Top 5 underpaid, and overpaid NHL players
If you’re like me – and like the vast majority of wage earners – you don’t get to sign guaranteed multi-year, multi-million dollar deals with your employer. You may be able to negotiate a starting salary within a rather narrow range, but for the most part it is the market, or the agreed-upon pay scale, that dictates your wages. In short, there is some objectivity built into the calculation of your work income. And then, if your work itself doesn’t quite meet expectations, you can be summarily chucked (which I believe is a proper HR term. Maybe not.)
Salary negotiations in professional sports are a little bit trickier. For team owners and general managers, they are more often than not a wild gamble. On the one hand, players can parlay a single good season into a lucrative multi-year deal, and on the other hand, managers can lock in top prospects at bargain-bin prices for several seasons. Veterans can coast on their fading skillset for a couple of seasons before they are forced to renegotiate a more reasonable rate, while over-performing young prospects are often stuck earning sub-million-dollar salaries during their first few seasons (the poor things!)
The looming hockey season has me thinking: what if NHL players were subjected to annual performance reviews? Actually, let’s go further – what if their pay was variable, like that of a 100% commission-based salesperson?
And what if we looked at the 2013/14 season and called out the best and worst performers, dollar for dollar?***
Sounds like good fun to me. So here are the top 5 underpaid, followed by the top 5 overpaid NHL players for the 2013/14 season:
Top 5 underpaid NHL players, 2013/14
5. Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche
2013/14 performance: 26 goals, 39 assists, 81 games
2013/14 salary: $925,000 before bonuses
Don’t feel too bad for Landeskog, who just renewed with the Avalanche for 7 years and $39 million. His contract tapers up, from $4.5M to $6.5M in 2020/21. A lot of young guys get cozy at that stage in their career – will Landeskog make his employers proud or will he be happy to merely show up and do just enough not to be bought out? The 21 year old captain seems like one of the good guys, but his handlers will be watching him very closely. His immediate boss Patrick Roy is not known for being a calm, patient man.
4. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
2013/14 performance: 41 goals, 38 assists, 82 games
2013/14 salary: $4M
Pavelksi is the only player on this list who isn’t an over-performing youngster going through his rookie contract, which makes his presence here that much more remarkable. (See the notes below*** for our methodology – we didn’t pick these players randomly.) Pavelski is coming off his best season ever at age 30 and he must be making the Sharks’ management feel pretty smug. This guy earned every bit of his $4 million dollar salary last season – his new contract awards him $6 million every year for the next 6 seasons, so it’ll be interesting to see if he’s able to keep rewarding his employer in kind.
3. Ryan Johansen, Columbus Blue Jackets
2013/14 performance: 33 goals, 30 assists, 82 games
2013/14 salary: $810,000 before bonuses
The 22 year old seemingly came out of nowhere after a pair of ordinary seasons. He was the best forward for the Blue Jackets in 2013/14 and one hell of a deal for his employer at $810,000. Johansen is currently playing hardball with the Jackets over the signing of his new contract; he’s even refusing to show up to training camp. He would seem to have all the leverage in the world thanks to a 33-goal production in 2013/14, but several factors are at play here, including contracts awarded to similar players elsewhere in the league. More on that later.
2. Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning
2013/14 performance: 23 goals, 26 assists, 81 games
2013/14 salary: $587,000
Having just signed a 3-year contract worth a cool $10 million dollars, we’re unlikely to see Ondrej Palat make this list next year. Still, what a smoking deal he was for the Lightning last season, scoring 23 goals while earning little more than the NHL’s minimum wage of $550,000, with no possibility of performance bonuses. If he keeps improving, he’ll make his employers happy that they only have to fork out $3.33 million for his services over each of the next 3 seasons.
1. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues
2013/14 performance: 25 goals, 31 assists, 80 games
2013/14 salary: $900,000 before bonuses
The fact that Jaden Schwartz was compensated a mere $900,000 for his exploits on the ice makes his numbers stand out even more. Of course, 2013/14 was the last season of his rookie contract, but the St. Louis Blues still look like business masterminds after signing him to a contract extension that only guarantees him $2 million this season, and $2.7 million in 2015/16. That is some shrewd negotiating that will hurt the immediate value of #3 most underpaid player, Ryan Johansen. One thing is for sure, Jaden Schwartz’s agent is NOT getting a Christmas card from Johansen’s people this year.
Top 5 overpaid NHL players, 2013/14
5. Brian Campbell, Florida Panthers
2013/14 performance: 7 goals, 30 assists, 82 games
2013/14 salary: $7.14M
While still a defensive force to be reckoned with at 35 years of age, $7.14M is a lot of money for a player who’s decidedly over the hill. We won’t lie, we’re a little surprised to see Campbell here, but arguing with the Science*** that’s behind this list is way above our pay grade. We may not look like it but we’re on your side, Brian.
4. Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes
2013/14 performance: 21 goals, 40 assists, 79 games
2013/14 salary: $9.25M
Another victim of his astronomical salary. Surely, the Hurricanes bosses would like to get more than 21 goals for their 9 million dollars, but Staal has been a top-notch franchise player for the ‘Canes over the last decade. We’re okay with him taking a bit of a breather, but he better get back to it if he doesn’t want to top this list in the future.
3. Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings
2013/14 performance: 11 goals, 19 assists, 41 games
2013/14 salary: $7.5M
Gaborik has been a hot potato over the last few years, playing for three different teams since the beginning of the 2012/13 season. He was an absolute beast during the Kings’ run to the Cup in 2013/14. At 32, he would seem to have a few good years remaining in him, although he is prone to injury. He stands to make less and less money until the end of 2020/21 season, which seems like a decent deal for the Kings. Still, for now, at $681,000 per regular-season goal scored, Gaborik is one expensive gamble.
2. David Clarkson, Toronto Maple Leafs
2013/14 performance: 5 goals, 6 assists, 60 games
2013/14 salary: $4.5M
If you’re a card-carrying member of Leafs Nation, you probably skipped the intro to this article and scanned the rest, furiously looking for Clarkson’s name. Well here he is. Heir apparent to all-time great Wendel Clark, Clarkson had one excellent season with the Devils in 2011/12, scoring 30 goals and adding 16 assists. The Leafs got excited and signed him to a ridiculous 7-year deal worth entirely too many million dollars. Clarkson then thanked his new employer by scoring 5 goals in 60 games, and Leafs Nation executed a collective facepalm. Wendel Clark would be rolling in his grave were he not still alive and well.
1. Dany Heatley, Anaheim Ducks
2013/14 performance: 12 goals 16 assists, 76 games
2013/14 salary: $5M
It might seem harsh to call out a guy who helped Canada win an Olympic gold medal, but the fact is that at 33 years old, Heatley should not be fading that much. The previous two-time 50-goal scorer is now playing like he’s 43, and he even got outplayed by an actual 43-year-old, Finnish legend Teemu Selanne (27 points in 64 games last season.) The good news is that Heatley will make $1 million with the Ducks in 2014/15, which pretty much ensures that he won’t have the dubious honour of topping this list again next season.
***Our lists are based on Rob Vollman’s GVS (Goals Versus Salary) stat. GVS is based on another stat (Tim Awad’s GVT, Goals Versus Threshold) which aims to assess a player’s value regardless of position. Now, GVS and GVT tend to put a lot of weight on goalie performance. In fact, had we not excluded goalies for the purpose of this article, they would’ve accounted for 7 of the 10 players listed here. For the record, we’ve also excluded unsigned free agent Ville Leino, NHL deserter Rostislav Klesla and one player who missed the better part of the 2013/14 season due to injury, Stephen Weiss.