Finding talent is one of the most important jobs for any NHL general manager. Another is to make sure those skilled players are signed to reasonable contracts that can be built upon with other reasonable contracts.
The NHL has a hard salary cap of $75 million for the 2017-18 season, which means teams don’t have a ton of flexibility in terms of how to build their rosters. Oversized contracts can sink a potentially good team by forcing it to trade other players to become cap compliant. Bargain deals can be the life blood of a contender.
So over the next few days, we’re going to look at the best and worst contracts on the books for each team in the NHL. To start on Friday, we’re going to look at the deals that GMs are probably regretting. For some of them, these could be the mistakes that eventually lead to firings.
Being an NHL GM is a hard gig, and negotiating long-term contracts with players is one of the toughest challenges. You’re committing to people for years on multimillion dollar deals. There are a lot of variables with a person that can lead to disappointing results.
So with the offseason starting to wind down and just a few prominent restricted free agents left, here’s a look at the worst contract on each NHL team entering the 2017-18 season. Terms listed in this post, via Cap Friendly, are the remaining terms on each deal, not the overall terms. On Monday, we’ll dig into the best contracts.
Defenseman Kevin Bieksa: One year, $4 million cap hit
The first team on the list is a close call because the Ducks don’t have an obvious bad long-term contract. Corey Perry is starting to decline and may not be worth $8.625 million anymore, but he’s just a year removed from a 33-goal season. Sami Vatanen’s deal, while a bit heavy, only lasts another three seasons. So we’ll go with Bieksa, who’s definitely not worth $4 million anymore.
Forward Dave Bolland: Two years, $5.5 million cap hit
Bolland may never play in the NHL again due to back and ankle injuries, but he’s still on the Coyotes’ books for two more seasons. The good news is that Arizona can place Bolland on long-term injured reserve, and his contract is insured so it only costs the team $1.1 million per year, not $5.5 million. Still, that deal is just dead weight at this point.
Forward David Backes: Four years, $6 million cap hit
Backes has seen his points-per-game rate drop from 0.77 to 0.73 to 0.57 to 0.51 over the past four seasons. Now 33 years old, he’s still set to be paid like a top-six forward through the 2020-21 season despite the signs of aging. Backes isn’t a bad player at this point, but that $6 million per year price tag will only get harder to swallow.
Forward Matt Moulson: Two years, $5 million cap hit
The Sabres have their fair share of questionable contracts, but we’ll go with Moulson, who signed his five-year deal with Buffalo after a five-year stretch where he averaged 30 goals per 82 games. In the three seasons since then? He’s averaged 12 goals per 82 games. Not exactly worth the $5 million per year.
Forward Troy Brouwer: Three years, $4.5 million cap hit
The Flames wanted Brouwer to give them size, physicality, and playoff experience along with some offensive production. Instead, he finished his first year with a career-low 25 points and disastrous possession statistics (44.4 percent even strength Corsi) despite getting chances in an offensive role.
Forward Marcus Kruger: Two years, $3.08 million cap hit
It’s telling that the Hurricanes have managed their cap situation well when Kruger is the worst contract on their books. The team willingly gave up a late draft pick to take on Kruger’s deal this summer, so even his contract was considered a net positive. Still, $3.08 million for a No. 4 center is a bit rich, which is why Chicago and Vegas moved on.
Defenseman Brent Seabrook: Seven years, $6.875 million cap hit
Seabrook’s deal is a good example of how loyalty in a Cup winner can burn you. He got max term, a high AAV, and a full no-movement clause for the first six years of the deal, even though he was still a year away from free agency. Now the 32-year-old is overpaid on a deal that doesn’t expire until he’s 38. The Marian Hossa contract is a problem, too, but the Seabrook deal is what could sink the Hawks’ Cup window.
Forward Carl Soderberg: Three years, $4.75 million cap hit
The Avalanche wanted a defensive-minded center to help stabilize their lineup, so they signed Soderberg away from Boston in 2015 free agency. He was pretty good in his first year with 51 points in 82 games, but the wheels totally came off last season as his production and playing time took big dips.
Forward Brandon Dubinsky: Four years, $5.85 million cap hit
Dubinsky still plays a key role with the Blue Jackets, but it’s hard to believe he’s worth one of the highest cap hits on the team. The 31-year-old is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career in terms of point production and driving possession, and he’s got four years left on his deal. On a team largely devoid of bad contracts after trading David Clarkson, Dubinsky’s overpay qualifies as the worst.
