The title of this article seems pretty self-explanatory, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s never that simple when talking about cash in a salary-cap world (perhaps fortunately, since it makes for a better article). Player salary has certainly been more interesting to analyze since the implementation of the salary cap, particularly with high-earning players. It’s important to differentiate the player’s annual salary is, and his “cap hit” as they are entirely different concepts. It’s a tad bad confusing and many of the casual fans have waved the white flag in trying to understand, but I’m going to explain it very simply and clear the air, right here, right now!
A player’s annual salary is what he is making that particular season whereas the cap hit is the player’s salary averaged out based on how many years his contract is worth. Example: John Do has a 2 year deal, worth $5 million and $6 million per season. The cap hit would be $5.5 million. Things are so simple when explained properly, aren’t they? Try to get Bob Mckenzie to explain the same thing and your head will spin, but I digress.
There is also such a thing as “cap manipulation” that goes on in the NHL but is no longer as extreme since New Jersey’s Lou Lomoriello ruined the fun for everyone. He attempted to sign star winger Ilya Kovalchuk to a 17 year, $102 million dollar contract which had Kovalchuk earning a meager $550,000 in the last 5 years of the contract, even though he had no intention of playing that long. The term and money was stretched out in order to ensure a lower annual cap hit, until Gary Bettman promptly rejected the deal. Nice try Lou…
From a non-financial standpoint there are also huge responsibilities and privileges that come along with being the captain. The captain (or alternate captains) are the only players that have the right to badger the officials for explanations on a call. As Brian Burke famously said: “Detroit has 12 captains and assistants to speak to the officials; we find that unusual, most teams have only two or three. It’s amazing to me the number of players that are able to protest calls in Detroit uniforms.” Lets have a look at the NHL’s top earning captains for the 2013-14 season, along with their cap hits!
10. Martin St. Louis, $6,500,000, Cap Hit: $5,625,000
Martin St. Louis just received the C this season and is doing a more than formidable job at putting up points and setting an example for his teammates as The Lightning are having a great season. Collectively, nobody has put up as many points at St. Louis in the past 2 seasons and remarkably at 38 years old, is showing no signs of slowing down. Hopefully Mike Babcock realizes this and throws St. Louis some more ice time in Sochi.
9. Jonathan Toews, $6,500,000, Cap Hit: $6,300,000
Jonathan Toews is only 25, but has hald the Chicago Blackhawks captaincy since 2008. He is one of the most revered captains in the league. He is so revered in fact, that before the Olympics started, Sidney Crosby basically asked Toews if he was “okay” with him wearing the “C”. A very classy move by Crosby as even though he is the best player in the game and was asked by Mike Babcock to lead the national team, he still checked with Toews. All this to say, Toews is a good freaking captain.
8. Mikko Koivu, $7,290,000, Cap Hit: $6,750,000
The Wild’s forward has been the captain since 2009. Don’t expect him to shed the “C” or get traded anytime soon. His older brother Saku was the second longest serving captain in Montreal Canadiens’ history, trailing only Jean Beliveau. The brother’s share many of the same characteristics in terms of their leadership. They both are calming influences in the room but will step-up when something needs to be said. He does however carry a huge salary considering he has 35 points in 44 games with only 8 goals. He’s also a player that has never achieved a “point a game” season in his career.
7. Henrik Zetterberg, $7,500,000, Cap Hit: $6,083,333
It’s really hard to feel bad for a guy making $7,500,000 to play hockey, but I kind of do for Henrik Zetterberg. This is his second year as captain of the Wings but his predecessor was Niklas Lidstrom. Lidstrom held onto the “C” for 8 years and was a role model for all the other captains in the league. He backed it up on the ice, amassing three Norris trophies and was one of the few players in the league that nobody had a bad word to say about. This is not to say that Zetterberg is a slouch, he’s like a bottle of vino, which seems to get better with age. But he does have big shoes to fill.
