The 2020-21 season is fast approaching after an offseason unlike any other in NHL history. With the salary cap staying flat at $82.5 million for the foreseeable future — thanks to COVID-19’s impact on many aspects of the business — teams have never felt more strapped to stay compliant.
In this exercise, we identified the best contracts on every team, the ones with which the player provides the most production per dollar. We also identified the worst — you know, the ones that drive both fans and general managers up the wall.
Note: This list does not include any entry-level contracts (as they are exceedingly valuable for the team). Nor does it include players on long-term injured reserve. All contract details are courtesy of CapFriendly.
Best: John Gibson, 27, G
$6.4 million through 2026-27
Gibson had a down year in 2019-20, but what Ducks player didn’t? The goalie has been this team’s saving grace for the past few seasons, which could be described as forgettable at best. At a time when more teams are shifting to goalie tandems, Gibson is a total workhorse, starting 60 games in 2017-18, 57 games in 2018-19 and starting 51 of 71 games in 2019-20. Getting that type of load from a guy making less than 8% of the salary cap is a tremendous asset as this team tries to retool on the fly.
Worst: Cam Fowler, 28, D
$6.5 million through 2025-26, modified no-trade clause (player submits four-team trade list)
Ryan Getzlaf, the Ducks’ 35-year-old captain, will earn $8.25 million this season, which is the final year of his deal. Anaheim also has two more years of Ryan Kesler at $6.875 million per season, though Kesler’s career might be over, as he is stuck on injured reserve following his 2019 hip resurfacing injury. Once Anaheim gets past those two veteran contracts, there will be some relief, helping the team become younger and faster. As of now, the biggest question is Fowler’s deal. The defenseman inked the eight-year, $62 million contract in 2017 after a career year but has not looked as dominant since then.
Best: Jakob Chychrun, 22, D
$4.6 million through 2024-25
Chychrun was selected No. 16 in the 2016 draft, a pick acquired by the Coyotes in exchange for taking on Pavel Datsyuk’s dead contract. Arizona then signed Chychrun to a six-year, $27.6 million deal in 2018. It’s good value for a defenseman just entering his prime. Chychrun had his best offensive season in 2019-20 (12 goals and 26 points in 63 games) while ranking third on the team in average ice time (22:26). The Coyotes are still looking for more from the 22-year-old, but there’s no reason to expect he won’t get there.
Worst: Phil Kessel, 33, RW
$6.8 million through 2021-22, modified no-trade clause (player submits eight-team trade list)
The Coyotes traded for Kessel in 2019, hoping that he could help the franchise reach new heights. “In Phil’s career so far, he’s put up some unreal numbers, won championships and made a lot of dough,” coach Rick Tocchet told ESPN in 2019. “Now he’s coming to an organization that has been trying to find their way over the years. We’re trying to turn the corner. Phil comes in here, and if he can make this team better, just look at his legacy. It’s going to skyrocket.” However, Kessel’s first season in the desert was unmemorable (14 goals in 70 games, sixth on the team), making his contract look far less desirable.
Best: David Pastrnak, 24, RW
$6.66 million cap through 2022-23
For the past few seasons, Brad Marchand had the best deal on this team — and there’s an argument to be made that the pesky winger (whose offensive production is often overlooked by his agitating ways) still does. At 32 and still highly productive, Marchand costs just $6.125 million against the cap through the 2024-25 season. But the winner here is Pastrnak, whose salary is a total steal, considering that he tied Alex Ovechkin for the Rocket Richard Trophy last season, with 48 goals.
Worst: David Krejci, 34, C
$7.25 million cap hit through 2020-21, modified no-trade clause (must provide a list of at least 50% of teams to which he would accept a trade)
The Bruins have a tradition of players — perhaps inspired by Tom Brady — taking less to be part of a winning culture. That’s why it’s so hard to find a bad contract on this team. Star players such as Patrice Bergeron, Marchand and for a long time Torey Krug made below their market rate. (It’s why Krug left Boston this offseason; he wanted to be paid his worth). That said, David Krejci, at 34, is the highest paid player on the team, at $7.25 million. That isn’t ideal, but it’s also not terrible, considering that he still has underrated value. We needed to nitpick here.
