Despite the introduction of a salary cap into the NHL in 2005, the size of NHL contracts has continued to rise over the last several years. With strong attendance records in the majority of the league’s markets, rising merchandise sales and new TV deals, particularly the one signed recently with Rogers to carry NHL games for the next twelve seasons in Canada, teams have felt financially secure enough to lock up their premier forwards to contracts that promise them significant amounts of money. In a cap world, however, it is far more difficult to erase contract mistakes, and so NHL GMs must be prudent in how they spend their money. So the question remains: which highly paid forwards have best provided their team with value for money so far in this 2013-2014 season?
Through an analysis of the current points total (based on statistics gathered before the games played on January 30) of the 100 NHL forwards with the highest cap hits this season, it is possible to calculate to the cent what each one of their points has cost their teams so far. These calculations also pro-rate each player’s cap hit based on the number of games played by their respective team. These hundred cap hits range from the $4.2 million a year paid to Tyler Bozak (Toronto), Brandon Dubinsky (New York Rangers) and Mike Fisher (Nashville) to Alex Ovechkin’s cap hit of just over $9.5 million. Are the massive contracts handed out to players like Ovechkin, Crosby and Malkin really worth the money? Or would GMs be wiser to spend on talented but slightly lower paid players? To answer these questions, here are the 10 highly paid forwards who are best maximizing their contract value for the teams they play for.
Note: If you are expecting to see Giroux or Simmonds on this list, or players like Joe Pavelski of the Sharks, Kyle Okposo of the Islanders or Chris Kunitz of the Penguins, none of the aforementioned players fall within the top 100 cap hits for forwards this season, and were therefore ineligible for this list. Each one of them, however, has a sufficiently low cap hit per point ratio that they would make or top the list if they could be included. Watch for each of them as contenders to make the list in the coming years.
10 Jakub Voracek, RW, Philadelphia Flyers ($4.25M cap hit, 38 points, $73,652.12 per point pro-rated)
In the second year of a 4 year, $17M dollar contract, the 24-year-old Czech has been a key to the resurgence of the Flyers, along with teammates Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds, as they have bounced back from their dreadful start to rise back into the thick of the hunt for playoff spots. Though still not quite not at the nearly point per game pace he played at last season, Voracek remains a key cog to Philadelphia’s success now and in the future. While historically no one has been safe under Flyers’ GM Ed Snider’s regime (Voracek was sent to Philadelphia as a part of Columbus’ trade for Jeff Carter, who at the time was in just the second year of an 11 year deal with the Flyers), his position on the roster seems secure as long as he is under his current contract.
9 Patrick Sharp, LW, Chicago Blackhawks ($5.9M cap hit, 55 points, $73,259.42 per point pro-rated)
After winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman was forced to make some difficult roster decisions. Unable to keep his roster intact due to cap issues, and forced to choose which members of his forward core to keep and which to trade, Bowman opted to trade away Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and Kris Versteeg in order to keep other expensive core players. While Ladd has excelled in Winnipeg (and sits a highly respectable 18th on this list), his decision to keep Jonathan Toews (20th), Marian Hossa (15th) and Patrick Kane (still to come on this list) have proven wise in retrospect. As current defending Stanley Cup champions, and one of the favorites to win it again this year, Sharp has been crucial in the Blackhawks’ recent sustained levels of success. Along with his points total, Sharp brings leadership and defensive responsibility to the Blackhawks line-up, and his been rewarded for his strong play with a roster spot on Canada’s Olympic hockey team in Sochi.
8 David Backes, C, St. Louis Blues ($4.5M cap hit, 39 points, $73,170.73 per point pro-rated)
Often overlooked by East Coast hockey media, Backes has quietly ascended to become one of the most consistent and well-rounded forwards in the league today. While his 39 points are not as many as most of the other members of this list, including Backes on a list concerned primarily with points risks minimizing the vast contributions he brings to his team. Backes has captained the Blues since 2011, and has excelled in his defensive and physical responsibilities, earning the respect of his peers as one of the most difficult forwards to play against in the league. While he may never contend for a Hart or Art Ross Trophy, he is a one-time Selke nominee, and deserves recognition for his role in leading the Blues back near the top of the NHL standings.
7 Tyler Seguin, C, Dallas Stars ($5.75M cap hit, 51 points, $72,871.83 per point pro-rated)
As Seguin’s rookie contract was set to expire and put him in line for a significant pay raise, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli decided he was unable to pay him along with Boston’s existing group of forwards (David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, and Brad Marchand). Instead, Chiarelli traded him to Dallas in a seven-player deal this past off-season. Arguably the most controversial move of the summer, Seguin’s arrival in Dallas has allowed him to thrive in the Lone Star State, even as the Stars struggle in the standings. At age 22, Seguin is also the youngest forward on this top 10 list and, in just the first year of a six-year deal, provides Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk with at least one piece to build around as the team moves forward.
