Being an NHL GM is a pretty tough job. Not only can it be hard to predict the future course of any individual players’ career, but every move you make is placed under the microscope by both fans and pundits. Your moves are immediately judged and ridiculed, and in a hot hockey market that can affect your ability to go to the grocery store for some milk in peace.
In any case, they’re paid a lot of money to do jobs many would kill for, so it’s hard to feel too bad for them. Today we’re going to put some of the more recent contract signings under the microscope and tell you which ones the teams and their GMs probably already regret.
These general managers would never publicly admit it of course—after all, most of these contracts are long term, so no need to sour a potential long term relationship in its early stages (I would know!). But deep down, there’s no way that these GMs don’t have at least a modicum of regret when it comes to these signings.
For the player to qualify for this list, their most recent contract had to have kicked in in 2016-17 at the latest. Some of these deals were signed a year prior to that, but they still count as recent for this purpose because the actual life of the deal is still in its first year.
Here are the 15 recent signings that general managers are probably already regretting:
15 Reilly Smith
Florida decided it needed an upgrade on Jimmy Hayes up front, so they sent him to Boston in exchange for Reilly Smith and the remainder of Marc Savard’s cap-immune contract (LTIR). Smith enjoyed a decent first season with the Cats in 2015-16, and signed an extension with the Panthers last summer—a five year deal with an annual cap hit of $5M. It kicks in this fall when the 2017-18 season starts.
With a contract like that, the Panthers were probably hoping Smith was ready to take a bit of a step forward from his previous performances, or had at least hoped he was capable of a similar level of production. Unfortunately, Smith’s offensive numbers took a dive in 2016-17, and he ended up with just 37 points—13 fewer than the season previous. Thankfully for them, they got rid of Smith's contract by way of Vegas, but it took them exposing Jonathan Marchessault in the expansion draft for Vegas to take this deal off their books. So by giving Smith this contract, the Panthers had to give up a promising young player in order to dump it. Ouch.
14 Troy Brouwer
Troy Brouwer had been a pretty consistent player for his career before signing as a free agent with the Flames last offseason. He had established a precedent that led the Flames to believe he should be able to score 40-45 points in any given year, and he also showed signs of being clutch in the past—especially in the 2016 postseason, which is likely what made him such a hot commodity last summer.
The Flames inked Brouwer to a four-year contract with a $4.5M cap hit. That’s reasonable for a UFA of Brouwer’s stature, but his 2016-17 season left something to be desired, and GM Brad Treliving is probably already regretting the signing, if only a little. Brouwer managed just 13 goals and 25 points this season, which is a substantial drop from previous totals. The Flames need more next year or else this contract will be viewed as one of the league’s worst.
13 Alex Burrows
There was a time when Alex Burrows was a pretty good player for the Vancouver Canucks. A true underdog story, the undrafted feisty winger made the big club in 2005-06 and never looked back. He played 822 games with the Canucks, notching 395 points. The ‘Nucks and Burrows parted ways at the 2017 trade deadline, and Burrows is now a Senator.
As a rental player I didn’t hate this trade (it was steep from OTT's position, but that's the cost sometimes), but when Ottawa turned around and signed Burrows to an extension immediately, I thought it a little weird. Like, you have clear data that shows this guy can barely keep his head above water in the NHL anymore, and you ink him to a two-year extension? I cannot understand why Pierre Dorion was a GM of the year candidate.
12 Jamie Benn
This might be a controversial choice, but I’m pretty sure I can back it up. The Stars obviously needed to sign Jamie Benn to a new contract, and his eight-year extension that pays him $9.5M a season kicks in in 2017-18. Benn has been one of the league’s most potent offensive players for several seasons now, but he did take a slight step back in 2016-17, finishing outside the top 20 in scoring with 69 points.
Now that he’s making the big bucks, Dallas better hope that he bounces back to his tier-one star status in 2017-18. Giving $9.5M is a lot of scrilla for a 70 point player, and when GM Jim Nill extended Benn he was surely hoping for some additional 85-90 point seasons. This contract is far from an official disappointment for Dallas, but if 2016-17 is a sign of things to come, it stings a little for sure.
