The introduction of NHL hockey players playing for their respective countries during the Olympics has seen strong arguments both for and against it. Some say it’s great to see NHLers put their club rivalries aside and play their hearts out for their home country on the biggest stage for winter sports, while others think the introduction of professional players who make millions per year defeats the purpose of a competition that encourages and celebrates amateur athletes. Regardless of how you feel, NHL players who have been lucky enough to go to the Olympics have grabbed their opportunities with both hands, and some extremely exciting games have come out of it.
Although Canada has most recently won gold – winning two straight in both Vancouver and Sochi – no player from Canada, or even the United States, features on this top 10 list. Instead, we will be profiling the players who have managed to score the most points since the introduction of NHLers for the 1998 games in Nagano – all of whom happen to be European. A few of them are retired, many of them are still active NHLers even in their early 40s, and one of them has unfortunately left us. But these 10 men have proven that ice hockey at the Winter Olympics is always the most entertaining when NHLers are involved, and these men have dazzled us with their on-ice accomplishments at the games even though only three of them have been lucky enough to win gold.
These 10 men have also made big bucks at some point or another in their NHL career, so their current salary (or their highest ever paycheck, if they’re no longer active) will be included as well. However, the focus will remain on their Olympic accomplishments. Here are the 10 men who have conquered the score sheet at the Olympics during the ice hockey event since 1998.
10. Jere Lehtinen – Finland – 17 points at the Olympics
Not necessarily a big star during his playing days as a one-club man for the Dallas Stars, Jere Lehtinen put up big numbers for Finland whenever he represented his nation at the Olympics; particularly in Turin where he put up eight points in eight games leading up to a silver-medal finish. In total, he racked up eight goals and nine assists for 17 points from the 1998 games onward. He never put up more than 52 points a season for Dallas or made more than $4.1 million per year for them, but Lehtinen’s capabilities as a defensive forward certainly weren’t unnoticed by the league, as he was a two-time All-Star, three-time Selke Trophy winner, and won the Cup with the Stars in 1999.
9. Olli Jokinen – Finland – 19 points at the Olympics
Already a well-established star in the NHL – at least for part of his career – Olli Jokinen has also found significant success points-wise as an Olympian for his native Finland; scoring 13 goals and six assists for 19 points since first competing for Finland at the 2002 games in Salt Lake City. In particular, Jokinen scored six goals in Turin four years later in helping Finland win silver that year, and would help Finland towards bronze four years later in Vancouver and again in Sochi. The current Winnipeg Jet is making $4.5 million this year, but will be a free agent after season’s end.
8. Pavel Datsyuk – Russia – 20 points at the Olympics
Still a stickhandling maestro at age 35, Pavel Datsyuk has proved he is capable of replicating his dynamic hockey skills on an NHL level to the international game. Datsyuk has scored five goals and 15 assists for 20 points in total since helping Russia to a bronze medal in Salt Lake City in 2002. The Red Wings alternate captain and two-time Stanley Cup winner was also the captain of Russia’s disappointing team that finished fifth on home ice in Sochi despite extremely high expectations in their home country. But with a salary of $6.7 million and a contract running through 2017 for Detroit, the choice of Datsyuk for such a role certainly isn’t unwarranted.
7. Pavol Demitra – Slovakia – 20 points at the Olympics
A solid playmaking centre in his NHL days, Pavol Demitra was also a significant presence for Slovakia’s national team at the Olympics. From Salt Lake City in 2002 to Vancouver in 2010, Demitra racked up six goals and 14 assists for 20 points for the Slovaks. In the NHL, he was a three-time All-Star, Lady Byng trophy winner and made $6.5 million per year at one point in his career. However, it was also a career cut tragically short: on September 7, 2011, Demitra and his Lokomotiv Yaroslavl teammates were killed in a plane crash headed for Minsk, Belarus for the start of the new KHL season.
6. Mats Sundin – Sweden – 20 points at the Olympics
Although he’s most famous for being the longtime captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Mats Sundin also had significant success on the international stage in terms of points: he would collect 11 goals and nine assists for 20 points through three Olympic tournaments for Sweden from 1998 to 2006 – in the latter of which he scored eight points in eight games during Sweden’s run to the gold medal in Turin. Having once made $9 million per year with the Leafs, Sundin – one of only a few to have played their whole NHL career for Canadian teams – was a nine-time All-Star and made it into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012, the first year he was eligible to be inducted.
5. Saku Koivu – Finland – 23 points at the Olympics
With five goals and 18 assists for 23 points for Finland from Nagano 1998 to Vancouver 2010, Saku Koivu has consistently been one of Finland’s most important players on the international stage, although he sat out this year’s Olympics in Sochi. Regardless, he has helped Finland to at least a bronze medal in every Olympic tournament he’s played in. The former longtime captain of the Montreal Canadiens – their first ever European captain and longest-serving one since Jean Beliveau – is now plying his trade in Anaheim for the twilight of his career, making $2.5 million before being eligible for free agency this summer.
4. Jaromir Jagr – Czech Republic – 23 points at the Olympics
With a salary of only $2 million this year, Jaromir Jagr is obviously well into the twilight of his dazzling career at age 42. However, his ability to be a big-time NHL player has not yet evaporated, as he’s still one of the top forwards on a struggling New Jersey Devils team. At the Olympics, Jagr – a two-time Cup winner and 12-time All-Star – has put up big points for the Czech Republic, with nine goals and 14 assists for 23 points from 1998 to 2014, including five points in six games for the gold-winning Czech team in Nagano in 1998.
3. Daniel Alfredsson – Sweden – 27 points at the Olympics
Former longtime Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson is still putting up points for Detroit at 41 years old, but the fact that he has remained an important player for Sweden at that age is even more impressive. Alfredsson’s all-time Olympic tally from 1998 to 2014 is 13 goals and 14 assists for 27 points, including 10 points in eight games for Sweden’s gold-winning team of 2006. The six-time All-Star now just needs a Cup to add to his mantlepiece, and with a salary of $3.5 million this year as a Red Wing, he may be running out of time to do that with free agency awaiting him after this season.
2. Marian Hossa – Slovakia – 28 points at the Olympics
Marian Hossa has had quite the prolific and wild NHL career – losing the Stanley Cup two years in a row before finally winning it with Chicago the year after – but his Olympic tally is almost as impressive; with 14 goals and 14 assists for 28 points for his home country of Slovakia since 2002, including nine points in seven games for a Slovak team that finished just barely off the podium in 2010. Hossa is still a big-time player for Chicago even in his mid-30s, with a salary of $7.9 million this season and having won another Cup with the Blackhawks this past season.
1. Teemu Selanne – Finland – 32 points at the Olympics
He may be 43, but Teemu Selanne’s playing ability even nowadays makes you think he dipped his feet into the fountain of eternal youth. His point production may be dipping for the Ducks, but he was a point per game during Finland’s run to the bronze medal in Sochi at this year’s Olympics. Speaking of which, Selanne is the all-time leader for points in men’s hockey in Olympic history: since 1998, Selanne has racked up 17 goals and 15 assists for 32 total points. Although his salary is just $2 million this year with his contract up at the end of the season, it remains to be seen whether Selanne will keep on trucking or if he’ll hang up his skates after an illustrious career.