The Olympics are fast approaching and the idea of having superstars face off with their national pride on the line has hockey fans salivating. The 2014 winter games will be played in Sochi, Russia which will have the Russian hockey team extra motivated to prove their worth to their home fans. But the pressure will also be on, as millions of eyes will fall on the Russian squad to live up to the high expectations that follow any host country. Focus will be a key factor, as many of these players will be temporarily leaving behind their NHL teams to play for their home nation.
Despite the exodus of superstar players like Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov to the KHL, the NHL still boats some impressive Russian talent at all positions. This list will probably vastly change in the next few years as impressive Russian rookies like Nail Yakupov, Vladimir Tarasenko and Valeri Nichushkin see their rookie contracts expire and receive lucrative extensions. Until then, here are the highest-earning Russian players in the NHL for the 2013-14 season. Many of these players (if not all) will be representing their country at the next winter Olympics and they are all well-deserving of their elite-level paychecks.
10 Vyacheslav Voynov - Los Angeles Kings - $4.17 Million
The Kings' second-round pick in 2008, Vyacheslav Voynov has turned out to be a great value for the Californian team as he has helped form a strong backline in the Kings lineup along with superstar Drew Doughty and Matt Greene. The third-year pro is only 23 years old, but is already a Stanley Cup winner and has a cap-friendly contract for the next 5 years. The Kings will feel blessed to have this steady defender on their team over the next half-decade at a modest cap hit of $4,166,667, which will feel like even more of a bargain as the salary cap will likely increase in the near future. Voynov will probably be a key figure on Russia’s defence in the upcoming Olympics.
9 Anton Volchenkov - New Jersey Devils - $4.25 Million
The former first-round pick of the Ottawa Senators in the 2000 NHL entry draft is now a member of the New Jersey Devils where he is a key part of their otherwise young defensive core. After a solid start to his NHL career in Ottawa - where he was known for massive hits and sacrificing his body to block shots - Anton Volchenkov moved on to New Jersey in free agency in 2010. The Devils gave him a massive $25.5 million contract over 6 years with an average cap hit of $4.25 million per year. While not a superstar per se, Volchenkov is a solid player for the Devils, having already been featured in two Olympic Games for Russia and will likely do so again in Sochi.
8 Fedor Tyutin - Columbus Blue Jackets - $4.5 Million
Fedor Tyutin is a very similar player to Volchenkov and has been a solid defender over the last decade. The former second-round pick of the New York Rangers began his career in The Big Apple in 2003. After his rookie contract expired, Tyutin signed a four-year, $11.375 million extension before being shipped to Columbus in 2008 for fellow Russian Nikolai Zherdev. The talented Zherdev was a bust and went back to the KHL, while Tyutin has continued to be a solid force for the Blue Jackets over the last few years. He signed a six-year extension worth $27 million in 2011. Tyutin has represented Russia at the last two Winter Olympic Games and seems likely to be a member of their defence once again in Sochi.
7 Sergei Gonchar - Dallas Stars - $5 Million
The legendary Russian defender is second in points for active Russian NHLers and ranks eighth all-time. Sergei Gonchar was initially picked 14th overall by the Washington Capitals in 1992. He made his debut in 1995 for the Caps and was an instant success. Gonchar became an elite defender for Washington before being dealt to Boston in a trade deadline deal the year before the NHL lockout in 2004. After the lockout, he signed a huge $25 million, five-year deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins where he was a mentor for fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin and ended up winning a Stanley Cup with the team in 2009. He then played with Ottawa for three years before singing with Dallas last summer for two years at $10 million. The five-time NHL all-star has already played in four Olympic Games and seems likely to lead Russia's defence once more in Sochi.
6 Sergei Bobrovsky - Columbus Blue Jackets - $5.625 Million
The reigning Vezina winner for Goalie of the Year was undrafted before being signed by the Philadelphia Flyers to a three-year entry level contract in 2010. Sergei Bobrovsky was extremely impressive in his first pre-season and began the year with Flyers. After a fantastic rookie season, Bobrovsky struggled in the postseason, leading the Flyers to panic and sign Ilya Bryzgalov to a ridiculous contract that they quickly bought out after two seasons. After keeping him as a backup for one year, in another panic move, the Flyers sent Bobrovsky to Columbus for Steve Mason. Further biting the Flyers in the backside, Bobrovsky went on to win a Vezina trophy and prove that he was in fact an elite goalie. He was rewarded at the end of the season with a two-year, $11.25 million extension. Bobrovsky will likely be at Sochi if he can recover from his recent injury, but may not start ahead of the red-hot Simeon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche.