Best: Rasmus Ristolainen, 26, D
$5.4 million through 2021-22
Rasmus Ristolainen’s name has circulated on the trade block quite a bit in recent seasons. But despite coaching and management turnovers in that time, the Sabres have kept the 26-year-old defenseman, in part because he provides tremendous value as an in-his-prime, minutes-eating defenseman on an incredibly cheap deal. Since 2015, Ristolainen ranks eighth in the NHL in average ice time (25:11). The six active players ahead of him (Drew Doughty, Ryan Suter, Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Roman Josi) each make at least $7 million.
Worst: Jeff Skinner, LW
$9 million cap hit through 2026-27, no-movement clause
This is what we call an impulsive signing — and it’s one of the key moves that cost former GM Jason Botterill his job. Buffalo had a blazing hot start to the 2018-19 season, and an early breakout star was newly acquired winger Skinner, who looked like Jack Eichel’s long-term go-to winger, scoring 40 goals. Although the Sabres missed the playoffs, they rewarded Skinner with a deal worth $72 million. Instantly regrettable. Skinner regressed significantly last season, recording only 14 goals and nine assists in 59 games.
Best: Elias Lindholm, 25, C/RW
$4.85 million through 2023-24
Lindholm, who led the Flames with 29 goals last season, is a low-key star in the making. He teams up with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on Calgary’s top line but makes $1.5 million less than Monahan and nearly $2 million less than Gaudreau. Lindholm’s success has the Flames pondering moving him back to his natural center position for the upcoming season. Wherever he plays, the fact that Lindholm is locked into this rate through his age-28 season should bode well for Calgary.
Worst: Milan Lucic, 32, LW
$5.25 million through 2022-23, no-movement clause
Lucic signed a seven-year, $6 million AAV contract with the Oilers in 2016, and it was a disaster pretty much from the start. Three unmemorable seasons in Edmonton later, Lucic was traded to division rival Calgary for another underperforming veteran, James Neal. Unsurprisingly, Lucic didn’t magically transform overnight, still providing the same less-than-sticker value on the ice. The Flames will have a hard time unloading Lucic, considering that he has a no-movement clause.
Best: Jaccob Slavin, 26, D
$5.3 million through 2024-25
If Slavin entered the market this summer, he could probably command between $7 million and $8 million. He has scored at least 30 points in four straight seasons, shoulders big minutes (he led the Canes last season in average ice time, with 23:24) and led the team in blocked shots (107). He also led the entire league with 81 takeaways. Slavin is a true No. 1 defenseman on a true bargain. Carolina signed him to this seven-year, $37.1 million deal when he was 23, and it has looked better every day since then.
Worst: Jake Gardiner, 30, D
$4.05 million through 2022-23, modified no-trade clause (seven-team no-trade list)
Gardiner played eight seasons under the bright spotlight in Toronto, which didn’t suit him well. He chose the Canes in free agency in 2019, hoping a quieter setting would help him find his game. The first season didn’t go smoothly, with Gardiner often lapsing on defense and posting the worst plus-minus on the team by a long shot. Gardiner was a minus-24 last season, his next teammate was minus-7. Carolina wouldn’t mind cutting ties with Gardiner to give younger players an opportunity, but there aren’t many teams that would want to take on this contract.
Best: Duncan Keith, 37, D
$5.538 million through 2022-23, no-movement clause
It’s rare to see a 37-year-old player on a best contracts list, but it is our duty to point out that the 13-year, $72 million contract Keith signed in 2009 (the most lucrative deal in team history) has aged extremely well. Keith is a workout fanatic and has kept his body in incredible shape, allowing him to still shoulder 24 minutes per game. He might not be the elite shutdown defender he was at the team’s peak, but he still plays a tough game. Blue-line contracts have skyrocketed since 2009; consider that Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty each make around double Keith’s salary.
Worst: Brent Seabrook, 35, D
$6.8 million through 2023-24, no-movement clause
The 35-year-old Seabrook is a valuable leader in the Blackhawks locker room, but there’s no question that he is declining, and some of his defensive lapses infuriate Chicago fans. Next season feels extra daunting, as the Blackhawks have pledged to get younger while Seabrook comes back from three major surgeries (both hips and a right shoulder) that he underwent in a five-week span earlier in 2020. The situation could lead to Seabrook getting bumped out of the lineup, but with a no-movement clause, he has earned his right to stay if he wants to. The end of his tenure in Chicago might not be pretty.
