Some players sign longer deals and then break out in a big way while others sign contracts they can’t live up to. Still, others take bridge deals in hopes of earning a big pay raise by the end of their contracts. That is who we are focusing on here. Fifteen stars in the NHL who are underpaid this upcoming season excluding those players still on entry-level contracts.
Evander Kane – $5.125 Million
After having his contract terminated by the San Jose Sharks last season, the Edmonton Oilers took a chance on Evander Kane and it greatly paid off. He immediately clicked in Edmonton with Connor McDavid and company, scoring 22 goals and 39 points in 43 regular-season games. That’s a 40-goal pace if he had played the entire season.
Kane had an incredible showing in the playoffs as well, netting 13 goals and 17 points in 15 games. He brings a physical element to the game that very few can when combined with his scoring ability. He quickly took a peek at other options in free agency this offseason, but re-signed with the Oilers for $5.125 million average annual value (AAV) for four years. It appears as though he is getting better or is in his prime. So, to lock up a potential 40-goal scorer for that cheap is a win for Edmonton.
Nathan MacKinnon – $6.3 Million
Nathan MacKinnon has been criminally underpaid for a number of years now. He signed a long-term deal right before he broke out and became a superstar. His rookie season looked very promising but took a step back the next two seasons before he signed a seven-year contract worth just $6.3 million AAV. The Colorado Avalanche just so happened to have an incredibly bad season following the contract extension but MacKinnon’s last five seasons have been stellar.
Since 2017-18, MacKinnon has recorded 167 goals and 442 points in 338 games. He put together three consecutive seasons scoring 35-plus goals and 93-plus points before a shortened season and an injury put an end to that. He just helped the Avalanche take home the Stanley Cup with a great performance, where he ranked near the very best in all-time playoff points per game with 1.32. He hinted his next contract may make him the highest-paid player in the NHL, which we will find out soon enough as he’s entering the final year of his current deal.
Jonathan Huberdeau – $5.9 Million
Jonathan Huberdeau has been a factor for his team and an offensive force in this league since he was a rookie. The only season he struggled was his sophomore season. After that, he noticeably progressed into the superstar we see today. He has posted well over a point per game in the past four seasons, recording 346 points in 286 games. He finished second in the NHL in scoring last season and recorded a crazy 85 assists.
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Huberdeau has received Hart Trophy votes in each of the past two seasons and definitely signed his current contract for security rather than betting on himself. That has been corrected as his next contract with the Calgary Flames will nearly double his current AAV for eight more seasons.
Mark Scheifele – $6.125 Million
Mark Scheifele flies under the radar as a very good player in the NHL. He has recorded at least a point per game in six consecutive seasons and hardly receives recognition for it. It just so happens that he signed an eight-year deal the offseason before his point-per-game streak started.
With a cap hit of just $6.125 million AAV for someone that consistent, the Winnipeg Jets have felt his impact. Not many other players in the league can say they’ve been that consistent year in and year out. He still has two more years left on his deal, but Scheifele has more than earned a significant pay raise on his next contract.
Drake Batherson – $4.975 Million
Signed just before the 2021-22 season, Drake Batherson was locked up to what seemed like a very fair deal for both sides. He had a great season following and has quickly become underpaid. There’s a good chance that he keeps getting better at just age 24 and builds upon his 44 points in 46 games. But there is also a chance that he stays where he is. Scoring at nearly a point per game and under contract at $4.975 million AAV for five more years seems great as is, but he will have a much better top-six group to play with in 2022-23.
Batherson’s contract will likely turn out to be the best among the current core who are almost all locked up long-term. He can score goals, and with a full season of health, it will be exciting just how many points he can rack up on an up-and-coming Ottawa Senators team.
Tage Thompson – $1.4 Million
Considering the deal that Tage Thompson just signed to stay with the Buffalo Sabres for seven more years after 2022-23, he is extremely underpaid. He broke out in a major way last season and scored 38 goals and 68 points in 78 games. He established himself as the number one centre for the Sabres, leading the team in goals and points, and finishing second in assists.
The trade that brought him over from the St. Louis Blues originally didn’t look great at all. But after some development and a great opportunity, something clicked. He’s making the jump in salary from $1.4 million AAV to $7.143 million AAV in 2023-24, showing just how much he has improved in one season. This season will be a good test to see if he can repeat his success or get even better at age 24.
David Pastrnak – $6.67 Million
David Pastrnak is going to get paid after this upcoming season, he just has to make a decision on whether it is going to be with the Boston Bruins or another team. He first has to see if the direction of the franchise is one he can get on board with seeing as Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are on one-year contracts and Brad Marchand is 34 with three years remaining on his.
Pastrnak bought right into how the Bruins operated when signing his current contract. The mentality is the team comes first and nobody needs to get overpaid. He has a steal of a contract making just $6.67 million AAV. He’s been playing at a very high level for the past six seasons once breaking out and has finished four consecutive seasons with at least a point per game. He is a Rocket Richard Trophy winner and a pure sniper. The star winger has scored 34-plus goals in five of the past six seasons. The season he didn’t was the 48-game 2020-21 season where he was on pace to score 34.
