In a salary cap world, managing your payroll can be a tricky game. In order to have success as a franchise, you almost need to have a few value contracts on your roster to stay ahead of the game. Conversely, a couple of bad contracts can handcuff a GM, greatly limiting his options when it comes to filling out his roster.
Today we take a look at the best and worst contracts in the NHL right now. A lot of factors come into play here, but the two main factors are value (is the player worth much more/less than he is making?) and term.
One thing that came to light while compiling the list is that it seems many good teams have both good and bad contracts on the books. This is likely because a) good teams always have a few value contracts, and b) when a team has success, they’re often forced to sign players who were part of that success to extensions for more than they’re worth. If a team has success with player X playing a key role, that’s great ammo for player X’s agent when it comes time for that next contract.
There are a lot of questionable contracts in the NHL these days, and conversely, there are a lot that bring great value to clubs. It was tough to bring it down to just 15 on each side, but what follows is my best attempt.
30 Worst – Ryan Kesler ($6.9M through 2021-22)
Ryan Kesler definitely brings a lot of intangibles to the table, but he’s not really a player you can rely on for offense anymore. Surely the Ducks were hoping he could still provide both when they signed him to a rich contract that carried with it a $6.9M AAV cap hit. The term is also unfriendly, as the six-year deal won’t expire until the end of the 2021-22 season.
29 Best – Anton Stralman ($4.5M through 2018-19)
Any time a legitimate top-pairing defenseman is making less than $5M a season, that can be considered a huge steal. The Tampa Bay Lightning signed UFA Anton Stralman to a five-year deal in the 2014 offseason worth an AAV of $4.5M, and that’s turned into one hell of a signing for Steve Yzerman and co.
28 Worst – Sedin Twins ($7M each through 2017-18)
It may be a little early in the season to write off the Sedin twins, but there is definitely cause for concern in Vancouver. The pair had a great start to 2015-16 before falling off the map production-wise in the second half. They’ve carried on that trend in 2016-17, as they’ve stumbled out of the gate offensively, which is major trouble for a team that has virtually no other legitimate offensive weapons to deploy.
27 Best – Evgeny Kuznetsov ($3M through 2016-17)
Washington has a boatload of guys on the roster who are currently on very affordable deals that are expiring soon. Put plainly, the time for Washington to get that championship is now. Perhaps the best value deal the Caps have on the books right now is Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is in the final year of a deal that comes with a $3M cap hit.
26 Worst – Jason Spezza ($7.5M through 2018-19)
Jason Spezza is still a fine hockey player, but he’s definitely passed his prime and is not worth the $7.5M cap hit he brings with him for another two seasons beyond the current one. Skating with the offense-heavy Dallas Stars, Spezza makes the most money of all forwards on the team, and that’s sort of a problem when you have Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin coming off deals that pay them each substantially less this season (more on that later).
25 Best – Jamie Benn ($5.25M through 2016-17)
As mentioned in the previous Spezza post, Benn is currently on the final deal of one of the biggest bargain contracts of the modern era. For a guy who has finished first and second in league scoring over the past two years, it’s safe to say that $5.25 million is an extremely generous cap hit from the Dallas Stars’ point of view.
24 Worst – Henrik Zetterberg ($6.1M through 2020-21)
Henrik Zetterberg is a great captain for the Detroit Red Wings, but he’s also a rapidly aging asset whose production is dwindling fast. Last season the Swede led the Wings in points with a very low total (50). That represents a drastic decline for Zetterberg, who had hovered just under a point per game average since 2005-06.
23 Best – Tyler Seguin ($5.75M through 2018-19)
Four Stars appear on this list, and luckily for Dallas fans three of them are on the good side. Tyler Seguin comes in at number 12, as he’s currently on a deal that pays him an AAV of $5.75M through 2018-19. Seguin is a top-10 center in the NHL, and market value for a top-10 player in any position is substantially higher than $5.75M per year.
22 Worst – Kane/Toews ($10.5M each through 2022-23)
Let’s be clear here: taken individually, these aren’t awful contracts. That’s why they’re paired together; a great hockey team can reasonably afford one of these contracts and still build a winning product around them. Two $10.5M cap hits though? That’s a little much, and it will be tough for Chicago to retain any other top-tier talent throughout the duration of these deals.
