Saturday, July 20, 2024

Examining the NHL’s highest paid players: Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews leads the way following extension

Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews signed a four-year, $53 million contract extension to remain with the team on Wednesday. The average annual value of Matthews’ new deal is $13.25, which makes him the highest paid NHL player annually.

Prior to the new contract, Matthews was just the seventh highest paid player in the league at a $11.64 million annual cap hit. Matthews would’ve been a free agent following the 2023-24 season without this new contract.

With Matthews’ new deal in effect, the league’s highest paid player list looks a tad different than it previously did. With that in mind, here’s a closer look at the 10 highest paid players the NHL has to offer.

1. Auston Matthews: $13.25 million

With his new deal, Matthews has become the league’s highest paid player on an annual basis. Entering the 2023-24 campaign, Matthews’ contract negotiations were set to be a major storyline. Matthews is well worth the money after winning the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 2021-22, and he followed it up with an 85-point season (40 goals and 45 assists) in 2022-23. Now with a new deal in tow, Matthews can focus on helping the Maple Leafs build on this past season, which saw the franchise win their first playoff series since the 2003-04 season.

2. Nathan MacKinnon: $12.6 million

Prior to Matthews’ extension on Wednesday, Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon had the league’s richest contract. Before the 2022-23 season got underway, MacKinnon inked a eight-year, $100.8 million contract that carried an average annual value of $12.6 million. This came after MacKinnon helped lead the Avalanche to their first Stanley Cup since the 2000-01 campaign. The Avalanche center registered a career-high 111 points (42 goals and 69 assists) in 2022-23, and he will continue to be the face of the franchise.

3. Connor McDavid: $12.5 million

It seems crazy that the sport’s biggest star is just the third highest paid player. Back in 2017, McDavid signed an eight-year, $100 million contract extension with the Edmonton Oilers, and that deal carried a $12.5 million average annual value. As crazy as it sounds, McDavid turned in the best season of his career in 2022-23, as he registered a career-high 153 points (64 goals and 89 assists). 

4. Artemi Panarin: $11.6 million

Star winger Artemi Panarin earned one of the league’s most lucrative contracts during the 2019 offseason. Panarin signed a seven-year, $81.5 million deal with the New York Rangers after stints with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks. The 31-year-old has proved to be worth every penny with the Rangers as he’s registered 90-point campaigns in three of his four seasons in New York.

5. Erik Karlsson: $11.5 million

Erik Karlsson ranks as the highest paid defenseman on this list. Back in 2019, Karlsson signed a eight-year, $92 million contract extension with the San Jose Sharks, which carried a $11.5 million average annual value. At the time of the extension, Karlsson was the third highest paid player in the NHL, behind only Connor McDavid ($12.5 million) and Auston Matthews ($11.6 million). The veteran blue-liner was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a three-team trade this summer, and he will look to win a Stanley Cup in his new home.

6. David Pastrnak: $11.25 million

David Pastrnak just wrapped up the most productive season of his NHL career. The Boston Bruins star was rewarded with an eight-year, $90 million contract extension ($11.25 million AAV) this past March. Pastrnak turned in a sensational campaign in which he recorded 113 points (61 goals and 52 assists) and helped the Bruins win the Presidents’ Trophy with an NHL-record 135-point regular season.

7. John Tavares: $11 million

The Maple Leafs made a splash in free agency during the 2018 offseason when they landed former New York Islanders star John Tavares. Tavares inked a seven-year, $77 million contract ($11 million AAV) north of the border. The Mississauga, Ontario native got to realize a childhood dream by signing with the Maple Leafs over a more lucrative seven-year, $91 million offer from the Sharks. That would’ve made him the league’s highest paid player at the time. Tavares is coming off of an 80-point season with the Maple Leafs in 2022-23.

8. Drew Doughty: $11 million

Drew Doughty is just one of two defensemen to rank in the top 10 largest contracts in the NHL. In July 2018, Doughty signed an eight-year, $88 million contract extension to remain with the Kings. That current deal will run through the 2026-27 season. At 33 years old last season, the blue-liner tallied his highest point total since 2017-18 as he recorded 52 points (nine goals and 43 assists). Doughty will look to help lead the Kings back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the 2023-24 season.

9. Mitch Marner: $10.9 million

It’s becoming abundantly clear that the Maple Leafs have no problem taking take of their star players. After all, that’s three Maple Leafs that rank among the league’s top 10 highest paid players. In 2019, star winger Mitch Marner signed a six-year, $65.358 million contract with the Maple Leafs, which carried a $10.9 million annual cap hit. Marner has developed into one of the Maple Leafs’ top assets, and he recorded a career-best 99-point season (30 goals and 69 assists) in 2022-23.

10. Carey Price: $10.5 million

Rounding out the top 10 is Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price. Price hasn’t officially retired, but he has only appeared in five games since the start of the 2021-22 season. Price signed his current contract back in 2017 when he inked an eight-year, $84 million extension with Montreal. At the time of the new contract, Price was the league’s highest paid goalie as he surpassed former Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist at that time.

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