For passionate hockey fans, the month of September only means one thing, the start of training camp. This year, however, the hockey Gods have rewarded us with an even greater joy in the World Cup of Hockey, which is set to debut September 17th. The good times are certainly coming!
For now, we will speculate and preview the internal part of the game, the contracts. It’s no secret as to why the good teams manage to stay good for so long and that is because of smart business moves outside of the rink. It seems like the rich get richer while the poor always get poorer in the NHL.
This article will prove that statement correct, showcasing the top teams that have the best contracts, while most of the teams that carry some bad deals are in reality some of the teams at the bottom of the totem pole. A theme you’ll see with the good franchises is that they surround their great players with a smartly built core. The bad side of things usually pertains to an aggressive GM or lack of team building in terms of balancing offense and defense.
Enough of the chat, let’s begin. Here are the NHL teams with worst contracts and the teams with the best, enjoy!
15 Worst: Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins, at one point, exceeded everyone’s expectations last season when they were on top of the Atlantic Division. Though, it wasn't for long, as Boston would crash out of the postseason race, falling three points short of a spot.
The team bolstered their center position this offseason by adding veteran David Backes. The signing was good and will surely help the Bruins, however, the price they paid was over the top for a player who is well past his prime and set to turn 33 next season. Backes is set to make $8 million next season to go along with his $6 million cap hit.
The major problem with this deal is the fact that Brad Marchand is set to become a free agent next year. Scoring almost 40 goals last year, you can expect the agitating winger to want a hefty raise from his current annual cap hit of $4.5 million. That, along with Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug making a combined $12 million a year, leaves Boston with some serious issues pertaining to extensions in the near future.
14 Best: Washington Capitals
Simply put, the Caps are doing it right. Similar to most of the teams on the 'good' side of things, the Caps have taken their top core players and surrounded them with crucial depth pieces.
Starting with the offensive side of things, apart from Alexander Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom (Ovie $9.5mil, Backstrom $6.7 mil) all the other forwards make less than $4.6 million per season, which is truly remarkable when assessing the other talent they have upfront. Marcus Johansson, T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Daniel Winnik and Andre Burakovsky are a major part of the team's low end salaries. With Kuznetsov and Oshie set to hit free agency next season, the Caps might be able to extend both forwards if they play their cards right and it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.
Defensively the team is just as good in terms of salary and it's crazy to think that they make less than $20 million combined and have arguably the best d-core in the entire east. The likes of Niskanen, Orpik, Carlson and Alzner all make under $5.7 million, now that’s living right!
13 Worst: Vancouver Canucks
When you think of a team that is undergoing a rebuild, chances are that they have plenty of cap space and are focusing on revolving things around young talent. The Canucks are in a rebuild according to the franchise, but their priorities seem to be all over the place, especially when assessing some of the deals they have in place.
Loui Eriksson is the latest question mark for the club. While we don't doubt his talent, spending an annual cap hit of $6 million on a player in his 30s just doesn’t make much sense. Factor that in with the 35 year old Sedin brothers making a combined $14 million per season and a goalie well past his prime at the age of 36, Ryan Miller, making a whopping $6 million per year, and it’s pretty clear to see that the team has some questionable contracts.
If the Canucks fall out of the playoff picture early on, expect some big changes, especially with some of the players we’ve mentioned. The focus needs to shift towards the youth. with the likes of Horvat, Sutter, Baertschi, Virtanen, Etem, Hutton, and Markstrom.
12 Best: St. Louis Blues
It's hard to find a team that has a better blend of depth, both defensively and offensively, than the Blues. They can thank their savy General Manager for that, as Doug Armstrong has been locking down some players to tremendous deals, which seems like an impossibility as of late with the cap going up and GMs willing to overpay.
David Backes leaving actually aids the team greatly in terms of renewals. Veterans Alex Steen and Patrik Berglund are both set to become free agents after the 2017-18 campaign, which leaves the door wide open for an extension.
The other deals for the core players are long term and for a reasonable amount. Vladimir Tarasenko signed a huge extension valued at $7.5 million per year, which is a steal, as numerous teams would give the guy between $9-10 million without thinking twice. Defensively, Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester are locked in making a respectable $6.5 and $5.4 million per year, which is great for a couple of highly valued d-men.
Look for another strong run by the Blues this season without their former captain.
11 Worst: Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars make this list only based on one criteria, goaltending contracts. Not only does the team not have an established number one, but they are paying a hefty fee for two lackluster Finns between the pipes. To make you understand how bad it truly is, the goaltenders combined make only $6 million less than the team's entire d-core.
