Where Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews rank on list

Back up the Brinks truck; payday is here. 

This year’s free agent class was underwhelming, so the cash wasn’t expected to flow. The only new names that entered this list for 2023-24 came via extensions that were worked out before the offseason. Those newcomers are Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon, who now tops the highest-paid players list, and Bruins sniper David Pastrnak. 

Of note: Auston Matthews is on the list, but a year from now, he will take MacKinnon’s No. 1 ranking. The Maple Leafs star signed a four-year extension with the team that carries a cap hit of $13.25 million, which will be the highest in the league. However, that contract does not kick in until the 2024-25 season. 

The same applies for William Nylander and Rasmus Dahlin. Nylander signed an eight-year extension with Toronto as well, which carries a cap hit of $11.5 million, making him one of the highest-paid players in the league once the deal is active. 

Dahlin inked an eight-year, $88 million contract extension with the Sabres. His AAV of $11 million will make him one of the highest-paid defensemen in the league once his deal takes into effect next season. 

MORE: Who are the best NHL free agents in 2024?

The Sporting News lists the NHL’s 25 highest-paid players in terms of average annual value (AAV) for the 2023-24 season.

NHL’s highest-paid players 2023-24

1. Nathan MacKinnon, C, Avalanche

The 27-year-old Stanley Cup champion’s eight-year, $100.8 million extension kicks in this season, making him the highest-paid player in the league. But when the league’s top AAV is less than the salary of an NBA role player, fans and players will continue to be concerned. 

2. Connor McDavid, C, Oilers

The best player in the NHL doesn’t make the most money. It’s not a big difference — $100,000 per year, to be exact — and he’s doing all right financially, but second place is second place. Regardless, McDavid is fresh off winning another Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy. His Oilers haven’t won much, however. 

3. Artemi Panarin, LW, Rangers

It might be surprising to see Panarin at third on this list. Rangers fans will talk about return on investment now that the Russian has disappointed in the past two postseasons, but Panarin accelerated the team’s rebuild and he continues to dazzle the Madison Square Garden crowd. His 341 points in 268 games means the contract is still largely a success. 

MORE: Seven bold free agency predictions for the 2023 NHL offseason

4. Auston Matthews, C, Maple Leafs

Matthews is entering the final year of a five-year, $58.19 million extension with the Maple Leafs, which means his status bears watching. Matthews, 25, has been Toronto’s engine with 141 goals over the past three seasons. The 2021-22 Hart Trophy winner is a game-changer and will continue to be paid as such.

5. Erik Karlsson, D, Sharks

The reigning Norris Trophy winner is expected to be on the move at some point this offseason. Karlsson has four years remaining on his expensive contract, but he has dealt with injuries and inconsistency of late. It’s difficult to believe the Sharks are happy with their return on investment in the former Senators captain. 

6. David Pastrnak, RW, Bruins

“Pasta” was set to hit the free agent market this summer, but instead he will remain in Boston thanks to an eight-year, $90 million extension beginning with the 2023-24 season. Pastrnak was a key cog in the Bruins’ record-setting regular season with his 113 points. He surpassed the century mark for the first time in his career. 

T7. John Tavares, C, Maple Leafs

Tavares has been a worthwhile signing by Toronto. Playing in Matthews’ shadow, he has been a consistent contributor for his childhood team. He is entering the sixth year of the seven-year, $77 million deal he signed after leaving the Islanders. 

MORE: Tracking NHL buyouts with free agency set to open

T7. Drew Doughty, D, Kings

Doughty is now halfway through his eight-year, $88 million extension. He had one of his best offensive seasons in 2022-23, but the overall value provided hasn’t quite matched the deal’s dollar amount. 

9. Mitch Marner, RW, Maple Leafs

Another Maple Leaf cracks the top 10. Marner, though, is another example of Toronto getting a good return on investment — he posted 99 points last season and 97 the season before that. He is entering the second-to-last year of his extension. 

T10. Carey Price, G, Canadiens

Price is the highest-paid goalie in the league, but he hasn’t played in a game since the 2021-22 season — in which he only made five appearances — because of injuries and personal reasons. 

T10. Jonathan Huberdeau, LW, Flames 

The Panthers shipped Huberdeau to Calgary in the now-infamous trade for Matthew Tkachuk in 2022. Huberdeau promptly signed an eight-year, $84 million extension with the Flames, but then followed that up with a disappointing season (55 points after tallying a career-high 115 in 2021-22). Tkachuk, meanwhile, thrived in Florida.

