We all like to gripe about the bad contracts in pro hockey (that guy makes HOW MUCH?!), but what about the underpaid players?
Yes, that’s a relative term in a league where the minimum salary is north of half a million dollars. But, based on what their peers are pulling in, some guys are getting short-changed.
Time to salute the NHLers who are delivering real bang for the buck by spotlighting a bargain player on each of the seven Canadian-based teams.
(All figures are annual salary-cap hits in US dollars, courtesy capgeek.com.)
Nick Bonino ($1.9 million through 2016-17)
With only a handful of games under his belt as a Canuck, it’s too early to know if Bonino can be the No. 2 centre Vancouver hoped for when it targeted him in the Ryan Kesler trade. But Bonino scored 22 goals last season with Anaheim, at 26 years old should be just entering his prime, and remains under club control for three seasons at a very reasonable price. A nice low-risk play by GM Jim Benning.
Mark Giordano ($4 million through 2015-16)
Despite missing 18 games due to injury last season, the underrated defenceman finished 10th in Norris Trophy voting. Assuming he doesn’t get a raise in the meantime, Giordano could be just the third-highest-paid blue-liner on his own team next year, behind Dennis Wideman ($5.25 million) and the recently re-upped T.J. Brodie ($4.65 million).
Jacob Trouba ($894,000 through 2015-16)
Ah, the beauty of the entry-level contract. For well under a million bucks, Trouba was the Jets’ most efficient scoring defenceman last season, putting up 10 goals and 29 points in only 65 games as a rookie. His teammate Toby Enstrom, who makes six times Trouba’s salary, had 10 goals and 30 points in 82 games. The 20-year-old Trouba looks like a keeper, and he's near the top of the team in ice time so far this season. But if he suffers the dreaded sophomore slump, he can be sent to the minors and paid only 70 grand for the season because of the two-way provision in entry-level deals. Hard to go wrong if you’re the Jets.
Taylor Hall ($6 million through 2019-20)
Yes, he makes a lot of money, but the kind of offensive talent the former first-overall pick owns is hard to find and costs a lot. Only five players averaged better than Hall’s 1.07 points per games last season, and they’ll earn an average of just under $8 million this year. Plus, Hall still has plenty of upside. Even though he’s in his fifth pro season, he turns only 23 in November. If he gets better and the salary cap keeps rising, Edmonton reaps the rewards of locking him up long-term.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Jonathan Bernier ($2.9M through 2014-15)
Hard to find a bargain on a notoriously free-spending team that has the largest payroll of any Canadian club. But, for less than $3 million, you could do worse than a guy whose .923 save percentage last season ranked sixth among goalies who appeared in at least half their team’s games. At times, Bernier seemed the very key to the fortunes of the Leafs, who hit the skids late in the season as he battled injury issues. Bernier is still only 26, and as a pending restricted free agent Toronto can maintain control of him past this season.
Max Pacioretty ($4.5M through 2018-19)
One of the game’s best combos of size and scoring touch, the 25-year-old Pacioretty already has two seasons of at least 33 goals under his belt. Last season he netted 39 in only 73 contests, and the only two regular players to top him in goals per game – guys named Stamkos and Ovechkin – will average north of $8.5 million in salary this season.
Kyle Turris ($3.5 million through 2017-18)
At the time, a five-year, $17.5 million contract for a guy who’d never scored more than 29 points in a season may have seemed like a stretch. But Turris went on to lead the Senators in scoring in lockout-shortened 2013 and topped the team last season with 26 goals and a plus-22 rating (no one else was better than plus-12, and top centre Jason Spezza was minus-26). Now Ottawa’s No. 1 centre after Spezza’s departure, Turris, 25, could surely fetch a lot more on the open market if the Sens hadn’t smartly locked him up before his breakout.