Best: Nathan MacKinnon, 24, C
$6.3 million through 2022-23
We’ve been lauding Joe Sakic in recent weeks for once again winning the offseason, this time with a pair of tilted trades. However, the Colorado GM’s recent string of success dates to 2016, when he got MacKinnon to agree to a seven-year, $44.1 million contract that has aged very well for the team. Plain and simple: It’s the best contract in the league. MacKinnon has the NHL’s 94th-highest cap hit, despite being a top-three player. The center has said he has no regrets about the deal, and it has allowed his team to stay competitive, but he’s due for a massive overcorrection on his next contract.
Worst: Joonas Donskoi, 28, RW
$3.9 million through 2022-23
This isn’t that bad of a contract, but Sakic’s roster is so well built that you have to nitpick to find a “worst.” The Avalanche were desperate for secondary scoring before last season — especially seeing how burdened MacKinnon was — and perhaps overpaid a bit for Donskoi, the former San Jose Shark, in free agency. Again, it’s not a terrible signing, but it’s not tremendous value for a third-line winger who put up 33 points in his first season with the team. Although the Avalanche haven’t been too stressed by the cap lately, they need to give Cale Makar and Gabriel Landeskog new contracts next offseason and will probably pay up for a goalie, too.
Best: Seth Jones, 23
$5.4 million through 2021-22
Of all the players on this list, Jones slots in just after MacKinnon as the best bargain in the league. Jones is in his prime, a future Norris Trophy winner and a do-everything defenseman who teams up with Zach Werenski for one of the league’s best — and cheapest — top pairings. Werenski is making only $5 million per season himself until he hits restricted free agency in 2022. That’s when Jones becomes a UFA, and it’s fair to say that he could earn double his current salary in his next deal.
Worst: Brandon Dubinsky, 34
$5.85 million through 2020-21, modified no-trade clause (10-team no-trade list)
Sadly, Dubinsky has likely played his last NHL game. The 34-year-old — a longtime heart-and-soul player for the New York Rangers — didn’t play at all last season, and his career will end because of a chronic wrist injury. The Blue Jackets have options for the final year of Dubinsky’s deal. GM Jarmo Kekalainen could put Dubinsky on long-term injured reserve or trade him to a team looking to hit the cap floor, or Columbus could eat the salary. It might depend on whether the team is operating under an internal salary cap this season.
Best: John Klingberg, 28, D
$4.25 million through 2021-22
The Stars have done some expensive business lately. They’ve offered Tyler Seguin an eight-year, $78.8 million contract, lured in Joe Pavelski for three years at $7 million per year and made a few other free-agent whiffs. A key reason they’ve been able to get it done: Their top two defensemen include a rookie on his entry-level deal (Miro Heiskanen) and a 28-year-old (Klingberg) making about half of his market rate. Both players’ deals are up in one and two years, respectively.
Worst: Jamie Benn, 31, LW
$9.5 million through 2024-25, no-movement clause
It was just four years ago that Benn finished third in Hart Trophy voting, and we were talking about him as a top-three winger in the league. However, his point totals have dipped each of the past three seasons, with a disappointing 39 points in 69 games last season. Benn (and Seguin) famously drew the ire of team president Jim Lites in 2018, who ripped his two highest-paid players in a profane rant for not performing better. Benn provided tremendous value in the 2020 postseason; can he carry that over to next season (and the four after that)?
Best: Dylan Larkin 24, C
$6.1 million through 2022-23
The Red Wings were bottom-feeders last season, as they are in total revamp mode. Steve Yzerman is essentially trying to build a winner from scratch, though the top line of Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi (all 26 and under) is worth building around. The best of the bunch is Larkin, a fiery leader and likely next captain of this team (he currently wears an “A”). Having your No. 1 center count about $6 million against the cap is a coup in today’s NHL.
Worst: Frans Nielsen 36, C
$5.25 million through 2021-22
For the better part of the decade, the Red Wings have been saddled by bloated, poorly aging contracts — the aftermath of 25 consecutive playoff appearances. Ken Holland passed the torch to Yzerman, who has been slowly cleaning up (and waiting out) the salary-cap mess. The last big contract on the books belongs to Henrik Zetterberg, who hasn’t played since 2017-18 but is in his final year of a 12-year, $73 million contract extension signed in 2009. Since Zetterberg is on LTIR, our choice here is Nielsen, who scored just four goals and five assists in 60 games last season, saw his average ice time dip to 13:41 and is signed for two more seasons.