Goaltender Kari Lehtonen: One year, $5.9 million cap hit
The Stars tried aggressively to improve their goaltending situation by acquiring Ben Bishop, but the vestiges of their failed tandem remain. Lehtonen has one year at a $5.9 million cap hit left, and Antti Niemi’s buyout puts $1.5 million on Dallas’ books each of the next two seasons. With a .904 save percentage over the past three seasons, Lehtonen doesn’t deserve to be an NHL starter. Now he’ll be an extremely expensive backup.
Forward Justin Abdelkader: Six years, $4.25 million cap hit
Where do we even start here? The Red Wings had several bad contracts to choose from in Abdelkader, Johan Franzen, Darren Helm, Danny DeKeyser, Jonathan Ericsson, and Jimmy Howard. Detroit’s cap management is a total disaster right now. But we’ll go with Abdelkader, who’s got six years left on his deal coming off a 21-point season.
Defenseman Kris Russell: Four years, $4 million cap hit
One of the NHL’s most divisive players, Russell is either wildly overrated or not given his proper due, depending on who you’re talking to. His underlying numbers signal it’s more the former than the latter, which makes a $4 million cap hit a bit rich for someone who is more of a third-pairing defenseman than a proper top-four option. Also, the Oilers gave him a no-movement clause, which seems wholly unnecessary.
Goaltender Roberto Luongo: Five years, $4.533 million cap hit
There’s one main reason that Luongo is the choice here, and that’s his age. He’s already 38 years old despite having another five seasons left on his contract, which begs the question of how much longer he can be a No. 1 goalie. Luongo’s contract was front-loaded, so he’s owed just $7 million over the final four seasons, but it’s also a cap recapture contract with penalties attached if he retires. While those penalties would hit the Canucks harder than the Panthers, it makes his contract a potential problem down the road for both teams if he can’t cut it anymore.
Forward Dustin Brown: Five years, $5.875 million cap hit
One of the poster boys for bad contracts at this point, Brown signed his deal in 2013 after a six-year run that included a Stanley Cup and 309 points in 450 games. He’d win another Cup with L.A. in 2014, but since signing that deal, he’s recorded just 118 points in 323 regular season games.
Forward Zach Parise: Eight years, $7.538 million cap hit
The Wild surely knew they were taking a huge gamble on the back end of Parise’s 13-year, $98 million contract, but presumably they were hoping that decline wouldn’t come for a while. Last season, Parise recorded the worst offensive numbers since his rookie season even though Minnesota finished second in the league in scoring. He’s still useful, but it may be a long eight years for the Wild.
Defenseman Karl Alzner: Five years, $4.625 million cap hit
One of the most questionable deals of the 2017 offseason, Alzner got paid by Montreal after the Capitals willingly let him walk as a free agent. He has pedigree as the No. 5 overall pick from the 2007 NHL draft, and he’s been extremely durable, not missing a single game over the past seven seasons. But he’s not much of a scorer or a possession driver, so it begs the question of why the Habs thought he’d be worth nearly $5 million annually through his age-33 season.
Forward Nick Bonino: Four years, $4.1 million cap hit
Another deal signed this offseason, the Predators clearly liked what they saw from Bonino in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. He’s been brought in to help replace Mike Fisher, who announced his retirement Thursday. Bonino is a solid, two-way center with playoff experience, but he’s also topped 40 points in a season just once. For a team that’s masterfully managed its cap, Bonino is a debatable decision.
Defenseman Ben Lovejoy: Two years, $2.667 million cap hit
The Devils only have one contract (Cory Schneider) in place that’s longer than four seasons, so they don’t have much money tied up in bad deals. Ryane Clowe has been an anchor, but he’ll go on LTIR and be off the books next summer. So we’ll go with Lovejoy, who was so bad last season that even a $2.667 million cap hit seems like a bit much.
Forward Cal Clutterbuck: Five years, $3.5 million cap hit
The Islanders signed a pair of brutal deals over the past year with Andrew Ladd and Clutterbuck. It wasn’t easy to choose between them — Ladd is the better player, but his contract is both longer and more expensive. Still, the choice is Clutterbuck, who inexplicably got a lucrative five-year extension from New York even though he hasn’t scored 25 points in a season since 2011-12. It’s a wild overpay for a bottom-six winger.
