Signing a player to a perfect contract in the NHL is nearly impossible. Despite the fact teams hold all the leverage until a player is eligible for unrestricted free agency, it hasn’t stopped players for asking – and holding out – for more than they’re worth. There’s also other options out there like playing in Europe, which gives players a little wiggle room in contract negotiations. That’s why Sam Bennett of the Calgary Flames was reportedly asking for upwards for $4 million per season despite the fact he had a brutal 2016-17 regular season; he has continued to struggle in 2017-18 so it’s a good thing the Flames stood firm in negotiations and signed him to just under $2 million per season.
That illustrates just how difficult it is to sign a player to a contract that seems reasonable and team-friendly. Even Connor McDavid, who is arguably the best player in the league already and signed for $12.5 million per year, has a somewhat questionable contract. Is he worth it? Absolutely. But in the confines of the salary cap, is it worth paying one player over 16 percent of your team’s total allotted money? Judging by the Oilers early struggles through the first quarter of the 2017-18 season, one might suggest it isn’t. However, some teams are able to earn bargains on quality players.
15. Kevin Bieksa/Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Despite not producing more than 24 points since the 2011-12 season as a member of the Vancouver Canucks, Kevin Bieksa was targeted by the Anaheim Ducks following the 2015-16 season. He had just completed his first season with the team and fared admirably, registering 15 points in 71 games and playing well on the team’s penalty kill. So the Ducks signed Bieksa to a reasonable two-year, $8 million contract. Now in the final year of that deal, Bieksa is a 36 year old with just three assists through 21 games and boasts an awful minus-nine rating. He’s clearly well past his prime.
In contrast, the Arizona Coyotes are a much weaker team than the Ducks. But they have to be happy with having Oliver Ekman-Larsson over Bieka. OEL is in the fifth year of a six-year, $33 million contract, meaning he makes $5.5 million per year. While it’s a tad more than Bieksa makes, OEL is regarded as one of the league’s best blueliners. He topped 20 goals in two of the past three seasons and is on pace to surpass 50 points this year.
14. Karl Alzner/John Klingberg
The Montreal Canadiens made some curious decisions this past offseason. As of this writing, the team is surging behind the return of Carey Price, but we’ll never understand why they let go of Nathan Beaulieu and Mikhail Sergachev and brought in Karl Alzner. The Burnaby, BC native is a former fifth overall pick and a decent penalty killer, but has just four assists through 28 games in his first season with the team. What’s worse is he’s only in the first year of a five-year, $23.125 million contract.
John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars, meanwhile, could be making $7 million a season and you would take his productivity over Alzner. The offensive defenseman has 22 points in 26 games this season and recorded 107 over the past two years. Yet, he actually makes less per season than Alzner ($4.25 compared to $4.63 million) and is signed until the end of the 2021-22 season.
13. Kris Russell/Justin Faulk
This one is obvious and fresh, especially if you were watching the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs game on November 30th. With the game tied at four with one minute left, Oilers’ defenseman Kris Russell fired the puck directly into his own net. He had actually been having a good game, but even Oilers fans had already been growing tired of his poor play. Russel is mostly hated by proponents of analytics as they believe his poor possession numbers outweigh his intangible qualities. Regardless, he’s simply not worth the four-year, $16 million contract he signed this past offseason.
Justin Faulk, meanwhile, is a budding 25 year old star with the Hurricanes who has topped 15 goals and 37 points in each of the past three seasons. He’s only making slightly over $800,000 more per season than Russell and is under contract for two more seasons.
12. Carl Soderberg/Eric Staal
A lot of these contracts are comparing older players to talented young players on team-friendly contracts, but this one is different. Carl Soderberg is a 32 year old forward who was, for some reason, signed to a five-year, $23.75 million contract by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2015 offseason. He gave the team 51 points in his first year with the team but posted only 14 in 80 games last year. The team paid him over $300,000 per point that year.
Meanwhile, Eric Staal is actually a year older than Soderberg and appeared to be nearing the end of his career two years ago after producing only 39 points in 83 games between the Hurricanes and New York Rangers. Instead, the Minnesota Wild signed him to a low-risk three-year, $10.5 million contract and Staal has subsequently revitalized his career. He had 65 points last season and has 23 through 26 games to start the 2017-18 season.
