by PuckStopsHere on 07/06/12 at 03:39 PM ET
In 1996/97 Mario Lemieux became the highest paid player in league history. He was paid $11.35 million that season. That season was 16 years ago. The highest paid player next season barring future signings will be a four way tie between Brad Richards, Tyler Myers, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Each of whom is to be paid $12 million next season. Since the NHL deals with average salaries as salary cap hits, each of these players will see reductions in salary in the future to keep their salary cap hits down. In terms of salary cap hit no player has an average salary greater than Alexander Ovechkin who has a slightly greater than $9.5 million.
The highest paid players in the NHL have not seen any raise in their pay in sixteen years. The highest paid players next season are not the best players in the league. Thus superstar talent players are underpriced in the NHL market. As an example we can look at the contract Sidney Crosby recently signed.
He signed a twelve year contract worth $104.4 million in total. This gives him an $8.7 million salary cap hit - though the contract is frontloaded so he is paid more than that in its first years. This contract may be longer than they were signing in the mid 90’s but it is not more lucrative per season.
Despite the fact that superstar salaries are not going up, the total money paid to players is climbing. This money is being paid to lesser players. The minimum salary in the mid-90s changed by year but was around $150,000 per season. It is now $525,000. The lowest paid players have increased their pay by a factor of 3.5 while their highest paid counterparts have not seen a raise.
The mid-level players have also seen a significant raise. In 96/97 Patrick Roy and Pat LaFontaine were some of the ten highest paid players in hockey and they both made around $4.5 million each. Today run of the mill players like Olli Jokinen and Matt Carle make that kind of money.
This has created a situation where superstar players are underpaid relative to the rest of the league. Jokinen and Carle make more per season than Sidney Crosby and it should be clear that Crosby is of more value to a successful team.
This situation may not remain true indefinitely into the future. A dominant player will sign a contract extension where they get paid closer to the maximum allowed for a player of 20% of the salary cap. With the current cap that would be about $14 million. A leading candidate is Evgeni Malkin who is eligible to sign a contract extension next summer.
Right now superstar players are underpaid in the NHL by a significant margin. The top salaries in the league have not gone up in well over a decade while the lesser player salaries have. Those players currently collecting top salaries are not the most talented players in the league. Whatever is paid to a superstar player is not enough in the current NHL salary structure. These players are bargains right now.
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