The long-awaited moment for hockey fans across Canada finally arrived, as Steve Yzerman and company announced the 25 players representing Canada at the Sochi Olympics in February. Due to Canada's never-ending hockey fever and its depth of great players, there was much debate for months over what would be the best group of players to send to Russia. When the smoke cleared, there were the obvious choices like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Shea Weber. There were also some choices that surprised many fans, including Rick Nash, Patrick Marleau and Dan Hamhuis.
We can debate all we want; we can try to dissect and pinpoint the tiniest flaw with this roster, but when you look closely at it without your Canadian goggles on, this is an incredible unit. No country had as many tough choices to make with their roster as Canada did this year. All 25 of these players have accomplished a great deal in the NHL or have yet to reach their ceiling. Many are franchise players and their teams' investments in them prove it. Here are the top 10 highest-paid players on Team Canada. This list applies to the 2013-14 season and not the entire life of these players' contracts.
10 Jay Bouwmeester - $6.6 million for 2013-14
When the Calgary Flames signed Jay Bouwmeester to a five-year, $33 million deal after trading for his rights, they thought they were getting a top-flight defenseman. They didn't get one, but the St. Louis Blues certainly did when they traded for the blue-liner this past April.
Bouwmeester fit in nicely with the Blues' suffocating style of play. The transformation was sudden. He scored seven points in the final 14 games of last year's season with the Blues and was a plus-5. In Calgary last year, Bouwmeester scored 15 points in 33 games and was a minus-11. This year Bouwmeester is even better, with over 25 points on the year halfway through the campaign. He's paired with Alex Pietrangelo and will be for a long time, as he signed a five-year extension this past offseason. His salary will fall to $5 million next year, but he's clearly in a great situation. Canada will hope he shuts down the attack of Russia, Sweden, or any offense standing in Canada's way of gold.
9 Roberto Luongo - $6.7 million for 2013-14
What an emotional journey Roberto Luongo has been on. Was his contract a blessing or a curse? Either way, Luongo is still a great goaltender and his performance has been all the more impressive with the circus in Vancouver. His deal of 12 years at $64 million made him immovable for the Canucks, so instead they traded away his backup in Corey Schneider. Luongo's 2013-14 salary sits at $6.7 million.
Since leading Canada to the gold in 2010, Luongo has been to a Stanley Cup final, but has always had to deal with adversity. Perhaps that makes him very well-suited to be Canada's starter once again in 2014. While many would argue that Carey Price should start in Sochi, the 34-year-old has to be given his due. The way he handled himself throughout the process in Vancouver speaks to his mental toughness.
Luongo is likely 'stuck' in Vancouver for several more years, but his legacy in Canada would speak great volumes if he backstops Canada to two straight gold medals. Perhaps a strong showing will make him more coveted, and respected. It would certainly make him more decorated.
8 Drew Doughty - $6.7 million for 2013-14
A couple of years ago, the Los Angeles Kings were in a contract dispute with their young star defenseman which spilled into training camp. When the dust settled, the Kings signed Drew Doughty to an eight-year deal worth $56 million. By the end of that season, they were sipping from Lord Stanley's Cup. Doughty showed he was worth the big contract, even being just 21 years old at the time he signed.
Doughty played a huge part in the Kings' run to the cup in 2012 and he was even on Team Canada in 2010 at the age of 20. He'll now play an even bigger role with guys like Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger having retired. He'll be manning Canada's powerplay this year in Sochi and will own the status of LA's franchise defenseman for a long time. Any team in the league would give an arm and a leg to have a defenseman like Doughty, especially one who is still young and hasn't even hit his potential yet. Canada is fortunate he was born in London, Ontario.
7 Patrick Marleau - $6.9 million for 2013-14
Another player whose spot has been questioned by many Canadians. Patrick Marleau is in a contract year, making $6.9 million on a deal worth a total of $27 million over four years.
Many argue that Marleau should be kept home and that his younger teammate Logan Couture should be going to Sochi, but a hand injury likely cost Couture his spot. Nonetheless, Marleau is one of the NHL's better players and he contributed two goals and three assists for Canada in 2010. At 34 years old, he has plenty of experience on a big stage, having played in 140 playoff games, with 96 points to show for it. He also happens to have 20 goals halfway through this season and is likely to hit 30 for the fifth time in six seasons, with the lockout-shortened season being the only one in which he didn't. Whether you like the choice or not, Marleau will contribute, just as he's shown the Sharks' investment in him was well worth it.
6 Corey Perry - $7 million for 2013-14
The Anaheim Ducks made it clear last year that they would be building their franchise around two players for the foreseeable future; Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Both were in contract years in 2013 and both were given long-term deals from the Ducks that reached the maximum eight-year length. Perry's total comes in at $69 million, edging out Getzlaf's deal by $3 million.
Perry will earn $7 million this season. The fact that he'll be paired with Getzlaf is an extra bonus for Canada, as the two have unbelievable chemistry. They are leading the Ducks to an incredible season, as they are sitting at first in the NHL in January. Perry has also proven his value on the big stage, with four goals at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and 45 points in 61 career playoff games. You can't argue his spot on the roster, and based on the results so far in Anaheim, you can't blame the Ducks for dishing out to keep both Perry and Getzlaf.