Lead by the Stars’ potent offense, the win/loss category for the goalies was actually really good. Although, if you take a closer look, their other statistics were actually terrible. Both goalies had a GAA of almost three, while having a save percentage of just above .900. Both numbers certainly didn't warrant the cash, as Lethonen made $5.9 million while Niemi made a cool $4.5 million.
With both well into their 30s and playing subpar hockey, you can expect the Stars to potentially part ways with both goalies once their deals expire in the 2018-19 season.
10 Best: Calgary Flames
We applaud the Calgary Flames for making the positive side of this list, despite being out of the playoffs last season. The Flames have a brilliant dynamic to their team which sees them building from the back, a formula that has built numerous championship teams in the past.
In terms of cap discrepancies, the team spends almost the same amount of money on their d-core than the entire offensive cast, with a minuscule $7 million dollar difference. The franchise is loaded defensively, but also have a talented core upfront blending in veterans and youngsters at reasonable prices. Troy Brouwer just signed a deal with the team during the free agency period, inking at a reasonable rate of $4.5 million per year. You’d argue he could have made a lot more elsewhere coming off his best season to date. The team also has a plethora of young talent lead by Sean Monahan ,who just extended at $6.3 million per year in a long term deal. In a couple of years, that deal will be an absolute steal.
9 Worst: Minnesota Wild
First off, we applaud the Wild for their turn around late last season, which booked them a ticket into the postseason. Although their run was short lived, we appreciate the team making it to the April dance.
Now, for the harsh reality. This team has given some seriously bad contracts for some un-established players who quite frankly don’t serve that amount of dough. Let’s start with Mikko Koivu. While he’s a great leader and tremendous two-way player, 17 goals isn't an acceptable amount for someone making nearly $7 million per season. The same goes for the 33 year old veteran, Jason Pominville, who somehow has the third largest salary upfront, making $5.6 million annually. He scored 11 goals in 75 games last year. That doesn’t sound like the stats of a player making close to $6 million, but more like a guy making $1 to $2 million.
Defensively the team also has some money tied up on various defenders that really haven’t come out yet as dominant d-men in the league. The duo of Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella make over $4 million per season, despite both scoring a combined seven goals last year.
8 Best: Pittsburgh Penguins
It shouldn't be a surprise to see the Stanley Cup Champions included as a team with good contracts. Like most great teams on this list, the Pens have added various depth pieces to the established core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. These little depth moves ultimately drove the team to a Stanley Cup title, which seemed improbable at points of last season.
The catalysts of change for Pittsburgh make respectable average salaries, with Nick Bonino making $1.9 million, Conor Sheary at less than a million and Carl Hagelin making $4 million. The veterans on the team also made quite the impact while making a modest wage. This was lead by Matt Cullen who makes a mere $1 million per season.
It's not hard to see why the team was able to be so successful after seeing how much their crucial pieces really made. We applaud Jim Rutherford for his swift moves since taking over the team in June of 2014.
7 Worst: Philadelphia Flyers
Before we rip into them, the Flyers deserve a great amount of praise for turning their season around and somehow making the playoffs last year. Yes, they ran out of gas against the Caps, but just making it there was a tremendous accomplishment. You really wonder how much greater this team would be with a better defense core, which leads to our main point.
Looking at the contract situation of the team, we can't help but notice the lack of balance between forwards and d-men. Upfront, the forwards make $38 million while defensively the d-core earns a mere $21 million combined for the six regular defensemen. Mark Streit leads the way at $5.25 million per season and you know things are bad when the highest defensive earner on the team is 38 years old. Michael Del Zotto and Radko Gudas are next in line, both making over $3 million a year. For a team known for their defensive skills, you’d expect the club to address such an imbalance sooner rather than later.
6 Best: Tampa Bay Lightning
The contract extension of Steven Stamkos showed us just how good Steve Yzerman really is. He put a good, modest offer on the table and did not budge, before Stamkos would later opt to stay and Stevie Y was made to look like a genius.
When looking at the Lightning’s roster, you surely thought Stamkos would be long gone, as the likes of Kucherov, Kilorn, Johnson and Drouin elevated their games to another level and led the Lightning on another lengthy playoff run despite the absence of their leader.
Holding the fort together will be another daunting task for Yzerman next offseason, as core players like Drouin, Palat and Johnson are all set to become RFAs. Goaltender Ben Bishop is also hitting free agency, but he’s surely expected to be parting ways, especially since they re-signed Andrei Vasilevski to a solid three year extension.
It’ll be almost impossible to keep the core entirely intact, but we applaud the Lightning for everything they’ve done internally thus far.