11. Carl Hagelin/Paul Byron
Two years ago, speedy Swedish winger Carl Hagelin was a key part of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ HBK line that helped the team win the Stanley Cup. He recorded 16 points in 24 playoff games, but has since been a shell of his former self, posting 22 points in the 2016-17 regular season and only four through 27 games of the 2017-18 season. He’s got great speed, but it’s gotta’ hurt the Penguins to know they’re basically paying him $4 million per season over the next two years just for his speed.
Paul Byron, meanwhile, is another smaller player who is in the league because of his speed. Unlike Hagelin, however, he’s on a reasonable contract at only slightly over one million per season for the next two years. He kills penalties and is blossoming into a dependable scorer with 22 tallies last season and nine through 28 games this year.
10. Kari Lehtonen/John Gibson
A few years ago, the Dallas Stars had the idea to bring in two capable goaltenders and allow them to split time between the pipes. It was a good idea in theory, but worked out disastrously. Antii Niemi is now bouncing from team to team as one of the worst goalies in the league, while Kari Lehtonen is backing up Ben Bishop and performing horribly this season. Thankfully, he’s in the final year of his contract, but is making $5.9 million.
Facing a similar situation, the Anaheim Ducks dealt Frederik Andersen to the Toronto Maple Leafs and put their trust in John Gibson. It paid off. The 24 year old is making only $2.3 million per season for the next two years and is among the league’s best goaltenders. He had an impressive 2.22 goals against average and .924 save percentage last season.
9. Dion Phaneuf/Seth Jones
Admit it. You were waiting for Dion Phaneuf to pop up on this list. And while Ottawa Senators General Manager Pierre Dorion didn’t give Phaneuf his awful seven-year, $49 million contract, he traded for the player when he was only in the second year of the deal. Phaneuf is an admirable second-pairing defenseman, but there’s a reason the Senators have already tried to get rid of him during the expansion process. Unfortunately, he has a no-movement clause, meaning he can block any potential trade. Good luck with Phaneuf for the next four seasons.
Seth Jones, meanwhile, is already a much better blueliner than Phaneuf and is only making $5.4 million per season for the next five years. Can you even begin to imagine how much Ottawa would give up simply to swap Phaneuf with Jones right now?
8. Dustin Brown/Wayne Simmonds
These two players play a very similar game, but one is incredibly more valuable to his team, although early numbers from this season might not prove that. Regardless, the truth is the Los Angeles Kings are in an awful position with having to pay Dustin Brown nearly $6 million over the next five seasons. The former Kings captain earned his eight-year, $47 million contract based on helping the team to a Stanley Cup, but has been regressing in recent years. He had fewer than 30 points in four of the past five season; he does, however, have 21 points through 27 games this season.
Simmonds, meanwhile, is astonishingly making less than $4 million for each of the next two seasons. The former Los Angeles Kings draft pick is in his seventh season with the Flyers and has topped 50 points in each of the past four seasons.
7. Matt Moulson/Viktor Arvidsson
What would you say if we told you Matt Moulson was still in the league? How about if we said he was making $5 million this season AND next season? Yeah, it’s pretty shocking, especially since the 34 year old only has 53 points over the past two seasons with the Buffalo Sabres. How’s he doing this year, you ask? He has zero points through 14 games and has been a healthy scratch as of late.
Now, would you take that kind of production at $5 million per season or Viktor Arvidsson for $4.25 million per year for the next seven seasons? A fourth-round pick of the Nashville Predators in the 2014 NHL Draft, Arvidsson recorded 61 points last season and has 19 through 26 games this year. The 24 year old Swede is one of league’s most exciting young players and it’s equal parts ridiculous and hilarious that he’s making nearly $1 million less than a healthy scratch.
6. Nick Bonino/Nazem Kadri
A former sixth-round pick of the San Jose Sharks, Nick Bonino was a key contributor to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Stanley Cup runs in each of the past two seasons, but the team obviously felt he wasn’t worth the price he was going to get in free agency and decided to let him walk this past offseason. It was a good decision as he’s really only a decent third-line center who can kill penalties. That type of player is a dime a dozen, not someone deserving of the four-year, $16.4 million contract Bonino got from the Nashville Predators.