Best: Tyson Barrie, 29, D
$3.75 million through 2020-21
Last season in Toronto, Barrie made $5.5 million (in a deal originally inked with the Avalanche). However, as a free agent this summer, Barrie decided to take less money and less term because he saw a good opportunity with the Oilers. Edmonton isn’t complaining. Barrie is a legitimate top-four defender who, when he’s clicking, can drive play and quarterback an already potent power play to new heights. The fact that top-pairing defenseman Darnell Nurse is making only $5.6 million the next two years is also a win for Edmonton. Plus, if Kyle Turris rediscovers his game, he’ll be the team’s biggest bargain at just $1.65 million each of the next two seasons.
Worst: James Neal, 33, RW
$5.75 million through 2022-23
The Flames and Oilers made a rare intra-rivalry trade when they swapped Neal for Milan Lucic in 2019; the idea was that both veteran players were struggling and could use a change of scenery. Neal played much better in Edmonton — seeming to find his game when reunited with Dave Tippett — but his contract is still too rich for what he’s providing, and he seems mostly relegated to the third line. Neal also hasn’t played a full 82-game season since 2015-16, so his ability to stay healthy is a concern.
Best: Aleksander Barkov, 25, C
$5.9 million cap hit through 2021-22, no-movement clause
For a while, Barkov was widely accepted by his peers as the most underrated player in the league. Now, the No. 1 center’s greatness — he has tremendous skill, can out-muscle opponents and plays a sound defensive game — is appreciated. He’s one of the most underpaid players in the league. Having a No. 1 center who makes less than $6 million has allowed the Panthers to take big swings in free agency (such as Sergei Bobrovsky) and add midrange complements (such as Mike Hoffman last season or Anton Stralman at $5.5 million), even if those moves haven’t resulted in sustained success yet.
Worst: Sergei Bobrovsky, G, 32
$10 million through 2025-26, no-movement clause
When Bobrovsky, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner, parted ways with the Blue Jackets in 2019, Florida swooped in with a seven-year, $70 million deal. There were skeptics of this contract the moment it was signed. A seven-year term and no-movement clause felt risky for a goalie, especially one who is over the age of 30 and has an inconsistent playoff track record. Bobrovsky had a rough first season in Florida, posting his worst save percentage (.900) in nine seasons, plus a career-worst goals-against average (3.23). He’ll try to get back on track this season.
Best: Sean Walker, 26, D
$2.65 million through 2023-24
He isn’t exactly a household name, as Walker is entering his third NHL season and has played for unmemorable Kings teams in the previous two. However, he’s a serviceable right defenseman who shows a ton of upside — and value. Walker played on the Kings’ top penalty-killing unit, sees power-play time and plays a sound game overall. For all he provides, his contract is extremely reasonable, especially considering that he is expected to improve from here.
Worst: Drew Doughty, 30, D
$11 million through 2026-27, no-movement clause
Is Drew Doughty a No. 1 defenseman? Yes. Is he still one of the league’s top shutdown guys? Also yes. But that doesn’t mean his contract makes sense for this team. Doughty has the fifth-highest cap hit in the league and second highest of all blueliners for a team that was a bottom-feeder last season. The Kings are unfortunately in rebuild mode, wasting the last few years of Doughty’s prime. His contract runs through his age-37 season. The Kings have one of the best prospect pools in the NHL, so they could turn things around in the coming seasons, but Doughty will likely be at the tail end of his career by then.
Best: Kevin Fiala, 24, RW
$3 million through 2020-21
Fiala was trending toward being a bust when the Predators unceremoniously moved on from their former top-15 draft pick before his 23rd birthday. A fresh start did the winger wonders, and so did a coaching change this past season, which had Fiala reaching new heights. Fiala was a point-per-game player the last three months of the season, thriving under Dean Evason’s system while dazzling with a few highlight-reel goals. This contract now looks like a steal for a top-line winger. However, Fiala is due for a new one — and probably a huge raise — next offseason.
Worst: Mats Zuccarello, 33, RW
$6 million through 2023-24, no-movement clause
The moment this contract was handed out, it felt like a mistake. It’s no knock on the player; it’s a look at how beloved Zuccarello was as a New York Ranger, as he led the team in scoring four times. However, the Wild needed to rebuild and get younger, and instead, then-GM Paul Fenton offered a 32-year-old a five-year deal with a no-movement clause. Zuccarello struggled in his first season in Minnesota (37 points in 65 games), and his contract will always be tied to Fenton’s bizarre, 14-month tenure in charge of this team.
