They say the best defense is a good offense. While that may be true to an extent, the NHL demands the best of both worlds from teams that want to be contenders. NHL defensemen are unique in that they have the power to join the attack against the opposing team. The league has seen its share of legendary offensive defensemen over the years, from Bobby Orr to Nicklas Lidstrom.
Although d-men have to wear many hats (or helmets) in the modern NHL, being defensively sound in their own zone is a key component of their game. Some of the most sought-after players are ones whose speciality is to prevent teams from scoring goals. As a skater who is constantly shifting between applying offensive support and defensive pressure, the defenseman is a crucial but oft-overlooked cog in the gears of any NHL club.
This year saw some amazing offers for unrestricted free agents while certain players also waived their no-trade clausees to chase the big money. While a fat salary may not guarantee a player’s performance for the upcoming season, it does do something to satisfy a franchise with the peace of mind that their zone is protected as best it can be and also helps take some pressure off of goaltenders’ shoulders. That being said, here is a list of top 10 highest paid NHL defensemen for the 2013-14 season.
10. Erik Karlsson – Ottawa Senators – $6.5 Million
Known for his offensive style of play, Erik Karlsson is the youngest d-man on this list. Hailing from from Sweden, Karlsson was selected 15th overall by the Ottawa Senators in 2008 and has been taking care of their blue line ever since. The 23-year-old Swede took home the James Norris Memorial Trophy in 2012 as NHL defenseman of the year. That year also saw him breaking the record for most points by a Senator in a single season with 78. Not surprisingly, his record-breaking performance lead to a considerable raise as Karlsson signed a seven-year deal worth $45.5 million in 2012. A scary injury in which his achilles tendon was lacerated by the skate of Pittsburgh Penguin Matt Cooke sidelined Karlsson in February 2013, but he was back in the lineup 10 weeks later and is as dangerous as ever.
9. Jay Bouwmeester – Florida Panthers – $6.6 Million
Best known for his skating ability, Jay Bouwmeester has been one of the most durable players in the NHL having played more than 650 consecutive regular season games. He made his debut in 2002-03 with the Florida Panthers who drafted him third overall. That year Bouwmeester played all the 82 games for Florida, which in fact remains a record for a rookie. He reached a career high of 12 and 15 goals in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons respectively, while continuing his ironman streak for the Panthers. Owing to differences with his franchise, Bouwmeester was traded to the Calgary Flames in 2009 with a five-year $33 million contract to his name. However, he struggled with the Flames big time, with the team missing the playoffs twice. In 2013 the 30-year-old waived his no-trade clause and moved to the St. Louis Blues with a new contract worth $27 million over five years.
8. Dan Boyle – San Jose Sharks – $6.67 Million
Canadian Dan Boyle is currently the alternate captain of the San Jose Sharks. In December 2006, he recorded his first NHL hat-trick, starting a roll that would see him score a career high 20 goals and 63 points that season. However, a freak post-warmup wrist injury in September 2007 kept him sidelined for 36 games. Boyle made a full recovery and signed a $40 million contract extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but was pressured shortly after by Tampa’s new owner to accept a trade to the San Jose Sharks where he has been playing since 2009.
7. Drew Doughty – Los Angeles Kings – $6.7 Million
Drew Doughty made his NHL debut for the Los Angeles Kings in 2008 at the young age of 18 and went on to score 6 goals and 21 assists, earning him a spot in the NHL All-Rookie team. In the 2009-10 season he surprised everyone tallying 59 points and becoming a serious Norris Trophy contender. In 2011, the kings signed him to an eight-year, $56 million contract, solidifying his status as the Kings’ number one defenseman.
6. Chris Pronger – Philadelphia Flyers – $7 Million
Chris Pronger kicked off his illustrious NHL career with the Hartford Whalers in the 1993-94 season and earned a spot on the NHL All-Rookie team. However, in spite of his talent, he somewhat tarnished his reputation with a bar-room brawl and drunk driving incident after his rookie season. As a consequence, he was traded to the St. Louis Blues where under the guidance of coach Mike Keenan, he had a number of fine seasons and was named to the 2002 All-Star team. After the 2004-05 lockout, the Blues traded Pronger to the Edmonton Oilers who signed him to a five-year, $31.25 million contract. The 6-foot-6 defenseman then moved on to spend time with the Anaheim Ducks and Philadelphia Flyers where he is currently out indefinitely, suffering from post-concussion syndrome. Although Pronger is almost certain to not return to the NHL, league rules ensure that the Flyers will pay out the remainder of his contract.
5. Brian Campbell – Florida Panthers – $7.14 Million
Picked up by the Buffalo Sabres in the 1997 NHL entry draft, Brian Campbell served them for 10 years during which time he was a leader among the major defensemen in the league. He was featured in the 2007 and 2008 NHL All-Star game after which he was traded to the San Jose Sharks in February 2008. However, he didn’t even have time to get a tan in San Jose, as the unrestricted free agent went on to sign a $7.1 million per year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks where he emerged as a hero in an overtime victory against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals. For his sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct, he became the first defenseman since 1953 to win the Lady Byng Memorial trophy in 2011-12. Campbell can now get that tan, and over $7 million a year to play with the Florida Panthers.
4. Duncan Keith – Chicago Blackhawks – $7.65 Million
Known as a two-way defenseman, Duncan Keith is currently an alternate captain for the Chicago Blackhawks. Picked up by the Hawks in the 2002 draft, he made his debut in 2005 against Anaheim Ducks and ended up with 9 goals and 25 points in his first season, averaging 23 minutes of ice time. In the midst of the Blackhawks’ re-construction phase, Keith was an important member of the team, helping their game to improve with every passing season. With a long-term, $72 million deal, he holds the biggest contract for a defenseman in NHL history.
3. Zdeno Chara – Boston Bruins – $8 Million
At 6-foot-9, Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara is the tallest player to have ever played in NHL. He started his equally large career with the New York Islanders in 1997 but hit his stride with the Ottawa Senators, scoring 16 goals for them in the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons. In 2006, upon the Sens failing to come to terms with a new contract proposal, Chara signed a five-year, $37.5 million deal with the big bad Bruins. In 2009, he won the James Norris Memorial Trophy and was a finalists twice in 2011 and 2012. His renewed contract in Bean Town sees him earning $8 million this season.
2. Ryan Suter – Minnesota Wild – $12 Million
Son of Olympic gold medalist, Bob Suter, Ryan is an alternate captain of the Minnesota Wild. Suter started off his career with the Nashville Predators in 2005 and signed a four-year, $14 million contract extension with the Preds in 2008. Over the next four years he developed himself as a defenseman and grew his offensive style of play. In 2012, the Minnesota Wild got hold of him with a whopping $98 million offer for 13 seasons. That year, he was one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy and also played a major part in taking his team to the playoffs.
1. Shea Weber Nashville Predators – $14 Million
An NHL All-star and Olympic gold medalist, Shea Weber has spent his whole career with the Nashville Predators and is currently the team’s captain. It was during 2006 when his play was first recognized and he was named for the 2007 NHL Young Stars Game. In spite of injury issues, Weber came back with a bang, posting a career best 23 goals and 53 points following a $13.5 million contract extension in 2008. Owing to an arbitration issue with the Preds, Weber was awarded a one-year, $7.5 million contract, the highest such award in NHL history. In 2012, the Philadelphia Flyers came up with a record offer of $110 million over 14 years but the offer sheet was matched by the Predators five days later, sealing Weber’s fate with Nashville until 2025-26.
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