5 Andrei Markov - Montreal Canadiens - $5.75 Million
The general of the Canadiens defense is a former sixth-round pick who has played his entire career with the Habs. Andrei Markov started with Montreal in 2001 and has been a regular fixture on their blueline for the last decade. When he was set to become a free agent in 2007, he decided to resign with Montreal for four years at $23 million. In the last year of his contract Markov was severely injured in a collision with Eric Staal that forced him to miss the remainder of the season. The Canadiens took a risk by re-signing him again, this time to a three-year contract worth $17.25 million. He has validated their faith in him by playing at elite levels alongside reigning Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban. He is a two-time all-star and has already played in two Olympic Games. Markov is a lock to be on the Olympic team in Sochi and will have a huge hand in their potential success.
4 Pavel Datsyuk - Detroit Red Wings - $6.7 Million
Thought by some to be the most talented player in the NHL because of his lightening-quick hands, the former sixth-round pick is one of the more well-rounded players in the NHL. The incredible offensive talent is also known for his fantastic defensive work and has won the Selke Trophy for best defensive forward three times. Pavel Datsyuk began his career in 2001 on a line with Brett Hull and had the privilege of learning from Russian legends Sergei Fedorov and Igor Larionov. Datsyuk has been an elite player over the last decade and was rewarded with a $46.9 million contract over seven years in 2007. That contract expires at the end of the year, but Datsyuk has already been granted a $22.5 million deal that will pay him an average of $7.5 million for each of the next three years. He is a two-time Stanley Cup champion, a four-time all-star and is a lock for the Olympic team. He will be integral to both Russia's power play and penalty kill in Sochi.
3 Alexander Semin - Carolina Hurricanes - $7 Million
The heavy-shooting forward was a first-round pick of the Washington Capitals and was pegged to play alongside fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin. Alexander Semin played one season with Washington before returning to Russia during the 2004-05 lockout. This irritated Washington as they wanted him to play for their AHL affiliate the Hershey Bears. Semin missed the next NHL season as he was required to play in his hometown to fulfil his military duty requirements. After lawyers stepped in, Semin finally signed a two-year deal with Washington and returned to them in 2006. He topped 25 goals over the next four years, but never seemed like a sure thing for the Caps. Washington gave him two one-year contracts, as they never felt comfortable giving him a long-term deal. They let him go to free agency after that and Carolina picked him up with a one-year deal. Semin has had a strong year alongside Eric Staal which led to his first long-term contract. The Hurricanes offered him a $35 million, 5 year deal and he has responded with decent play this year. Semin has already played in one Olympic Games and will be a force on the Russian power play.
2 Evgeni Malkin - Pittsburgh Penguins - $9.5 Million
The superstar center for the Pittsburgh Penguins was drafted second overall in 2004 after fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin. After escaping Russia (literally), Evgeni Malkin began his NHL career in 2006 and won the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year. With fellow superstar Sidney Crosby on his side, Malkin held the Stanley Cup in 2009 along with the Conn Smythe Trophy for Playoff MVP. He received an initial extension of $43.5 million over five years which ends at the end of this season. He has already extended his contract for $76 million over eight years which will have an average cap hit of $8.7 million. It's interesting to compare his contract to that of Crosby who currently has a $104.4 million deal that will span 15 years and averages $8.7 million per year. Malkin receives more annually but Crosby has much more long-term security. Malkin is a Hart Trophy winner for MVP of the season and is a four-time all-star and a two-time Art Ross winner for most points in a season. He has already played in two Olympic Games and is a definite superstar and a huge part of Russia’s hopes at Sochi.
1 Alexander Ovechkin - Washington Capitals - $9.54 Million
The face of the Washington Capitals franchise was the first overall pick in 2004, one pick ahead of Evgeni Malkin. Alex Ovechkin began his career 2005, scoring 106 points and winning the Calder trophy over fellow rookie phenomenon Sidney Crosby. As soon as his rookie contract expired, the Capitals quickly signed Ovie to a huge $124 million deal over 13 years that averages a little over $9.5 million a year. He has rewarded them by continually being an offensive force and is an annual contender for the Maurice Richard Trophy for leader in goals scored. Despite being unable to lead Washington to any playoff success yet, he is not only the face of the franchise, but one of the faces of the entire league. He is a six-time all-star, three-time Hart Trophy-winner and four-time Maurice Richard trophy-winner. He has already played in two Olympic Games and will be the leader of the Russian team going in to the Olympics in Sochi.