In contrast, Nazem Kadri of the Toronto Maple Leafs is only making $400,000 more per season for the next five years and is arguably the best second-line center in the league. The pesky 27 year old scored a career-high 32 goals last season and is on pace to surpass that mark this season.
5. David Backes/Max Pacioretty
A lot of the players on the awful contract portion of this list are players who earned those contracts in unrestricted free agency. That’s because teams tend to make terrible decisions in the hope that they will significantly improve their team. David Backes is one of those bad decisions. The 33 year old former captain of the St. Louis Blues was signed by the Boston Bruins to five-year, $30 million contract in the 2016 offseason and had only 38 points in his first year with the team. He’s been injured most of this season, and has only one assist through seven games.
In recent years, Boston hasn’t been too envious of its biggest rival, the Montreal Canadiens, but there’s no doubt they would take the contract of Max Pacioretty over Backes. Pacioretty has scored over 30 goals in each of the past four seasons and is only making $4.5 million per year for the next two seasons.
4. Brandon Dubinsky/Aleksander Barkov
Is it unfair to compare the contract of a 31 year old center with one of the league’s best, young, all-around centers? Not at all, especially when the Columbus Blue Jackets didn’t have to give Brandon Dubinsky the six-year, $35.1 million contract it gave him prior to the 2015-16 regular season. The Anchorage, Alaska native had only scored over 20 goals in one of his first eight seasons in the league and, while he’s a good checker, you don’t pay that much for a third-line center.
Conversely, the Florida Panthers were able to come to an agreement on a reasonable contract with Finnish center Aleksander Barkov. The 22 year old signed a six-year, $35.4 million contract with the team prior to the 2016-17 season. Both players make the same amount of money, which is hard to fathom given Barkov has been a near point-per-game player in each of the past two seasons.
3. Brent Seabrook/Erik Karlsson
When you help your team win three Stanley Cups, it’s hard to consider any contract an awful one regardless of term or salary. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t criticize the amount of money that player is now making. The player in question is Brent Seabrook, who was signed to an eight-year, $55 million contract by the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the 2016-17 regular season. He’s making $6.875 million per season until the end of the 2023-24 season, when he will be 38 years old. What’s worse is he’s already regressing and the Hawks did not at all need to extend him beyond five years.
The best defenseman in the league, meanwhile, is making only $6.5 million per season for the next two years. That’s right, Erik Karlsson, who regularly finishes among the league’s top point producers, makes less than Seabrook. However, Karlsson could – and should – earn at least $11 million on the open market once his contract expires. And he’ll be worth every penny.
2. Zach Parise/Taylor Hall
The Minnesota Wild were looking to become relevant in the 2012 offseason and opened up a ton of cap space, which they used to sign both Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. Suter is still a solid player for the team, but the 33 year old Parise is clearly not worth the contract he signed at the time. His point totals have dropped in each of the past three seasons and he has yet to play a game this season due to injury. Yet, he’s making a remarkable $7.54 million per year until the end of the 2024-25 season, when he will be 41 years old. It’s a deal that will hamper the Wild moving forward.
The Wild signed Parise from the New Jersey Devils, who are certainly much happier with their current goal-scoring winger Taylor Hall, who has 27 points through 26 games this season, is still only 26 years old, and makes only $6 million per year for the next three seasons.
1. Justin Abdelkader/Nikita Kucherov
This is more a result of Steve Yzerman being the absolute best General Manager in the league, but it’s a fair contrast that highlights the disparity in contracts awarded per team. The Detroit Red Wings obviously feel Justin Abdelkader is a valuable member of their franchise, but it was surprising to everyone when they offered him a seven-year, $29.75 million contract prior to the 2016-17 season. He followed that up by scoring seven goals in 64 games the next season. They’ll be paying him $4.25 million each year until the end of the 2022-23 season.
That’s only slightly less than the $4.8 million the Tampa Bay Lightning are paying Nikita Kucherov in each of the next two seasons. That’s right, one of the leading scorers in the league this season is making under $5 million. In the first year of his contract, Kucherov recorded 85 points; he has 38 through 26 games this season.
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