The dividing line between the upper echelon of the NHL’s forwards in terms of pay and the merely competent is always sliding upwards. Right now the line is slipping from the five million mark upwards. Without knowing what the next CBA will look like, much less the next two or three annual caps we’ll take a look at the league and who’s earning about twice the leagues average salary or more.
The Southeast division has an interesting topography in terms of forwards who meet this strata. Two teams have no forwards making five million dollars or more a season. The Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets are those two teams, arguably they have forwards who might make it there on their next contracts, The Carolina Hurricanes have just one forward making more than five million dollars a year, and he is the second highest paid player in the division. The Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning each have three accounting for about one third of the payroll of each team.
- Vincent Lecavalier has fallen far from grace. At one time the arguably best forward in the NHL, certainly top five. A combination of factors has removed him from the elite. Some would argue he’s the only reason there is still a team in Tampa Bay, and there is more than a little truth to that. However, he is not currently earning his salary on the ice. Injuries, lack of NHL quality complimentary players, and chaos on and off the ice in recent years have taken some of the wind out of his sales. If he manages to get healthy for a long period of time and overcomes his limited athleticism before he ages much more he could elevate his play again, but all signs point in the other direction.
- Alex Semin is a goal scorer. That’s it. And he’s only a goal scorer when he’s healthy and motivated. Which isn’t often. Since entering the NHL in the 2003-4 season he has played in 80 or more games exactly zero times. Three of the six years since returning to the Washington Capitals after a two year trip to Russia around the lockout he has played 65 games or less. He also has a plethora of penalties each year that scream of immaturity and poor preparation. This year three diving penalties, eight hooting, and six tripping penalties. But at 28 years old he’s still young so we should all hold out great hope. He is I believe the only player to be called out by current teammates in the media for lack of commitment,.
- Steven Stamkos is an elite goalscorer. As evidenced by taking a slapshot to the face and coming back to play in the same period last year in the playoffs he’s not exactly going to sit unless he’s got to. Unfortunately at this point in his development he’s simply a gutsy goal scorer. He’s not particularly responsible with the puck, he doesn’t kill penalties, his faceoff win percentage is uninspiring, and given the number of PIM’s he manages to rack up without dropping the gloves he may want to work on his temper a bit, or get sneakier.
- Niklas Backstrom is in this category only because of the giant question mark over his head regarding how good he in the wake of his serious concussion. We’ve seen players like Patrice Bergeron take over a year to fully recover, we’ve seen guys like David Booth come back and never be the same, and we’ve seen guys like Marc Savard who have (likely) had their career ended. Enormously talented, it’s hard to remember this is just his fourth year in the NHL A meteoric rise at Ovechkins side was questioned because of who he was playing with, now it’s clear the synergy between the pair is indeed two way.
- Alex Ovechkin, down year or not he contributes physically, passes, skates hits, and yeah he can score goals. You can argue he has more to contribute (and he does) all you want, but the truth is he just about single handedly dragged the team into the playoffs in the years before Carlson and Alzner provided defensemen who could play defense. When he’s on he’s incredible, when he’s off he’s disappointing with nearly forty goals.
- Martin St Louis is the little engine that could, and did, and continues to do. He’s adapted his game to become more of a distributor of the puck in the last several years. He can still score at a more than respectable rate, he’s credited with almost 20 more takeaways than giveaways this season and he’s highly disciplined. Dollar for dollar the best of the $5,000,000 forwards in the southeast division.
- Eric Staal, like Ovechkin, Staal is not having the best season of his career. He is however the single player in the Southeast division who has been burdened with doing the most with the least for a very long time. Unlike the rest of the $5 million dollar forwards in the division he’s a regular contributor to the penalty kill where he has pretty consistently picked up points since his rookie year.
Arguably, two forwards in the division could join the 5+ club soon. Kris Versteeg of the Florida Panthers, is rather well traveled but has fit in as well in Florida as he seemed to in Chicago. Evander Kane of the Winnipeg Jets is on the last year of his entry level deal, if he decides to play hard ball in the negotiations or signs a long term deal, he could bounce over the five million mark as well.