21 Best – Jason Demers ($4.5M through 2020-21)
For my money, the best value UFA signing this offseason was Florida’s inking of defenseman Jason Demers. At 28 years old Demers is entering the prime of his career as a defenseman, and the five-year term on his deal with the Panthers should take him right up until his regression begins.
20 Worst – Suter/Parise ($7.5M through 2024-25)
Much like the Kane/Toews contracts in Chicago, these ones are only bad contracts because there’s two of them. And yes, the dollar combined amount on the Parise/Suter contracts is $6M less than that of Kane/Toews, but it’s the term here that is the real issue. These contracts don’t expire until the end of the 2024-25 season.
19 Best – Hampus Lindholm ($4.8M through 2021-22)
Hampus Lindholm was a holdout at the beginning of the season, as the Anaheim Ducks are on a cap crunch. They simply couldn’t afford to pay Lindholm what he’s worth, so Hampus cut his losses and signed a six-year extension worth an AAV of $4.8M. The guy just wanted to get back on the ice, and you have to respect that.
18 Worst – Evander Kane ($5.25M through 2017-18)
I’m finally 100 percent comfortable with saying Evander Kane brings negative value to whichever club he plays for. He has a crappy attitude, is arrogant as hell, is probably a sexual deviant (that’s putting it kindly), and he’s always injured to boot. The former 30-goal scorer has only reached the 20 goal plateau once since registering 30 in 2011-12, so it’s not like his production makes up for any or all of those negatives.
17 Best – John Tavares ($5.5M through 2017-18)
A few years ago I would have called this the best contract in the league, but it ends up at number nine because there is only one more season beyond the current one left on the deal. Still, though, John Tavares for a cap hit of $5.5M is, frankly, a steal. For all the flack he’s taken over his time in the GM seat, Garth Snow made a pretty savvy signing here.
16 Worst – Jordan Staal ($6 through 2022-23)
Jordan Staal is definitely a decent hockey player, but that being said I think it’s safe to say he’s basically a great third-line center or an adequate number two. He’s slotted in as the first line center in Carolina these days, and he’s also being paid like one, and those are two fairly substantial problems.
15 Best – Martin Jones ($3M through 2017-18)
With a $3M cap hit, San Jose goaltender Martin Jones is one of the best deals for a player in his position league-wide. Before making his way to San Jose from L.A. (via Boston), Jones had never been a starter in the NHL, aside from having to fill in for an injured Jonathan Quick at one point. While he’d shown some promise, no one knew if he had what it took to be a full-time starter in the league.
14 Worst – Jimmy Howard ($5.3M through 2018-19)
Jimmy Howard has two more years left on his contract beyond 2016-17. That’s terrible news for the Red Wings, mostly because it’s pretty much a fact now that Howard is a backup to the younger Petr Mrazek, and paying a backup goalie $5.3M a season for this year plus next is an undesirable position to be caught in.
13 Best – John Carlson ($4M through 2017-18)
As I’ve stated previously, any time you pay less than $5M a season for a legit top-pairing defenseman, you’re getting away with something. Washington’s John Carlson has developed into a bona fide top-pairing guy since signing a six-year extension with the club in 2013. There is another year left on that deal beyond the current one, and that’s a boon for the Capitals.
12 Worst – Rick Nash ($7.8M through 2017-18)
Although Rick Nash and the New York Rangers are off to a sizzling start, it’s still very difficult to look at that $7.8M cap hit that Nash has and not shudder a bit. Luckily for the Rangers, there is only one more year left on Nash’s deal beyond 2016-17, and the contract doesn’t have an NMC so he can be exposed in the expansion draft next June.
11 Best – John Klingberg ($4.25M through 2021-22)
The Dallas Stars extended defenseman John Klingberg after a stellar rookie campaign, and that is looking like a great decision. If GM Jim Nill had waited until the end of Klingberg’s sophomore campaign, he surely would have had to pay him quite a bit more than $4.25M per season. The deal runs through the 2021-22 season as well, so this could be one of the league’s best contracts for several years.
