It is time for my annual worst contracts in the NHL list, indicating which contracts are most damaging to the team that owns them. The end of the compliance buyout window has seen some of our favourite terrible contracts come to an end, but every year the free agency period ushers in new candidates. GMs in this league are like moths drawn to the flame, as there are plenty of bad contracts to choose from. To see last summer's worst contract list, click here. The title holder for worst contract in hockey last year was Roberto Luongo, whose contract sucked so much that Vancouver couldn't trade him. But then this year they bit the bullet and retained a chunk of his salary and shipped him out of town. Luongo has been usurped by a guy who got paid over $5M to score 5 goals, that's right, the new lightning rod of fan anger in the center of the Universe, David Clarkson.
Here is my 2014 list of the worst contracts in the NHL, which would not be possible without the information provided by Capgeek. I'd like to take a minute to thank the creator/operator of this magnificent site, who provides the hockey world with a valuable service. Frankly I can't even fathom how we ever lived in a world without Capgeek. It must be noted that "worst contracts" are heavily influenced by the remaining term, with none in their final year. You can always sell a rental at the trade deadline.
1) David Clarkson, Tor, 6 yrs left at $5.25M = $31M: Ouch. This was a deal that made a lot of sense at the time, but has gotten really bad really fast. He got paid like a 30 goal power forward and they got a 5 goal waste of space. They went from a playoff team to a non-playoff team, and it is all David Clarkson’s fault.
2) Jordan Staal, Car, 9 yrs left at $6M = $54M: So it turns out that playing on the same team with brother Eric did not significantly boost Jord’s scoring output. Now Ron Francis inherits a $54M bill for a high end 3rd line center, low end 2nd line center. Perhaps they have put too much pressure on him to produce at a level that justifies his cap hit, or maybe he just isn’t as good as we thought he might be.
3) Roberto Luongo, Van, 8 yrs left at $5.3M =$42.4M: With the salary Vancouver retained in the trade, this contract is not so bad for the Florida Panthers. But for the Vancouver Canucks, that’s a different story. This contract is one that will haunt Mike Gillis for the rest of his days, the one that may have ruined his career as a General Manager. When the Canucks are hit with a $8.5M cap recapture penalty in 2021, rest assured that local sports talk radio will have more than a few things to say about it.
4) Sedin Twins, Van, 4 yrs left at $7M = $56M: If they just had a bad year because John Torterella is a jerk, then all will be forgiven. However if last season’s production is the new normal for the BROTHERS, then this contract extension is a disaster. We should get some answers, whether this forgettable season was just a Torts induced anomaly, or if the BROTHERS have become a lower class of player.
5) Rick Nash, NYR, 4 yrs left at $7.8M = $31M: One thing became obvious to many observers this last season, it really looks like Rick Nash is slowing down. He’s not the same player, with his production drifting downward and pundits noting that he looks slow. Years of physical play may have taken their toll on his body and mind, physically and mentally. He just had the worst season of his career and still has 4 years left on his contract for way too much money.
6) Zach Bogosian, Wpg, 6 yrs left at $5.1M = $30.6M: That’s a lot of money to give to a defenseman that has been getting worse over the course of the last 3 seasons. Just watch this youtube clip and ask yourself if you would give this guy $30M. It's almost as bad as Patrik Stefan missing that open net.
7) Dave Bolland, Fla, 5 yrs left at $5.5M = $27.5M: Next to Jordan Staal, Bolland is the best 3rd line center in the league. If you try to make him into any more than that, he’s probably going to disappoint you. Granted, there aren’t too many players his age with 2 Stanley Cup rings that don’t play on Chicago or LA. You still have to be careful about throwing down a fat contract for a 3rd liner from a champion. It rarely works out for the best.
8) Stephen Weiss, Det – 4 yrs left at $4.9M = $19.6M: Normally it’s my policy not to place injured players on the worst contracts list, because I don’t like fluke incidents influencing the designation. However, Weiss was brutal prior to his injury, such that as a Red Wings fan I was excited for him getting placed on IR. If he bounces back, I’ll be happier than anyone, but I won’t be drafting him in any of my fantasy leagues.
9) Vincent LeCavalier, Phi – 4 yrs left at $4.5M = $18M: He was bought out of his terrible contract and turned around to sign another terrible contract that Philly would love to dump. Vinny just aged at a rate faster than his peers and his production has diminished accordingly. He got old fast, and it shows.