11 Andrew Ladd
Andrew Ladd had a really slow start to the 2016-17 season, and as a result his offensive boxcars for 2016-17 were pretty dismal. He did manage to hit the 20 goal plateau, but he added just eight assists to his 23 snipes to end with just 31 points. Last summer Ladd inked a seven-year deal with the Islanders that pays him a sizeable $5.5M per year.
If Ladd is able to bounce back and add, say, 20 assists to his totals next season, then this is a non-starter and the contract is not a problem in the least. If he keeps up the same pace and records any less than 40 points in 2017-18, the Islanders may have an anchor contract on their hands, which is the last thing they need as they hope to retain the services of John Tavares beyond the upcoming season.
10 Jakub Voracek
I have a theory that any forward who makes more than $8M a season should finish in the top 10 in scoring every season, or at least compete for it. 2016-17 was the first season of an eight-year extension the Flyers signed Jakub Voracek to in the summer of 2015. The contract carries a hefty $8.25M cap hit and runs to the end of the 2023-24 season.
It would be quite the reach to say Voracek had a bad season in 2016-17, but he still finished 39th in the NHL in points with 61 in a full 82 game season. He signed the deal in the offseason that immediately followed the Czech winger’s only 80+ point season in 2014-15, so you have to tip your hat to Voracek’s agent. If the extension waited until the following offseason, he would be coming off a 55 point campaign and he'd be making considerably less.
9 Brent Seabrook
With the Chicago Blackhawks constantly finding themselves in a fight with the salary cap thanks to a couple of ridiculous contracts (more on one of those later), it’s really too bad that they decided to make Brent Seabrook their highest paid defenseman. GM Stan Bowman signed Seabrook to an eight-year deal worth $6.875M per season that kicked in at the start of the 2016-17 season.
Here’s the thing; $6.875M for eight seasons of Seabrook’s prime is more than worth it. Here’s the problem: the deal is just one season old, and Seabrook is already 32 years old. That’s pretty much the exact age players begin to decline, with very few exceptions. Betting $55M that Seabrook will be one of those few exceptions seems like a risky wager, but what do I know?
8 Tyson Barrie
The 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche really were one of the worst teams in the history of the league. It was also the first year of Tyson Barrie’s four year bridge contract, and the year did not go very well to say the least. He put up 11 fewer points than he did in 2015-16, and the fact that he finished the season with a team-worst minus-34 rating tells us he isn’t getting it done in his own zone, either.
Barrie is one player who should be able to bounce back on 2017-18, because pretty much everyone in Colorado had the worst season of their respective careers from both an individual and team standpoint. That said, Barrie makes $5.5M a season, which is about average for a top-pairing defenseman. That’s too much for Barrie, who is an elite second-pairing in the best case scenario.
7 Frans Nielsen
If you’re a fan of pretty much any NHL team, the UFA season can be pretty exciting times. Which big fish is your favorite club going to chase? What’s the price tag going to be? Usually, if you’re landing a prized UFA, the price tag is too high and you soon rue the day that your favorite team’s GM decided to spend the farm on a mediocre player.
I’d argue that this is pretty much what happened with the Detroit Red Wings and UFA Frans Nielsen last summer. GM Ken Holland threw an inflated offer at Nielsen, a six-year deal that carried with it an annual cap hit of $5.25M. Nielsen registered just 41 points for that $5.25M last season, and if that’s a pace to expect for the duration of the deal, Holland will regret this soon, if he doesn’t already.
6 Jonathan Toews
Alright, the next few guys on this list are pretty controversial. Jonathan Toews has captained the Chicago Blackhawks to three championships, and he’s been a member of two Canadian Olympic Gold Medal teams. He also carries with him the reputation of being the best leader in the NHL, although I do not see how that’s at all quantifiable. I’ve viewed him as overrated in this league for some time now (Corey Hirsch picked him as his 2016-17 MVP—c’mon, really?), and I’d feel comfortable saying a $10.5M AAV is a gross overpayment for Toews.