Best: Phillip Danault, 27, C
$3.083 million through 2020-21
Danault is the Canadiens’ best 5-on-5 forward, and he mans the no. 1 center spot. For the past two seasons, he has finished top-10 in Selke Trophy voting. To have a player of that caliber make just $3.083 million (representing less than 4% of the team’s cap space) is incredible. Danault’s linemate, Brendan Gallagher, might have the best deal of the 2020-21 season, though, as the heart-and-soul leader is making just $3.75 million. However, Gallagher agreed to a six-year extension, kicking in for 2021-22, through which he will earn $6.5 million annually.
Worst: Carey Price, 33, G
$10.5 million through 2025-26, no-movement clause
Price is still one of the league’s most respected goalies, but at 33, he has probably already peaked. He can still play at an elite level for another few years, but his cap hit and term (the contract walks Price through his age-38 season) are quite rich, especially considering that Montreal felt the need to acquire a very good veteran backup in Jake Allen. Between Price and Allen, the Canadiens are spending nearly $15 million in goaltending this season, by far the most in the league. For context, the Golden Knights are second highest — at $3 million less.
Best: Viktor Arvidsson, 27, LW
$4.25 million through 2023-24
The top-line winger is coming off a not-so-great season (just 28 points in 57 games, a dip in ice time), but there’s no reason to believe that the speedy Swede can’t rebound. When he does, he will continue to have one of the most team-friendly deals in the league. Just a shade more than $4 million is an incredible bargain for a player who put up three straight 30-goal seasons, including 34 goals in 2018-19, a franchise season record (wild but true!)
Worst: Matt Duchene, 29, C
$8 million through 2025-26
Duchene and Nashville had long been rumored as a match, so it seemed like a fait accompli when the free agent signed a seven-year, $56 million deal with the Predators in 2019 to be their long-term No. 2 center, a longstanding need. Part of the issue is that it’s too much money to dole out for a No. 2 center. The other part is it’s a massive overpay for what Duchene has provided. He has hit 30 goals or 70 points only twice in his 11-year career and didn’t totally inspire in his first season on Broadway, scoring just 13 goals and 42 points through 66 games.
Best: Kyle Palmieri, 29, RW
$4.65 million through 2020-21, limited no-trade clause (eight-team no-trade list)
If the Devils were to name a captain this season, Palmieri would be a good bet for a choice. He has tremendous value as a leader and also has been the team’s most consistent point producer since he arrived in 2015-16. Palmieri has 249 points the past five seasons; the next-closest currently rostered Devils player is Travis Zajac, with 184. Palmieri becomes a UFA this summer, and the Devils haven’t made much progress on a new contract. Because the Devils don’t expect to be competitive this season, Palmieri will be mentioned as a trade candidate.
Worst: P.K. Subban, 31, D
$9 million through 2021-22
When the Devils traded for Subban at the 2019 NHL draft, they were looking to go all-in, capitalizing on winning the No. 1 pick through the draft lottery and hoping for a big run before Taylor Hall’s impending free agency. Subban was supposed to bring star power as a true No. 1 defenseman and help the Devils win immediately. Unfortunately, the team stunk, Hall was traded, and the coach and GM were fired. Subban, meanwhile, isn’t the same skater he was when he won the Norris Trophy in 2013. His contract doesn’t look great for a team that is undergoing another rebuild.
Best: Scott Mayfield, 28, D
$1.45 million through 2022-23
Mayfield is a big (6-foot-5), aggressive, right defenseman who can be trusted to put up solid minutes on a second pairing, and he seems to be thriving in Barry Trotz’s system. The Islanders signed Mayfield to a five-year deal worth $7.25 million total in 2018, six months before he was set to hit restricted free agency. It was a shrewd deal by former GM Garth Snow, though it was one of Snow’s last big moves before he was fired.
Worst: Andrew Ladd, 34, LW
$5.5 million through 2022-23, modified no-trade clause (15-team no-trade list)
The Islanders are in a salary-cap bind this offseason, still needing to clear cap space to sign restricted free agent Mathew Barzal to a new (rich) deal. One of the players GM Lou Lamoriello would like to move is Ladd, who was a frequent healthy scratch during the Islanders’ run in the Toronto bubble. Ladd doesn’t have trade value, considering that he has missed significant time because of a back injury and torn ACLs on both knees. What’s more: Buying out Ladd doesn’t make sense, as he already received his $3 million bonus ahead of next season, as well as $29.5 million of the $38.5 million owed in his deal.