6. Zdeno Chara, $8,000,000, Cap Hit: $6,916,667
Big Z has held the “C” since 2006, to say that he’s had some success as the Bruins captain would be an understatement. He’s won a Stanley cup, been to two finals and won a Norris trophy for the 2008-09 season. $8 million sounds steep but the fact of the matter is, there has never been a player in the league with his physical tools. He displays a combination of size, skill, leadership and most of all, nastiness. Chris Pronger would be the only comparable that comes to mind, but he was a bit too nasty as he crossed the line many times in his career. He also didn’t demonstrate the same leadership qualities as Chara. When he was in Philly, the room was divided and Paul Holmgren ultimately decided to keep Pronger around and ship out Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. There’s never been issues of division in the dressing room with Chara.
5. Ryan Getzlaf, $8,250,000, Cap Hit: $8,250,000
Ryan Getzlaf strikes me as a good ol’ Canadian boy you’d spot in a bar that may get a little rambunctious after a few too many beers. Getzlaf has worn the “C” for Anaheim since 2010 and has done an admirable job. They are currently enjoying a season reminiscent to when they won the Stanley Cup in 2007, and this team may actually be stronger. Power forwards are the type of players that are sought after by all 30 teams because they are a rare breed. Getzlaf is the premiere power forward in the NHL and is enjoying a career year. The only downfall to a power forward is that they tend to slow down earlier in their careers due to the wear and tear from their style of play. Getzlaf will be raking in similar money until the 2020 season, we’ll have to see how his body holds up.
4. Alexander Ovechkin, $9,000,000, Cap Hit: $9,538,462
It’s tough to assess Alex Ovechkin. On one hand, he’s experienced a career resurgence recently as he seems poised to capture his second straight “Rocket” Richard Trophy. On the other hand, other than a World Championship, he’s never won anything. His career has been littered with constant early post-season and Olympic exits. As much as they won’t admit it, this type of deception takes its toll on an athlete. It took him a while to regain form in 2010 after Russia’s early exit from the Olympics, followed by a heartbreaking first round loss to Montreal (Jaroslav Halak) in the playoffs. We’ll see if he experiences similar effects after the most recent heartbreak in Sochi.
3. Eric Staal, $9,250,000, Cap Hit: 8,250,000
It is hard to argue with the idea that Eric Staal may be a tad overrated. His production is constantly going down yet his salary is going up. To put it in perspective, Staal is the 5th highest paid player in the league, but is he one of the top 5 players in the league? Team Canada didn’t even think he was in the top 14 forwards for their country. Since he was named captain in 2010, Staal has not lead Carolina to the playoffs and delivered a near career ending hit to his brother Marc. Granted, it would be foolish to pin all of Carolina’s failures on one player. But Carolina has iced a more solid lineup this season and Staal will have to lead them back to the post season at some point.
2. Sidney Crosby, $12,000,000, Cap Hit: $8,700,000
The world’s best player has been the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins since 2007. Pretty amazing to think that a 19 year old kid was in charge of leading vets that were in their mid-thirties. Even though Sid “The Kid” (should we call him Sid “The Adult” now?) has been ravaged by injuries the past three seasons, he has had a spectacular career and appears to be on the right track now, in terms of being injury free. There is quite the disparity between his annual salary and the cap hit. As mentioned above, Sid locked in a lot of money in the early stages of his contract and took less on the back-end, which averages out to $8,700,000. If you’re thinking that number looks suspiciously similar to his jersey number, you are correct! It is not a coincidence. He is a very finicky and superstitious guy, and planned it out that way.
1. Shea Weber, $14,000,000, Cap Hit: $7,857,143
Shea Weber is a premier defenseman in the NHL and has worn the “C” for Nashville since 2010. He doesn’t really have a flaw in his game and possesses arguably the hardest and most accurate shot in the game. His salary is insane, but there are reasons for the insanity. When Ryan Suter decided to sign with Minnesota, Weber basically had GM David Poile handcuffed and had the ability to “name his price”. In fact, his salary is so insane that he can’t even claim the full amount, as the leagues salary cap went down, and the highest a player can earn is $12,860,000. Weber will however receive a considerable pay cut later on in his career, as he will only be earning $6 million from 2018 to 2022. I also sense a bit of cap manipulation here (not as bad as in New Jersey, that one was just laughable). Through 2023 to 2026, should Weber decide to remain an NHL’er, he’s slated to only make $1 million.