5 Duncan Keith - $7.7 million for 2013-14
It's hard to believe Duncan Keith is already 30 years old. He has done an awful lot since being a part of the 2010 Canadian squad. He won the Norris Trophy in 2010 and helped lead the Chicago Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup in 49 years. After some leaner years, Keith again played a huge role in Chicago, dominating the entire 2013 season en route to their second cup in four years.
Keith was rewarded after his Norris-winning season with a 13-year contract worth $72 million. Keith has not matched his 2009-10 output of 69 points in a season, but don't think the Blackhawks regret that contract for one minute. He's part of their nucleus through this decade, and despite the changes the Blackhawks will inevitably make to their roster, Keith will not be one of them. He's a piece Chicago will have to keep if they want to continue competing for the Stanley Cup. He's also going to play a huge part in Canada's medal run in Sochi.
4 Rick Nash - $7.8 million for 2013-14
A guy who many believe should not be a part of Team Canada is currently its fourth-highest-paid player. Rick Nash's eight-year $62.4 million contract was signed while he was a part of the Columbus Blue Jackets. With the team clearly not going anywhere, the Jackets traded Nash to the New York Rangers in the 2012 offseason. Nash has had difficulty living up to the $7.8 million he's making for the 2013-14 season.
Nash's numbers aren't bad by any means. In a lockout-shortened season, Nash scored 21 goals and added 21 assists in 44 games. His playoff numbers left many disappointed, as he scored just one goal and four assists in 12 playoff games, as the Rangers were bounced by the Bruins in the second round. This year, Nash missed 17 games with post-concussion symptoms. He has nine goals and nine assists in 28 games played. The controversy comes in when comparing Nash to guys like Claude Giroux (38 points), Martin St. Louis (38 points), Joe Thornton (48 points), Eric Staal (35 points), James Neal (34 points), Taylor Hall (41 points) and Logan Couture (35 points), none of whom made the cut (Stats are as of the time the roster was announced). The Rangers are battling for a playoff spot and simply put, they need more from Nash.
Nash recorded five points in Canada's seven games in 2010 and Canada will hope he proves to be a valuable selection this time around.
3 Steven Stamkos - $8 million for 2013-14
Steven Stamkos's health remains a question mark going into Sochi, but his salary from the Tampa Bay Lightning tells you how highly regarded he is, and with great reason. He's arguably the NHL's most natural goalscorer, and Canada has him. Stamkos was given a bridge contract from the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2011; A five-year deal worth $37.5 million. While not the large, long-term deal that many young stars make, Stamkos is still currently earning $8 million a season. He's due for unrestricted free agency in 2016 and will likely earn a bump in salary. He seems to get better at scoring every year, so just imagine what his worth will be by then.
For now, Stamkos has to focus on recovering from a broken leg. He should be cleared for the Olympics and Canada will have to hope that he's fully effective. It will be his first and likely last Olympics, as the NHL is unsure whether or not to send their players to South Korea in 2018.
2 Sidney Crosby - $12 million for 2013-14
Canada's golden boy, Sidney Crosby should arguably be number one if the business world were fair, but facts are facts, and he's no.2. Crosby signed a 12-year, $104 million extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2012. He now is earning $12 million a season, with his cap hit at $8.7 million. That's great value for the best player in the world on your team.
Crosby has his share of detractors, but no Canadian was taking shots at him when he slid the golden goal between Ryan Miller's legs in Vancouver four years ago. If Canada goes on to win gold again, Crosby could very well be the hero once more. Crosby's totals were 4 goals and 3 assists in 7 games at the 2010 Olympics. This year, he'll have a bigger ice surface to work with and we'll only see in February whether that benefits him or not.
He has had his injury problems in recent seasons, but Pittsburgh rightfully made him a Penguin for life, barring some unforeseen trade somewhere in the distant future.
1 Shea Weber - $14 million for 2013-14
Even though Shea Weber is the Predators' captain, you can thank the Philadelphia Flyers for making Weber the highest-paid player on Team Canada. Weber was a restricted free agent in the 2012 offseason. The Nashville Predators had already lost Ryan Suter in free agency and were desperate to keep their captain.
The high-spending Flyers waltzed in with an offer sheet that was impossible for Weber to refuse: a 14-year deal worth $110 million. The Predators can't be faulted for matching the offer because had they lost Weber as well as Suter, they'd have had a hard time trying to convince their fanbase they were making the effort to contend for the Stanley Cup. Ultimately, Weber was the big winner, as his 2013-14 salary is a whopping $14 million. Whether the Predators will be able to afford to honour Weber's contract throughout its tenure is another story. For now, Weber is the richest man on Team Canada.
While these aren't necessarily the 10 best players on Team Canada, they are benefitting from bigger contracts, whether it be because they're on the peak year of their deals, or because their time in the NHL has warranted more money. Canada is sending a team of studs to Sochi. In fact, if these 25 players were an NHL team, their total payroll would be over $150 million (the NHL's current salary cap is $64.3 million). Canada's payroll for these Olympics is over $30 million more than Team U.S.A ($120 million). These players have combined to win 11 gold medals and 13 Stanley Cups. No group of 25 players would've been a unanimous choice and Canadians should still feel good about their country's chances going into Sochi.