Best: Mika Zibanejad, 27, C
$5.35 million through 2021-22
The Rangers have gone through such a massive turnover the past two seasons that Zibanejad is now considered one of the team’s elder statesmen. He’s the perfect player to help New York transition from one era to the next, and after a career year last season — in which he scored 41 goals in 57 games — it’s apparent that he can be a star No. 1 center in this league. Star No. 1 centers typically earn far more than the $5.35 million Zibanejad is making for the next two seasons (the tail end of a five-year, $26,750,000 extension he inked in 2017).
Worst: Brendan Smith, 31, D
$4.35 million through 2020-21, modified no-trade clause (10-team no-trade list)
Smith joined the Rangers from the Red Wings at the 2017 trade deadline and immediately endeared himself to the fan base with a terrific postseason run. He then signed a four-year, $17.4 million deal with the club. His first full season with the team was a disaster; the team didn’t play well, and neither did Smith, who went unclaimed on waivers. But Smith revived his career by doing everything — playing both sides of the defense and even suiting up at wing. Although the versatility is valuable, shifting around so much hasn’t allowed Smith to truly thrive.
Best: Colin White, 23, C
$4.75 million through 2024-25
White is a young center, and he struggled last season following a promising, 41-point rookie season. However, his contract is an important one for the Senators, a team that cycled through players at a dizzying rate since losing in the 2017 Eastern Conference finals. When White was an RFA in 2019, the Massachusetts native agreed to a six-year deal, the longest deal the club has offered since Bobby Ryan in 2014. It sent a message to other young players in the organization: Ottawa might not be winning right now, but it’s a place to believe in going forward.
Worst: Nikita Zaitsev, 29, D
$4.5 million through 2023-24, modified no-trade clause (10-team no-trade list)
In his first season with the bottom-dwelling Senators, Zaitsev shouldered a lot of minutes (22:09 per game, second on the team) and played hard minutes (starting in his own zone 56.1% of the time), but he still isn’t the guy you want manning your top pairing — and his contract isn’t one you want on the books, as it isn’t easy to move. The Senators are also in the last year of Marian Gaborik’s deal. The 38-year-old hasn’t played in two years and still carries a $4.875 million cap hit through this season. However, according to Postmedia, approximately 80% of Gaborik’s salary is covered by insurance, so it isn’t costing owner Eugene Melnyk quite as much.
Best: Travis Konecny, 23, RW
$5.5 million through 2024-25
If you don’t know his name, get to know it because the 23-year-old is a rising star on the Flyers. The homegrown talent (the 24th overall pick of the 2015 draft) has improved his point totals in each of his first four seasons with Philadelphia, including recording 61 points in 66 games this past season. The Flyers locked Konency in to a six-year deal totaling $33 million in 2019, and we have a feeling it’s going to be one of the league’s best bargains on the tail end of it.
Worst: James van Riemsdyk, 31, LW
$7 million through 2022-23
Van Riemsdyk, a longtime fan favorite, re-signed with the Flyers ahead of the 2018-19 season. However, his second tour of duty could be described as divisive. He has gone hot and cold the past two seasons, including new lows — such as being a healthy scratch at times in the 2020 postseason. The 31-year-old will be looking to bounce back, and there’s a good chance that he could be more productive, considering that injuries hampered him last season. But if he isn’t, the $7 million he is owed in each of the next three seasons could be a big problem.
Best: Bryan Rust, 28, RW
$3.5 million through 2021-22
Rust has been nothing but consistent for the Penguins since he became a regular in the lineup four years ago, ranking sixth on the team with 73 goals in that span. He especially proved his value this past season, when Pittsburgh powered through tough injury luck. Rust helped keep the Penguins in the playoff picture by scoring a career-high 27 goals in 55 games. That said, his $3.5 million cap hit (representing less than 5% of the team’s overall spending) is a total steal as he enters the second half of the four-year deal he signed in 2018.
Worst: Michael Matheson, 26, D
$4.875 million through 2025-26
It’s wild to think about, but the player to whom the Penguins have committed the longest is Matheson, who joined them via an offseason trade from the Panthers, with whom he wasn’t exactly thriving. The Pens hope they can help rehab Matheson’s career and traded for him to rid themselves of 33-year-old Patric Hornqvist (owed $5.3 million through 2022-23), who had a contract they no longer wanted. Matheson figures to begin his tenure in Pittsburgh on the third pairing.
Best: Tomas Hertl, 27, C
$5.625 million through 2021-22, modified no-trade clause (three-team no-trade list)
Over the past five seasons, Hertl has ranked third on the Sharks with 104 goals (trailing just Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture) and fifth in points (224), which makes his less than $6 million salary per year look especially attractive. Hertl signed his current four-year extension ahead of the 2018-19 season, and it was a smart piece of business for GM Doug Wilson, as it takes the popular Czech forward through his prime.