5 Worst: Colorado Avalanche
Upfront, we can’t falter the Avs for the contracts they’ve given out, as the trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog make a bulk of the cash and rightfully so. The team has aided them with some reasonable deals to some established veterans, including Jarome Iginla, Blake Comeau, John Mitchell and Carl Soderberg.
The real problem for the team is on the backend, as they have some terrible contracts along with a lack of defensive depth. This seems to be the team’s only big issue and a concern they are still looking to address. You’d think one of their big three will need to be used as trade bait if the team is to make a defensive splash.
As of now, the situation is pretty awful, particularly pertaining to two players. Erik Johnson leads the way making $6 million per season. $6 million for a defender that was a -19 last season. Francois Beauchemin is the other blemish, as the Avs signed the 36 year old to a curious deal last season at $4.5 million per season, despite the fact that he's obviously past his prime. For these reasons primarily, the Avs land in the doghouse on the list of terrible contracts.
4 Best: San Jose Sharks
The addition of Mikkel Boedker this offseason showed us how well the Sharks have managed the cap internally. The team is loaded offensively, defensively and between the pipes. It's truly a rarity to have all three positions locked and loaded, but the Sharks have managed to do just that.
Let’s take a second to marvel at the team’s offensive depth which makes a grand total of $42 million per year. Lead by Joe Pavelski, the team has an embarrassment of depth with the likes of Joel Ward, Tomas Hertl, Tommy Wingels, Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Matt Nieto. Don't forget about the other big three that all make under $7 million per season in Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture.
Defensively, it’s really the same thing, as Brent Burns leads the way making under $6 million per season, while the other depth defenders all make under $5 million. This list of tremendous d-men include Paul Martin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and Brenden Dillon.
Don’t forgot their goalie, Martin Jones, who was spectacular last year during the team's cup run, as he makes a mere $3 million a year until the end of 2017/18. Looking at all of this, the club's window to win is surely now.
3 Worst: Ottawa Senators
Ottawa does have some decent deals, but the bad still outweighs the good. Looking at the salary leaders upfront and on the backend, you can’t help but chuckle. Bobby Ryan makes $7.25 million a year and that’s two million more than Mike Hoffman, who just came off a career year and signed a new extension. Ryan has been a total bust since coming over to the Nation’s Capital, as he’s failed to score more than 25 in his three seasons there and had a career low -9 rating last season. His defensive skills have been constantly blasted throughout his career. With that in mind, you’d expect higher offensive numbers, but it just hasn’t panned out that way. Whether it’s via trade or waiving him, Ryan’s time may come to an end quickly if things don’t pick up.
Defensively, Dion Phaneuf leads the way, making $7 million a season. Remember, the Leafs retained no salary while the Sens are forced to swallow the deal that sees the lackluster d-man command more than Superstar Erik Karlsson.
In no such universe are these two players worth that sum of money and, for these two key reasons, the Sens make the list.
2 Best: Chicago Blackhawks
There’s a reason why the Blackhawks continue to be one of the best teams in the league and that all starts with decisions made internally. Like so many great teams on this list, the Hawks used the model of building around two franchise forwards (Toews & Kane) and two franchise defensemen (Keith & Seabrook). While building around these players the team, successfully added bits and pieces to aid the stars of the team. Artemi Panarin was the latest example, as he scored 30 goals last season while netting 47 assists. Artem Anisimov was another nice piece added to the mix that thrived last season.
The same goes for the team defensively, as they arguably have the best top four in the league with Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson and the newly acquired Brian Campbell. The d-core makes just over $20 million while the forwards make a little more than $40 million. Now that’s a perfect ratio.
1 Worst: Buffalo Sabres
When billionaire Terry Pegula took ownership of the team, he made it abundantly clear that the franchise was willing to spend lots of money in order to be competitive again. With such an aggressive mentality comes some terrible deals, which have hurt the Sabres. Thankfully, the team is loaded with young talent, so it isn’t really affecting them too much at the moment.
Starting with this past offseason, the team reeked with desperation after they failed to sign Steven Stamkos. After missing out, they put their faith in Kyle Okposo, who scored a massive seven year deal worth an insane $42 million. This wasn’t the first time nor will it be the last Buffalo overpays. Just look at the salary leader on the team, Ryan O’Reilly, who makes an average of $7.5 million per year.
Their throwing away of money doesn’t stop there, with Matt Moulson making $5 million annually despite a disastrous season, scoring eight goals. D-man Zach Bogosian is making $5.1 million every year, despite being a number three or four defensemen. Like we said, thankfully this team has a lot of youth making low wages or this team would be in even greater trouble.