Defenseman Marc Staal: Four years, $5.7 million cap hit
Staal will have a higher cap hit than Duncan Keith next season so he can be on the Rangers’ third defensive pairing. The team already cut ties with Dan Girardi this summer, and it seems like just a matter of time before the hammer drops on Staal one way or another, too.
Defenseman Dion Phaneuf: Four years, $7 million cap hit
The Senators provide a tricky choice for worst contract between Phaneuf and Bobby Ryan, who both have cap hits near $7 million for the next few seasons. Ryan was terrible in the regular season but put up 15 points in 19 playoff games as he showed flashes of his old self. So we’ll go with Phaneuf, who is two years older and also coming off an underwhelming season.
Defenseman Andrew MacDonald: Three years, $5 million cap hit
I didn’t even need to look at the Flyers’ cap sheet to pick out this one. MacDonald’s contract has become a running joke in hockey circles at this point.
Forward Carl Hagelin: Two years, $4 million cap hit
Hagelin brings a nice dose of speed to the Penguins lineup, but $4 million is a lot of cap space for a winger coming off a 22-point season. He also failed to follow up his great 2016 postseason effort, in which he had 16 points in 24 games, by recording just two points in 15 games during the 2017 run.
Defenseman Justin Braun: Three years, $3.8 million cap hit
The Sharks have a bunch of useful players on multiyear deals who could be candidates here, but the most obvious two are Braun and winger Mikkel Boedker. Braun just didn’t cut it in a top-four role last season, as the Sharks’ even strength Corsi dropped from 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent with him on the ice. He’s been better in the past, but entering his 30s, it’s a worrisome sign.
Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester: Two years, $5.4 million cap hit
Bouwmeester was one of the better defensemen in the NHL just a few years ago, but he’s a fraction of that player at this point. Over the past three seasons, he’s put up just 47 points with a Corsi Relative of minus-3.2 percent or worse every year. The Blues have kept leaning on him in a major role, but he’s increasingly struggled to fill it effectively.
Forward Ryan Callahan: Three years, $5.8 million cap hit
Hip injuries have derailed the career of Callahan, who appeared in just 18 games last season. He’s working to get back to strong playing condition, but in the meantime, the Lightning will have to continue paying him like a top-six forward. As baffling as Dan Girardi’s two-year, $6 million contract is, Callahan’s $5.8 million cap hit over the next three seasons will hurt even more if he can’t rebound.
Forward Nathan Horton: Three years, $5.3 million cap hit
The Maple Leafs can get around Horton’s $5.3 million cap hit by placing him on long-term injured reserve each season, but they’re still on the hook for nearly $16 million over the next three years because his contract is uninsured. That’s a sunk cost Toronto can afford as one of the NHL’s big spenders, but it’s still a brutal contract that’s not making things any easier for the Leafs.
Forward Loui Eriksson: Five years, $6 million cap hit
The Eriksson deal seems like a good example of the risk associated with signing a free agent who’s past age 30 to a long-term deal after a big season. Eriksson promptly took a big step back in his first year with Vancouver, with his point total dropping from 63 to 24. He still generated shots and drove possession, so all is not lost. But the Canucks are paying a lot of money over the next five years to a 32-year-old who hopefully bounces back.
Vegas Golden Knights
Forward David Clarkson: Three years, $5.25 million cap hit
So many options to choose from, but the Golden Knights smartly focused on bad contracts with just one year remaining in the expansion draft while scooping up picks and prospects. One of the exceptions is Clarkson, who will spend the next three years on LTIR after a back injury effectively ended his career. The Knights got a first-round pick from Columbus for taking on the contract, so it’s likely worth it, but Clarkson will make their accounting more challenging in the short term.
Defenseman Brooks Orpik: Two years, $5.5 million
There’s a good chance that T.J. Oshie’s eight-year, $46 million deal ends up being a mess on the back end, but for now, Orpik making $5.5 million to be a third-pairing defender is Washington’s worst contract. In three seasons with the Capitals, Orpik has scored three goals in 198 games, which almost seems hard to do.
Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov: Three years, $4.33 million cap hit
The Jets wanted more depth on defense, which makes sense. What makes less sense is giving a three-year deal with a $4.33 million cap hit to Kulikov even though he was outright terrible last season. Buffalo got outscored, 34-16, with him on the ice during 5-on-5 play, and his 45 percent Corsi and five points in 47 games aren’t much better. This is a sizable commitment for a player whose track record doesn’t warrant it.