Worst: Marc-Edouard Vlasic, 33, D
$7 million through 2025-26, no-movement clause
In 2017, the Sharks signed the defenseman to an eight-year, $56 million contract extension, and just three years in, there might be a tinge of regret. Vlasic is 33 and on the decline, but his contract runs until 2026, when he will be 38 years old. The real issue here is that the Sharks’ fortunes have changed dramatically the past three seasons. San Jose now might be looking at rebuild mode — or, ideally, a rebuild on the fly — but it’s very difficult with Vlasic, Erik Karlsson ($11.5 million cap hit through 2026-27) and Brent Burns ($8 million cap hit through 2024-25) taking up so much of the salary cap.
Best: Colton Parayko, 27, D
$5.5 million through 2021-22
The Blues parted ways with captain Alex Pietrangelo this offseason, leaving Parayko as the team’s new No. 1 defenseman. St. Louis is getting incredible value on this stage of Parayko’s contract, a five-year, $27.5 million deal that he inked in 2017 coming off his entry-level contract. Parayko seems to get better each season, playing a career-high 23 minutes per game in 2019-20. David Perron, who has scored 48 goals the past two seasons, gets an honorable mention, as he’s locked in for two more years at just $4 million per season.
Worst: Justin Faulk, 28, D
$6.5 million contract through 2026-27, no-trade clause
Faulk was acquired by the Blues prior to the start of the previous season, and he played the final year of his deal that he initially inked with the Hurricanes. However, after the trade, he signed a seven-year, $45.5 million extension that kicks in this season. Faulk’s first season in St. Louis wasn’t smooth. Typically a consistent offensive contributor, he recorded only 16 points in 69 games while not looking totally dominant defensively. What’s more, Faulk’s extension essentially made it impossible for Pietrangelo to re-sign with St. Louis, and things ended in a messy divorce between the longtime captain and the club.
Best: Brayden Point, 24, C
$6.75 million through 2021-22
The hockey world knew how good Brayden Point was (especially after a 41-goal season in 2018-19), but the 24-year-old elevated himself to star status in the Lightning’s 2020 Stanley Cup run. He was one of the biggest reasons the Lightning didn’t miss a beat playing without captain Steven Stamkos. Point’s deal is a bargain, but GM Julien BriseBrois knows that he’s due for a hefty pay day in two seasons, which means the salary-cap crunch Tampa Bay is going through this offseason won’t get any easier any time soon.
Worst: Tyler Johnson, 30, RW
$5 million through 2023-24
Johnson is a beloved, hard-nosed player, and on many other teams, this contract might not be so bad. But the Lightning are itching to shed salary (a common post-Stanley Cup symptom), and Johnson has been deemed the odd man out. When Tampa Bay couldn’t trade Johnson in October, they put him on waivers, but none of the other 30 teams claimed him. After all, who wants to help the defending champs?
Best: Morgan Rielly, 26, D
$5 million through 2021-22, modified no-trade clause (10-team no-trade list)
The Leafs are the only team in the league with three players (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares) making at least $10 million per year. Combine their salaries with that of William Nylander ($6.9 million), and Toronto has more than $40 million — nearly half the salary cap — tied up with four forwards. We cannot understate enough how crucial it is that the team’s No. 1 defenseman is making $5 million per year, well under the market value for a guy who eats a ton of minutes playing in all situations and has performed well in the playoffs (16 points in 25 career games).
Worst: John Tavares, 30, C
$11 million through 2024-25, no-movement clause
The knock on Tavares from fans is that he’s 30 years old, has played in the league for 11 seasons and has yet to have a 90-point season — or take a team on a long playoff run. Of course, not all of the Islanders’ and Maple Leafs’ postseason shortcomings fall on one player, but that’s the pressure a captain has to absorb. Toronto has been retooling, adding depth pieces around the big three in hopes that it can finally snap its Stanley Cup drought, which has reached a league-high 52 years.
Best: Bo Horvat, C, 25
$5.5 million through 2022-23
The 2020 playoffs felt like a coming out party for Horvat, the Canucks’ young captain who is still only realizing his NHL ceiling. With 10 goals in 17 games this summer, plus sound defensive play, Horvat started drawing comparisons to a young Jonathan Toews, as the Canucks look similar to the Blackhawks teams that were just about to break out for three Stanley Cups. Horvat has been nothing but consistent for the Canucks, scoring at least 20 goals in each of the past four seasons and 120 in 446 overall games through six seasons.