10 Worst – Marian Gaborik ($4.9M through 2020-21)
If there was even a slight chance that I thought Marian Gaborik could remain healthy for a full season between now and 2020-21, he probably wouldn’t even be on this list. But Gaborik makes $4.9M a season to sit on the sidelines for 75% of his team’s games, and that has to be frustrating for the Kings. Especially so when you look at how much trouble they’re having scoring so far in 2016-17.
9 Best – Duncan Keith ($5.5M through 2022-23)
Duncan Keith signed a 13-year contract extension with the Blackhawks back in 2011, and while these long contracts can often handcuff a team, it really couldn’t have worked out any better for the Chicago Blackhawks here. Since signing the contract that brought with it a $5.5M AAV, Keith has won two more Cups with the Hawks, another Norris Trophy (he won his first the year of his extension), and a Conn Smythe Trophy in 2015.
8 Worst – Ryan Callahan ($5.8M through 2019-20)
The Tampa Bay Lightning are under a cap crunch like no other team, and they’ll have a lot of juggling to do in the next few years. There are a few contracts that Steve Yzerman and the Lightning would love to shed themselves of, but the worst one by a distance has got to be the $5.8M cap hit that Ryan Callahan represents through 2019-20.
7 Best – Jake Muzzin ($4M through 2019-20)
Drew Doughty gets all the attention from L.A.’s blue line, but the Kings have a few other rearguards who maybe fly under the radar a bit. Alec Martinez is one of them, but Doughty’s regular partner Jake Muzzin is another. Muzzin’s possession numbers sometimes eclipse even those of Doughty, and that’s saying something. Together, they’re one of the best possession pairings in the league, year in and year out.
6 Worst – Nick Foligno ($5.5M through 2020-21)
The Columbus Blue Jackets are a curious team. They refused to sign franchise center Ryan Johansen to a long term contract that was likely going to cost them around $6M in cap space. The result was a bridge deal, and then a subsequent trade after the arrival of John Tortorella, who obviously butted heads with Johansen (name a talented player who hasn’t butted heads with Torts).
5 Best – Devan Dubnyk ($4.3M through 2020-21)
Ever since getting chased out of Edmonton, Devan Dubnyk has been an incredibly solid goaltender. He was nominated for the Vezina in 2014-15, as is now the undisputed starter in Minnesota. His 2016-17 season is off to a great start, and the Wild only have to pay Doobie a cap hit of $4.3M through 2020-21, which is a phenomenal price for a goalie of his ilk.
4 Worst – Dion Phaneuf ($7M through 2020-21)
When the Ottawa Senators acquired Dion Phaneuf in a mid-season blockbuster last year, it represented perhaps the worst trade of the year. Phaneuf isn’t a terrible player by any stretch of the imagination, but at this stage in his career, I wouldn’t be comfortable paying him any more than, say, $4M a season. The Sens are paying him 175% of that ($7M) through the 2020-21 season.
3 Best – Nikita Kucherov ($4.8M through 2018-19)
Steve Yzerman is some sort of wizard. That and the Florida State tax laws have really worked in Tampa’s favor over the past few years. Yzerman and Nikita Kucherov came to terms on a three-year bridge contract that will pay the all-star forward an AAV of $4.8M. That’s an incredible price tag for a player like Kucherov, who’s developed into one of the game’s most dynamic wingers.
2 Worst – Dustin Brown ($5.9M through 2021-22)
That’s right. A former captain who led his team to two Stanley Cup championships in the last five seasons is currently on the worst contract in the NHL. Dustin Brown will cost the Kings a cap hit of $5.9M thru 2021-22, and that’s is a sickening thought for Kings fans who have witnessed the rapid deterioration of Brown over the past few seasons.
1 Best – Roman Josi ($4M through 2019-20)
Roman Josi has gotten better every season he plays, and he was so good last year that his play overshadowed that of teammate Shea Weber. Josi is now the leader of a defensive group that I would say is the best (on paper) in the NHL. The Predators are finally starting to piece things together after a rough start, and Josi has been a big part of that.
Josi actually finished fifth in Norris voting for 2015-16, which is five slots higher than his teammate from last season. To have Josi at the affordable price of $4M a season for three more years beyond the present one is a boon for Nashville, and they should probably look at winning a Stanley Cup before this deal expires.
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