I’m putting Toews on this list instead of Patrick Kane because Kane at least produces with the best of them. Sure, maybe Kane doesn’t bring the same level of leadership as Toews (again, what is “leadership”?), but if he gets me 90 points a season on this eight-year deal that costs $10.5M toward the cap I’ll take it. Toews is lucky to hit 70 points in any given season, which simply isn’t worth it.
5 Anze Kopitar
I thought I’d get the controversial choices out of the way back-to-back, so coming in immediately after Toews on the list is Kings captain Anze Kopitar. The world’s best Slovenian hockey player of all time signed an extension with the only NHL club he’s ever played for back in January 2016. It was an eight-year pact that brought with it a $10M cap hit, so the expectation was for Kopitar to continue to be an elite two-way forward who gets about 70 points in a full season.
Unfortunately for the Kings, Kopitar managed just 52 points in season one of his deal, which is 22 fewer points than he had in the previous season. As far as 70 point players go, they don’t get more consistent than Kopitar from about 2006-07 through 2015-16, so the Kings better hope 2016-17 was just a blip on the radar rather than a sign of what to expect moving ahead.
4 David Backes
David Backes was one of the more prized UFA forwards available in the 2016 offseason, and as such he is now overpaid. This is just what happens with UFAs, and Backes was no exception. Having played his whole career up until last season with the St. Louis Blues, the Bruins signed Backes to a five-year, $30M contract that comes with a $6M AAV cap hit.
There are a few problems with this deal, the main one being Backes’s age. He turned 33 in May, and judging by his consistently sinking production (58, 45, and 38 are his point totals from the last three seasons), he’s regressing pretty much exactly the time about 90% of forward regress. If he can even hover around the 40 point mark for the rest of the contract, I’d consider the Bruins lucky, but even so he’s grossly overpaid at $6M.
3 Mikkel Boedker
To this day I don’t really understand why the Sharks felt like they needed to add the services of Mikkel Boedker last July, but they did. GM Doug Wilson signed the Danish winger to a four-year deal that pays him $4M per season. Boedker played 81 games in his first season as a Shark, and in the end he only managed 10 goals and 26 points, the worst full-season totals of his career since 2011-12.
With three more years left on this deal and Boedker pacing for 40 goals over the duration of his contract, and that can only spell disappointment for the Sharks. They were equipped with a lot of offense with the likes of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau providing the secondary to Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, but now they’ll need that level of production from Boedker (it’s unlikely both players return). Can he do it?
2 Milan Lucic
Most fans in Edmonton were pretty happy with Milan Lucic’s first season as an Oiler, but there was a small sect who were pretty unhappy with his play through most of the season. Looch signed a seven-year pact with GM Peter Chiarelli and the Oilers last summer, and the deal carried a $6M AAV and a no-movement clause.
At first glance, Lucic put up numbers that you’ve pretty much come to expect from him over the years; 23 goals, 27 assists for 50 points. However, when you look closer, you realize that his boxcars are greatly propped up by inflated power play stats, which isn’t great news for the Oil. He got half of his points and more than half his goals with the man advantage, and was a minus player for the first time since 2009-10. He’ll need to re-discover his even-strength prowess if he wants to ensure Chiarelli doesn’t rue the day he signed him.
1 Loui Eriksson
Of all the UFA signings that went down last offseason, the first year of Loui Eriksson’s contract has to be the biggest disappointment of the bunch. Brought in to play on the first line with fellow countrymen Daniel and Henrik Sedin, it didn’t last long due to lack of production and Eriksson never found his stride in 2016-17—not even close, actually.
Eriksson’s contract was for six seasons and came with a $6M cap hit. If they were buying Loui Eriksson from 2015-16, then that would be a pretty solid deal—the winger recorded 63 points in his final season with the Bruins. Unfortunately, Eriksson sank like a stone from a production standpoint, notching a measly 24 points—yes, 24!—representing the lowest point-per-game total of all of his pro seasons.