10) Nikolai Kulemin, NYI – 4 yrs left at $4.2M = $16.8M: If he can reclaim his 30 goal form of 2011, great for the Islanders, but if he arrives in Brooklyn closer to his 9 goal form of last season, this contract will be a punch in the face. Add this contract to the "proof Garth Snow is a bad General Manager" list.
11) RJ Umberger, Phi, 3 yrs left at $4.6M = $13.8: I’m not quite sure what Ron Hextall was thinking trading Hartnell for Umberger. The Flyers might have gotten a little bit faster, but they did not get any better. If Umberger can return to the form that earned him this contract in the first place, then great, but I'll believe it when I see it.
12) Alex Burrows, Van – 3 yrs left at $4.5M = $13.5M: Last season was a nasty fall from grace from Alex Burrows, who for 5 straight seasons scored in the 20-30 goal range (adjusted for lockout) saw his goal production fall to 5 last season. That’s close to a million dollars per goal, in a manner of speaking. We'll see if he bounces back now that the unpopular coach got the boot.
13) Ondrej Pavalec, Wpg, 3 yrs left at $3.9M = $11.7M: It’s not the size of the cap hit, so much as the position the Pavelec plays. He’s a streaky goalie at the most important position where consistency is paramount. He runs hot and cold like one of Katy Perry’s ex-boyfriends (sorry, I secretly love that Katy Perry song). They are never going to win a playoff series (much less make the playoffs) with an inconsistent goaltender that makes enough spectacular saves to make you forget about all the lows. He's not breaking the bank, but the contract is big enough that it prevents the team from acquiring a true number #1 goalie.
14) DerykEngelland, Cgy – 3 yrs left at $2.9M = $8.75M: I get it, he’s a right hand shot. So many teams are overloaded with left handed shot defensemen, that it has created a lopsided demand for guys to play the other side. That being said, come on man! Seriously? Engelland? He was one of the worst defenseman on a weak Penguins blue line. What was Brian Burke smoking?
15) David Jones, Cgy, 2 yrs left at $4M = $8M: Credit to Jones he did improve after a pathetic performance during the lockout shortened season, but that being said, he came nowhere near close to earning his pay grade. He managed to survive the compliance buyout period, leading me to conclude that he must be a really nice guy that management really likes on a personal level. Either that or he has a video of Brian Burke appearing to smoke crack and he blackmailed his way onto the roster for next season. It's a coin toss.
PS: I have no evidence that Brian Burke has ever smoked anything. I am merely speculating possible causes for what I deem to be irrational behavior.
Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Zac Parise: These are the 3 players most closely tied to those 3 words scaring GMs across the NHL, cap recapture penalty. Combined the 3 have a remaining cap hit of $260M left on their contracts ($7.6M average AAV on heavily front loaded deals), but to make matters worse, their projected combined cap recapture penalties are $70M!!! All 3 deals were front loaded, and Minnesota in particular is going to have to pay the piper far off into the future.
For more on "cap recapture penalties", visit the Capgeek page.
So why isn’t this trio on the list above if their penalties are so severe? They are 3 of the best players in the league. They will all crack the list eventually, but not until their play on the ice begins to decline. I call it my "Zetterberg rule", an arbitrarily permitted exemption from the worst contracts list for players still producing at an elite level, until such time as their production declines below their pay grade. Such as....
Marian Hossa: This contract is about to become a huge problem for the Chicago Blackhawks. He is 35 years old, and has 3 years left until his annual salary drops to $1M, when logical projections have him retiring. The year he's expected to retire, Chicago already owes $44M to 5 players and Hossa's cap recapture is projected at over $4M for 4 years. The Hawks will have Kane, Toews, Keith, Hjalmerson, Crawford, with the rest of the roster making close to the league minimum. There will be pain for Chiacgo, but it was totally worth every penny, and that's why he's not on the worst contracts list. They won 2 Stanley Cups with this contract, over the duration of which Hossa has scored 51 playoff points. He is still one of the best players in the league.
Travis Zajac, James Wisniewski, Valtteri Filpulla, Tyler Myers for all improving their play last season and working their way off my shit list. Myers almost made the list again because his play only improved slightly; but Zajac had his best season since 2010, Wisniewski had the best season of his career (better than the formerly aberration year prior to getting his latest contract, so I apologize for last year's steroids speculation), and Filpulla had one of his best seasons ever (done largely without Stamkos).