This is a mini-series looking at the top 10 underpaid players from each position in the NHL, and we continue by looking at wingers. In general, wingers aren’t paid as much as centermen, but many are just breaking out and have yet to sign lucrative contracts. In determining who has a great contract, we looked at each player’s contribution and impact on their team. The stipulation is that the wingers must be off of their entry-level deals.
10. Marcus Johansson ($1.1 million AAV)
To kick off the list is Marcus Johansson. He’s always been a quiet but effective player. Since his entry-level contract, the winger has been earning more and more on each of his short-term deals until this season. As a bit of a late free agent signing, the Washington Capitals were able to get a steal in a versatile forward who can play up and down the lineup.
As Johansson played where needed this season, he put up 13 goals and 28 points in 60 games with the Capitals, but he really proved to be a hugely underpaid player when he scored six goals and 18 points in 20 games after getting traded to the Minnesota Wild. With the team being pretty banged up after the all-star break, he got a lot more opportunity and proved how effective he still is at age 32.
9. Michael Bunting ($950,000 AAV)
Michael Bunting was more effective in 2021-22 and was even taken off the top line at times this season, recording 14 fewer points in three more games played. Despite that, he is in the final year of his very cheap contract that the Toronto Maple Leafs got for an absolute steal.
At age 27, this is actually his fourth contract, and he’s never earned more than a $737,500 AAV until his current deal. The Maple Leafs are going to have to pay up on his next contract or let another productive top-six winger go in free agency as they did with Zach Hyman and others. As Bunting has clear chemistry with the team’s top players, is a gritty player, and can score goals, getting paid under $1 million per season has been a big win for Toronto.
8. Gabriel Vilardi ($825,000 AAV)
Gabriel Vilardi really broke out this season, which is a big reason why he’s on this list. He helped carry the Los Angeles Kings’ offence at the start of the season, scoring 10 goals and 15 points in the first 15 games. After that, he somewhat struggled at times after dealing with an injury and just cooling off in general.
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Vilardi still finished the season with 23 goals and 41 points in 63 games after 18 goals and 37 points in 89 career games over his first three seasons. The young winger was able to move up and down the lineup to provide scoring where needed. He did spend a significant amount of time on the third line, making his numbers even more impressive. As he is on a one-year deal, the Kings will have to pay him after this breakout season, and rightfully so.
7. Carter Verhaeghe ($4.167 million AAV)
We now jump to a player that is making a bit more money than the others we have seen to this point. Carter Verhaeghe deserves to be on this list and in this spot mainly because of the impact he continues to have on the Florida Panthers. He was the team MVP in the playoffs last season, and it really set him on a warpath this season.
Verhaeghe became a 40-goal scorer this season by potting 42 goals and 73 points in 81 games. He upgraded his career highs in goals and points by 18 a piece while playing 1:30 more per game. With the subtractions to the lineup and building off of his stellar playoff performance in 2021-22, the 27-year-old showed that he should be paid double what he is making when being compared to his peers.
6. Jordan Kyrou ($2.8 million AAV)
Jordan Kyrou and Verhaeghe had similar seasons in terms of goals and offensive production as a whole. Kyrou, like the rest of the St. Louis Blues, struggled in their own end; he was minus-38. Despite that, Kyrou led the team in goals and points and, for the final season, is on a very good contract. The same can’t be said about next season, as he already has a deal signed worth $5.325 million more annually. His impact offensively has been this good for a few seasons now, and the huge jump in salary shows just how underpaid he was this season during his bridge deal.
5. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins ($5.125 million AAV)
One of the most feel-good stories of the 2022-23 season is the production of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He suffered through a number of very poor years in Edmonton, took a team-friendly deal, and had a career year by a landslide. He has always been a solid two-way player and great top-six option. But he’s played where necessary throughout the season in order to give his team the best chance to win, whether that be the first, second, or third line.
Nugent-Hopkins’ career high in goals was 28, while his high in points was 69 before this season. He blew by both of those on the highest-scoring team in the league by providing offence at even strength, on the power play, and shorthanded. The longtime Oiler finished the regular season with 37 goals and 104 points. He was ninth in the league in scoring and third in the league in power-play points with 53 while getting paid like your average second-line winger. The Oilers are fortunate to have six more years of Nugent-Hopkins on this very good deal.
4. Troy Terry ($1.45 million AAV)
Troy Terry may not have been talked about much at all this season because he was on the last place Anaheim Ducks. But despite being on a team that had such a poor season in general, his offensive production wasn’t impacted much. The young winger, on the third and final year of his bridge deal, tied for the team lead in goals (23) and was second in points (61) while missing 12 games.
Terry’s goal-scoring wasn’t as prominent as last season, but he was relied on more as his ice time increased. This will be the last time we see him on this list, as he is a restricted free agent in the summer and is arbitration eligible. Unfortunately, the Ducks weren’t able to take advantage of the great seasons by Terry while on this very good deal, but they have the cap space in order to easily lock him up long-term.
3. Daniel Sprong ($750,000 AAV)
We now change gears a bit and jump to one of the most effective players in the league for how little ice time he receives. The Seattle Kraken have made it to the postseason due to how much they rely on every player to provide offence and defence each game. With that said, Daniel Sprong went above and beyond this season by producing a ton while being stuck in a fourth-line role.
In just 66 games, Sprong scored 21 goals and 46 points while playing under 11:30 per game. The 25-year-old has bounced around quite a bit and has never really gotten a chance. I guess he also thought so and did the best with the cards he was dealt. He is paid the league minimum, and that’s all he’s ever received on his three contracts since his entry-level deal finished. After the performance he’s put on this season, there’s no way the Kraken don’t reward him for it. It may not be a $5 million AAV deal, but as one of the most underused players, he has done what many other players in the league couldn’t accomplish when given plenty of chances to succeed.
2. Brandon Hagel ($1.5 million AAV)
The Tampa Bay Lightning paid up for Brandon Hagel at last year’s trade deadline, and for good reason. He may have taken a bit of time to settle in, but after a long playoff run, he has been a key player for the team this season while making a minuscule $1.5 million AAV. What’s even better is that the Lightning have him under contract for another year at such a low cost when he is an integral part of the offence and top-six.
Hagel, just 24 years old, played nearly 19 minutes per game, scoring 30 goals and 64 points in 81 games in a breakout season. He was heavily used in all situations, which should add even more value to him. The Lightning are hoping to take full advantage of him while he’s getting paid like a fourth-liner and even have him under team control after his contract ends because he is an RFA.
1. David Pastrnak ($6.667 million AAV)
In terms of what David Pastrnak should be making, he’s about $6 million shy, indicated by the massive contract extension he signed with the Boston Bruins that starts next season. He is, without a doubt, one of the best goal-scorers in the NHL and would have had a very good shot at winning the Hart Trophy this season if it weren’t for Connor McDavid. Pastrnak scored 61 goals and 113 points, finishing second in the league in goals and third in points.
He has been massively underpaid his entire contract and had said in the past that he’s just happy to be playing in the NHL and that it didn’t much matter the amount he was getting paid. That mentality must have changed, as Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, two players who have been taking pay cuts their entire careers, are close to retiring and teammate Charlie McAvoy didn’t take any discount. Pastrnak deserves the raise for the consistent elite play year in and year out, so the Bruins must take advantage of this season.
Any surprises above? Let me know in the comments if you agree with the list or who should get switched around.