T12. Anze Kopitar, C, Kings

Kopitar is still a consistent producer and elite two-way player for Los Angeles. The Kings’ captain won the Lady Byng Trophy this past season. He is entering the final year of an eight-year, $80 million extension. 

T12. Jack Eichel, C, Golden Knights

The trade with the Sabres for Eichel has paid off in a big way for the Golden Knights. After getting healthy again, he averaged nearly a point per game in Vegas’ Stanley Cup-winning campaign. He is entering the sixth year of an eight-year, $80 million extension he signed in Buffalo. 

T12. Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Panthers

The second goalie on the list, Bobrovsky is fresh off a magical run to the Stanley Cup Final. He began the 2023 playoffs on the bench behind Alex Lyon but regained his starting job in the first round and then showed why the Panthers gifted him a big contract. 

T12. Aleksander Barkov, C, Panthers

Barkov continues to be a two-way force for Florida. Last season, he registered 78 points in 68 games last and finished in the top 10 in voting for the Selke Trophy, which is given to the forward who plays the best defense. 

16. Tyler Seguin, C, Stars

Seguin has reinvented himself with the Stars after being just a goal-scorer. The point production is lower now, but Seguin continues to be a big part of the Dallas organization with his all-around game.

17. Johnny Gaudreau

Gaudreau was expected to join the Devils or Flyers during the 2022 free agent period. Instead, he opted for Columbus. The move worked from a monetary standpoint, but success on the ice was hard to come by. The team was one of the worst in the league. Still, Johnny Hockey managed almost a point per game. 

18. Zach Werenski, D, Blue Jackets

Werenski played in just 13 games last season because of a shoulder injury that knocked him out in November. His absence helped lower Columbus into the NHL dumpster. Werenski has five years remaining on his six-year, $57.5 million extension. 

T19. Adam Fox, D, Rangers

The 25-year-old Fox has been one of the keys to the Rangers’ recent success. He’s a stabilizing force on the back end and close to a point-per-game player as the quarterback of the power play, all while averaging big minutes. He won the Norris Trophy in 2021 and finished second in the voting in 2023.

T19. Matthew Tkachuk, LW, Panthers

The Panthers swung a deal for Tkachuk following their Presidents’ Trophy-winning season in 2021-22. He rewarded them immediately with 109 points in 78 games. That production put him in the running for some of the league’s most prestigious awards. He continued his rise to stardom in South Florida by carrying the Panthers to the Stanley Cup Final.

T19. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Capitals

The Capitals captain didn’t participate in the postseason last year after making eight consecutive playoff appearances, but he didn’t miss a beat in the regular season with his 42 goals. Ovechkin’s hair might be grayer than it used to be, but his signature one-timer isn’t going anywhere.  

T19. Mark Stone, RW, Golden Knights

Injuries have plagued Stone during his career, but his on-ice production has always been a positive. He skated in just 43 games this past season, but he still was a big reason why Vegas won the Cup. The Golden Knights’ investment in him was a sound one. 

T19. Jamie Benn, LW, Stars

Benn’s production hadn’t been the same in recent years, but the Dallas captain was able to register 33 goals — the first time he had reached that total since 2017-18 — and 78 points while playing in all 82 games last season, signifying a resurgence. 

T19. Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Lightning

Vasilevskiy has been arguably the best goalie in the NHL for a number of years, but his production is heading in the wrong direction. The two-time Stanley Cup champion, Vezina Trophy and Conn Smythe winner is deserving of his large salary, but as the Lightning regressed last season, so did Vasilevskiy, to a degree. 

T19. Seth Jones, D, Blackhawks

Jones had a good run in Columbus before being traded to Chicago, but the Blackhawks are rebuilding and Jones is approaching 30. It’s difficult to believe that he is satisfied with being on another rebuilding team. 

T19. Nikita Kucherov, RW, Lightning 

After missing the entire 2020-21 regular season a large portion of 2021-22, Kucherov turned in a full campaign in 2022-23 and reminded everyone what kind of player he is. He posted 30 goals and 113 points. He enters the 2023-24 season with four years remaining on his contract. 

T19. Brayden Point, C, Lightning

  • Annual salary: $9.5 million

The 27-year-old Point is a key component of the Lightning’s success. He totaled 95 points last season and, like Kucherov, managed to play in all 82 games after two injury-shortened seasons. 

T19. Charlie McAvoy, D, Bruins

  • Annual salary: $9.5 million 

McAvoy missed 15 games in 2022-23 because of injury, but there is no doubt he is still the Bruins’ best on the back end. He’s only 25 and figures to remain a fixture in the Boston lineup for the next few seasons. He’s entering the second year of an eight-year, $76 million extension.

Source : ESPN.com

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