6 Patrick Kane, RW, Chicago Blackhawks ($6.3M cap hit, 60 points, $71,707.32 per point pro-rated)
While it is often his teammate, Jonathan Toews, who is thrown into the discussion of the very best players in the NHL, along with Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin and Stamkos, Kane has fully lived up to his first overall selection in the 2007 draft and matured into a staggering offensive force. While a 2009 incident with a cab driver led some to question his personal development, Kane responded by scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal in 2010. In 2013, he again showed his ability to thrive under pressure, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy after leading the Blackhawks to their second Stanley Cup victory in four years. Named as the First Star of the Month in both November and December for this tear and currently in the top 5 in NHL scoring, the question now seems to be not whether Kane has reached the very top tier of NHL forwards, but when his ascension to such rarefied levels will be universally recognized by fans across the league.
5 Bryan Little, C, Winnipeg Jets ($4.7M cap hit, 44 points, $71,646.34 per point pro-rated)
In the first year of a 5 year, $23.5 million dollar contract, Little has proven to be one of the few consistent players on a Winnipeg team currently sitting in last place in the Western Conference’s Central Division, as well as one of the few bright spots in the Atlanta Thrasher’s draft history. Aside from Ladd, Little has been the only player on the Jets’ roster to mix point production with defensive responsibility (teammates Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien and Olli Jokinen all have plus-minus ratings in the negative, while Little stands at a respectable +7). With questions swirling about fellow promising forward Evander Kane’s future with the team, and ongoing debate concerning Ondrej Pavelec’s ability to serve as the team’s starting goaltender, Little offers at least one bright spot for Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff in upcoming seasons.
4 Martin St. Louis, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning ($5.625M cap hit, 52 points, $69,916.74 per point pro-rated)
One of the most consistent forwards in the NHL over the last several years, St. Louis is also the oldest player on this list by six years (Sharp is the only other member of this top 10 over the age of 30). With a Stanley Cup, a Hart Trophy and two Art Ross trophies in his distinguished career, including one during the past lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season, it seems almost silly to describe St. Louis as underrated, or to think of him as nearing the end of his career. While playing with teammates like Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos has certainly helped his statistics, it is fair to say those players benefited from playing with him as much, if not more, than he did from playing with them. While some continue to discuss Lightning GM Steve Yzerman’s decision to not include St. Louis on the Canadian Olympic roster, it is certain that he appreciates St. Louis’ career longevity, continued stellar point production and relatively cap-friendly contract.
3 James van Riemsdyk, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs ($4.25M cap hit, 41 points, $69,527.07 per point pro-rated)
If any NHL GM should ever consider giving up on a slowly developing but highly touted power forward prospect, James van Riemsdyk’s example should serve as a parable to dissuade them. In case you’ve forgotten, van Riemsdyk was traded to Toronto by Philadelphia for Luke Schenn, one of the best moves of former Leafs GM Brian Burke’s tenure in the position. Luke Schenn!!! After 32 points in 48 games last year and 7 points in the Leafs’ first round playoff loss to Boston last year, van Riemsdyk has continued his strong form throughout this season, combining offensive talent with physical play. With four years left on his deal, current Leafs GM Dave Nonis can feel secure about van Riemsdyk’s place on the Leafs roster for years to come.
2 Phil Kessel, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs ($5.4M cap hit, 55 points, $65,853.66 per point pro-rated)
Yes, Leafs fans: your team has two of the top three forwards on this list. A victim of Boston’s salary cap situation, like Seguin, and the recipient of constant scrutiny from media and fans alike in Toronto since his arrival via trade in 2009, Kessel has not only withstood the immense pressure, but also thrived in it. Kessel admittedly has his limitations as a player, and will never join fellow list member Little, Backes and Sharp among the NHL’s best defensive forwards. The fact remains that Kessel is one of the league’s elite scorers and point producers, and far more consistently than he is given credit for. Kessel’s offensive excellence has earned him an 8 year, $64 million dollar extension, which will come into effect next season and likely remove him from this list of most efficient salaries, but his value to the Leafs organization is undeniable, and helped him achieve the number two spot on this list.
1 John Tavares, C, New York Islanders ($5.5M cap hit, 64 points, $58,689.02 per point pro-rated)
The New York Islanders and their GM Garth Snow have endured some rough years recently, but their selection of Tavares first overall in 2009 was one of the franchise’s key moments. Signing Tavares to a six year, $33 million deal, which does not expire until 2018, however, was possibly Snow’s single most brilliant move in his nearly eight years as GM in Long Island. Sitting second in NHL scoring to only Crosby, whose cap hit is over $3M dollars higher than Tavares’ current one of $5.5M, Tavares is the best bargain in the NHL, bar none. He has not only excelled offensively throughout the last few years, but also helped to improve the play of those around him (like Kyle Okposo and the recently traded Matt Moulson), which is the ultimate sign of a true NHL superstar. No matter which team they cheer for, NHL fans should hope that the Islanders once again rise back into playoff contention, simply for the sheer joy of watching one of the NHL’s very best players, test himself in the post-season once again.