap the benefits of lining up alongside them. But with injuries to both Stamkos and Malone, the trio has had very little time together and head coach Jon Cooper has been forced to shuffle his lines all season. With Stamkos set to return in the coming weeks and Malone struggling to produce offensively (five goals and seven assists in 42 games), Cooper is undoubtedly licking his chops at the prospect of seeing his top line back together for the final playoff push.
6. Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa – Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks: $17.75 million
Of all the lines on this list, the combination of Toews, Hossa and Sharp is arguably the most dangerous. With Hossa’s speed, Sharp’s shot and Toews’ vision and play-making ability, they truly have it all. And although they are among the highest paid players on their team (along with winger Patrick Kane), many general managers across the league would consider their collective contracts to be a bargain. Both Toews (five years/$31.5 million) and Sharp (five years/$29.5 million) are in the prime of their careers, while Hossa (12 years/$63.3 million) – although he’s now 35 – is still producing to the tune of almost a point per game. With two Stanley Cups in the three years they’ve played together, chances are the Blackhawks will do everything they can to keep this line in tact for as long as possible.
5. Brad Richards – Rick Nash – Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers: $18.275 million
The New York Rangers have a reputation for paying big dollars to their first-line players, and this season is no exception. While Ryan Callahan has been with the club for the entirety of his eight-year career, both Brad Richards and Rick Nash were acquired in recent years in an effort to improve the Rangers’ offense. Despite loads of ice time and power play minutes, however, both players have struggled since arriving in New York (Richards has 142 points in 187 games, while Nash has 69 points in 86 games) and there have been rumblings of the Blueshirts buying out the remainder of Richards’ nine-year/$60 million contract. With Callahan set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1st, he is also likely on his way out of the Big Apple; whether the Rangers decide to replace him with yet another high-paid forward or promote a winger already with the team is yet to be seen.
4. Mikko Koivu – Zach Parise – Jason Pominville, Minnesota Wild: $18.79 Million
While the Minnesota Wild have traditionally carried one of the lowest payrolls in the NHL, the team has recently started spending some dough in an attempt to become a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup. In 2012, they inked free agents Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to massive 13-year/$98 million deals and less than a year later, they traded for Jason Pominville and signed him to a five-year/$28 million extension which will kick in next season. Centring Parise and Pominville is 30-year-old Wild captain, Mikko Koivu, who is also locked up long-term (currently in his third season of a seven-year/$47.25 million deal). While the trio’s chemistry has been hindered at times because of various injuries to all three of them, the line has been dangerous when they’re all healthy and promises to be a force in the Western Conference for years to come.
3. Ryan Getzlaf – Corey Perry – Dustin Penner, Anaheim Ducks: $18.875 Million
Much like Stamkos and St. Louis in Tampa Bay, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks have become a two-man scoring machine over the past several seasons. Since 2006-07, the pair have produced over 400 goals and more than 1,000 points in the NHL and played together for Team Canada in both the 2010 and the 2014 Olympics.In recent years, Getzlaf and Perry had enjoyed most of their success with American power forward Bobby Ryan, but with free agency looming for all three of them, general manager Bob Murray was forced with a difficult decision. In the end, he decided to resign Getzlaf (eight years/$66 million) and Perry (eight years/$69 million) to long-term contracts and trade Ryan to the Ottawa Senators. With a vacancy on the left side heading into this season, Murray acquired a familiar face in Dustin Penner (one year/$2 million), who won a cup with the Ducks in 2007. While Penner was coming off a few tough seasons with the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings, he seems to have found his game alongside Getzlaf and Perry, scoring 30 points in 47 games so far in 2013-14.
2. Nicklas Backstrom – Alex Ovechkin – Mikhail Grabovski, Washington Capitals: $19.2 Million
Not to be outdone by either Stamkos and St. Louis or Getzlaf and Perry, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals may just be the most dynamic duo in the NHL. Since Backstrom broke into the league with 69 points in 2007-08, he and Ovi have terrorized goalies around the league, combining for 433 goals and 1,068 points. Despite all of their success, however, the two superstars had never played with a bonafide first-line winger – perhaps until this season. After years of impressive regular seasons and early playoff exits, general manager George McPhee took a risk this off-season, signing free agent Mikhail Grabovski to a one-year/$3 million deal. Although Grabovski is a natural center, he has played much of the season with Backstrom and Ovechkin. After a hot start, he has cooled off a bit, but still has 33 points in 49 games. With nearly $20 million worth of salary between them, however, Ovechkin, Backstrom and Grabovski are a threat to score every time they step on the ice.
1. Eric Staal – Alexander Semin – Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes: $21 Million
After Alexander Semin scored 44 points in 44 games for the Carolina Hurricanes during the lockout-shortened season in 2012-13, the team rewarded the sniper with a five-year/$35 million contract extension hoping he would pick up where he left off. But despite playing on the top line with captain Eric Staal and speedy winger Jeff Skinner for much of the season, Semin’s play has been inconsistent at best (14 goals and 15 assists in 45 games). Staal (45 points in 54 games) and Skinner (40 points in 46 games), on the other hand, have been lights out. Considering Carolina is investing almost a full third of their salary cap on one line, however, chemistry between two out of three players just won’t cut it. With the Hurricanes fighting for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, there’s no better time to get it going.