But while the rich get richer, there's a much different class of player at the other end of the ladder: The minimum-wage worker.
It's a term usually associated with bus boys and janitors, rather than professional hockey players. But someone like Wade Brookbank of the Carolina Hurricanes does in fact earn the minimum wage for an NHL player: $475,000 in the 2008-09 season.
It should come as no surprise that Brookbank, who can play forward and defense, isn't exactly an all-star: He has eight career points in 112 games for four different teams. But he isn't on salary -- such as it is -- for his offense; he's paid by the punch.
Brookbank led the Hurricanes in fights last season with 12, and continues to be the team's primary enforcer. He had a record of 3 wins, 4 losses and 5 draws according to the fan judges at HockeyFights.com. For his role, that's an admirable success rate; for his salary, that's an outstanding return.
Forbes magazine recently explored this concept in an article called "Best Hockey Fighters For The Buck," using the HockeyFights.com results for the last two seasons and comparing it to last year's salary for some of the League's top pugilists.
It's an eye-opening and provocative list, revealing which enforcers are actually earning hundreds of thousands for dollars for being little more than punching bags for their opponents. But it's also a list to doesn't take into account the new wave of cheap, dirty and effective fighters in the NHL.
From the Forbes photo gallery of its top fighters (which provides much more info than you'll find here), the top 15 fighters ranked by value and return:
1. Colton Orr, New York Rangers (Two-year fight record: 21-11-2, 2007-08 pay: $525,000)
2. Georges Laraque, Montreal Canadiens (Two-year fight record: 19-0-2, 2007-08 pay: $1.3 million)
3. Shawn Thornton, Boston Bruins (Two-year fight record: 12-4-8, 2007-08 pay: $500,000)
4. Donald Brashear, Washington Capitals (Two-year fight record: 17-6-3, 2007-08 pay: $1.1 million)
5. Andrew Peters, Buffalo Sabres (Two-year fight record: 15-11-3, 2007-08 pay: $500,000).
6. Raitis Ivanans, Los Angeles Kings (Two-year fight record: 12-10-4, 2007-08 pay: $475,000)
7. Darcy Hordichuk, Vancouver Canucks (Two-year fight record: 11-4-7, 2007-08 pay: $517,000)
8. Derek Boogaard, Minnesota Wild (Two-year fight record: 14-4-2, 2007-08 pay: $750,000)
9. George Parros, Anaheim Ducks (Two-year fight record: 14-19-8, 2007-08 pay: $525,000)
10. Eric Godard, Pittsburgh Penguins (Two-year fight record: 10-8-5, 2007-08 pay: $475,000)
11. Ian Laperriere, Colorado Avalanche (Two-year fight record: 13-14-10, 2007-08 pay: $1.1 million)
12. Andre Roy, Calgary Flames (Two-year fight record: 11-6-7, 2007-08 pay: $1 million)
13. Jordin Tootoo, Nashville Predators (Two-year fight record: 11-6-4, 2007-08 pay: $700,000)
14. Jody Shelley, San Jose Sharks (Two-year fight record: 7-11-8, 2007-08 pay: $650,000)
15. Zack Stortini, Edmonton Oilers (Two-year fight record: 4-20-6, 2007-08 pay: $465,000).
Few could argue with the value Orr gives you as a fighter. Laraque and Brashear are guys who can give you momentum-changing shifts along with a good scrap. Shawn Thornton's record as a fighter is probably one of the best-kept secrets in the Eastern Conference.
The bottom of this list is rather interesting. Roy was making big coin with the Tampa Bay Lightning before they parted ways with him. He's intimidating, no doubt, but he was one of only four players on this list making over a million last year. That salary dropped to $550,000 with Calgary, which is a clear indication that he was overvalued.
Zack Stortini's rank may surprise some, as he still only makes $600,000 for the Oilers and carries much of the fighting load. Something to keep in mind: Stortini has a negative reputation with some fighting fans for his style, and that could be reflected in the harsh judging of his wins and losses by HockeyFights.com.
One interesting name missing from the Top 15: Steve Ott of the Dallas Stars. Then again, his poor fighting record and high salary ($800,000 last season; $1.350 million this year) may have put him off the list.
Since this list depended on a two-year body of work, some new NHL fighters on the scene were left off. Check out the values here.
Jared Boll, Columbus Blue Jackets (One-year fight record: 8-14-5; 2007-08 pay: $545,00)
Riley Cote, Philadelphia Flyers (One-year fight record: 11-13-0; 2007-08 pay: $500,000)
David Clarkson, New Jersey Devils (One-year fight record: 10-6-5; 2007-08 pay: $555,000)
Daniel Carcillo, Phoenix Coyotes (One-year fight record: 10-6-5; 2007-08 pay: $525,000)
Adam Burish, Chicago Blackhawks (One-year fight record: 3-8-5; 2007-08 pay: $525,000)
Clarkson ($800,000) and Carcillo ($850,000) have both received raises this season, and are more complete players than most of the fighters listed here. Boll and Cote were ranked first and second in fights last season; clearly, their teams are getting some legit bang for the buck.
So some NHL fighters get their pay days, while others hover near the minimum wage. But in yet another example why hockey economics have no correlation with reality, that minimum wage will keep rising over the following seasons to $525,000 in 2011-12 (unless the players association trashes the current CBA).
Doesn't Wade Brookbank deserve half a million for efforts like this?