Worst: Loui Eriksson, 35, LW
$6 million through 2021-22, modified no-trade clause (15-team no-trade list)
The knock on Vancouver GM Jim Benning is that the Canucks have drafted very well under his tenure, but he has handed out some pretty terrible free-agent contracts. One of the worst in Benning’s tenure is Eriksson. The six-year deal was inked in 2016, and Eriksson has never lived up to its value. He is a replacement-level forward, having scored just 38 goals in 245 games in his four seasons in Vancouver. For context, Eriksson scored 30 goals in Boston the season before he signed with the Canucks.
Best: Shea Theodore, 25, D
$5.2 million through 2024-25
Before the Golden Knights signed Alex Pietrangelo, Theodore was operating as a true No. 1 defenseman — and he shined, especially this past season. He continues to be one of the Golden Knights’ best expansion draft pickups (while each passing year looks worse for his former team, the Ducks), and this budget deal walks him right through his prime. Runner-up choices include Chandler Stephenson, who fit like a glove after being traded from Washington, playing the best hockey of his career (doubling his previous best points-per-game rate). Stephenson, 26, is locked in at $2.75 million through 2024. Also, the contract of 24-year-old Alex Tuch ($4.75 million through 2026) could age extremely well if he stays healthy.
Worst: Marc-Andre Fleury, 35, G
$7 million through 2021-22, modified no-trade clause (10-team no-trade list)
Life comes at you fast in Vegas. For the first two-and-a-half years of the Golden Knights’ existence, Fleury was the face of the franchise, a beloved player in the community with outsized importance on the ice, shouldering huge starters’ workloads since the team never trusted its backup goalies. Then Vegas went out, traded for Robin Lehner and hired a new coach in Peter DeBoer, and all of a sudden, Fleury was deemed expendable. The only problem: No other team in the league wants to take on this contract. For now, the Golden Knights enter the season with perhaps the best goalie tandem in the league, though they wouldn’t mind unloading Fleury for future flexibility.
Best: Henrik Lundqvist, 38, G
$1.5 million through 2020-21
When Washington decided it was parting ways with Braden Holtby, GM Brian MacLellan wanted a veteran backup to help Ilya Samsonov’s transition to everyday starter. Then Lundqvist, the Caps’ longtime rival, became available, thanks to a buyout from the Rangers. All of a sudden, MacLellan is changing his tune, saying that Samsonov and Lundqvist could be a 1A and 1B next season. If that’s the case, $1.5 million is tremendous value, especially when you consider that Lundqvist was due to earn $8.5 million from New York this season.
Worst: T.J. Oshie, 33, RW
$5.75 million through 2024-25, modified no-trade clause (15-team no-trade list this season, 10-team no-trade list for final four seasons)
There’s no question that Oshie is a beloved player in Washington, and he has a propensity to score exciting goals. But the term on this deal is what feels regrettable, seeing as the winger will be 37 by the time it expires. The eight-year deal was agreed upon in 2017. As the Capitals will eventually have to transition younger, there’s plenty of speculation that Oshie could be an expansion draft candidate for the Seattle Kraken. Oshie, who was raised in nearby Everett, Washington, could be the Kraken’s initial face of the franchise.
Best: Mark Scheifele, 27, C
$6.125 million through 2023-24
GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has had some challenging offseasons lately, dealing with a plethora of difficult RFA contracts to sign (such as Patrik Laine’s) and navigating a wild blue-line turnover last offseason. One thing he has never had to worry about is his No. 1 center spot because Scheifele is under contract for just a shade over $6 million for another four (!) seasons. If Scheifele were available in the market this offseason, he would be asking for $9 million minimum. The runner-up is Connor Hellebuyck, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner who is making just $6.16 million through 2023-24.
Worst: Bryan Little, 33, C
$5.3 million through 2023-24, modified no-trade clause (14-team no-trade list)
Doctors have recommended that Little sit out the current season as he recovers from a perforated eardrum. The injury (he was hit by a slapshot) sidelined the veteran forward for all but seven games last season. Little will likely go on long-term injured reserve, but his long-term future with the club is unclear. His absence forced the Jets to take on another slightly-too-expensive contract this season: Paul Stastny, who is making $6.5 million in a contract handed out by the Golden Knights.