Brad Marchand – $6.125 Million
The aforementioned Marchand has been underpaid his entire contract. As a Bruin, he was one of the leaders at the forefront of the team-first mentality rather than chasing the big money. He signed his current eight-year, $49 million contract the offseason after scoring 37 goals and 61 points in 77 games.
Since then, Marchand has put together six consecutive seasons in which he has recorded well over a point per game. He is an amazing two-way agitator who can score goals, pass the puck, and be a huge threat on both the power play and penalty kill. He has scored 198 goals and 506 points in 420 games over the past six seasons while finishing top-12 in Selke Trophy voting in five of six seasons and top-11 in Hart Trophy voting in five of six seasons as well. Under contract for three more seasons, that’s about the window the Bruins have to take their last runs at another Cup with this group.
Jake Guentzel – $6 Million
Jake Guentzel has been a force since breaking into the NHL. He signed a five-year, $30 million deal in the midst of his big breakout season where he finished with 40 goals and 76 points. The following three seasons have only seen him elevate his game further and record more than a point per game in each.
Guentzel averages a ton of ice time for a winger and has a very high shooting percentage. He is a legitimate goalscorer and playoff performer while being a great complement to Sidney Crosby on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ top line. Seeing as he’s under contract for two more seasons at just $6 million AAV, he’s a steal the team has for possibly a few more runs at a Cup.
Jordan Kyrou – $2.8 Million
The St. Louis Blues have locked up their future after signing Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas to identical eight-year, $65 million contracts. They both are also entering the final year of their two-year contracts where they have a $2.8 million AAV cap hit.
Kyrou played excellent last season and has taken massive steps each of the past two seasons. He finished last season with 27 goals and 75 points in 74 games while only playing 16:30 of ice time per game since the team’s forward group was so strong and deep last season. He may see his role increase even more this season, and any player scoring above a point per game should be making what Kyrou will on his next deal.
Robert Thomas – $2.8 Million
Thomas is more of a playmaker than Kyrou and played significantly more. While Thomas will likely stay in his same role as a second-line centre for the Blues, Kyrou will move up to the top line. Thomas scored fewer goals but still reached the 20-goal mark. He also ended the season with 77 points in 72 games.
Thomas’ progression to this point in his career hasn’t been as drastic as Kyrou’s, but he will play a huge role in the Blues’ offense as the team hopes he can mimic his 2021-22 performance in 2022-23.
Leon Draisaitl – $8.5 Million
Many see Leon Draisaitl as a top-five player in the league, as he consistently scores a ton of goals but is also a very dangerous playmaker. He’s five years into the eight-year deal he signed, but as one of the very best players in the NHL and someone who has recorded 0.62 goals per game and 1.42 points per game over the past four seasons, he is massively underpaid.
Draisaitl is the 39th highest-paid player in the NHL with those numbers and has done even better in the postseason, as he finished last year’s playoffs with seven goals and 32 points in 16 games on pretty much one leg (from ‘Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s playoffs for the ages: What’s the legacy?,’ The Athletic, June 15, 2022). The Oilers’ centre also logs over 22:30 of ice time per game.
Devon Toews – $4.1 Million
Devon Toews is the only defenceman that appears on this list as a star who’s underpaid. Since coming over to the Avalanche two seasons ago, he has been extremely impressive and pairs perfectly with Cale Makar as one of if not the best defensive duo in the NHL.
Toews has finished 11th and eighth in Norris Trophy voting and recorded 13 goals and 57 points in 66 games. He also plays at that level and produces offensively while shutting down opposing stars and killing penalties on the number one unit. He should easily be one of the top-paid defencemen in the league, but Colorado has him locked up for two more seasons as their fifth highest-paid defender.
J.T. Miller – $5.25 Million
After trade speculation for months, the Vancouver Canucks locked up their top performer last season for seven more years following the current season. He carried the offence by leading the team in goals (32), assists (67), and points (99), and has taken his game to a whole new level in Vancouver, finishing two of his three seasons with over a point per game.
Miller is the team’s top centreman and he really performed like one of the best offensive players in the league in 2021-22, as he led all forwards in ice time by a wide stretch and plays a very physical game on top of that. The Canucks wouldn’t have been anywhere close to the playoffs without him last season, and he will get a well-deserved raise after his extension kicks in next year.
Alex DeBrincat – $6.4 Million
Alex DeBrincat may be one of the higher-paid players in this group, but he is a star. The young winger has now put together two consecutive campaigns in which he finished with over a point per game. Both seasons the team has also been bad and other than Patrick Kane, he has had very little help offensively. The Blackhawks have also not finished better than sixth in the division while he has been in the NHL.
DeBrincat is a two-time 40-goal scorer, plays physical but clean, and logs a lot of minutes. The season after he signed his deal, it didn’t look great as he took a big step back. The last two seasons have corrected that and he is going to get a pay raise whether it is with the Senators or some other team after this season.
There are always teams that benefit from players breaking out and outperforming their contracts. Some teams have this happen to more than one individual and must take advantage of the opportunity for the short amount of time. But every player here is a major factor in the team’s success and are all underpaid stars in 2022-23.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News and trade talks.
You can find more of his work here.