The addition of a salary cap in 2005 vastly changed the NHL. Gone are the wistful days of the 2002 Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings, their 10 hall of fame bound players and $66 million salary, (the league average at the time was $38 million) Nowadays, to stay salary cap compliant, general managers must move players out like a snake sheds yesterday's skin. Teams must constantly throw out the old, and bring in the young and/or cheaper players to fill their lineup beyond their expensive core pieces. Staying competitive has never been tougher. Because of this, over-paid players are highlighted like no other time in the history of the NHL. Every dollar spent is met with great scrutiny as cap space becomes as valuable as a seat on a lifeboat.
The best teams are adept at avoiding gratuitous over-payment, and the mediocre teams constantly run into trouble. The Detroit Red Wings for example, have zero players on this list, while the Toronto Maple Leafs have two. Most often, the supply and demand of free agency is the catalyst of overpayment. Struggling teams can be desperate to quickly fill a glaring hole in their team. Meanwhile the higher-end teams can be seduced by the idea of one more piece putting their team over the top in the quest for the Holy Grail of Lord Stanley’s Cup.
This strategy rarely works in today’s landscape. More often, a big free-agent acquisition paralyzes the team. A disproportionate amount of valuable cap-room is tied up in a player deemed expendable by his former team. Most of the players on this list are still valuable contributors. If their cap-hits were 15% less, there would be no issue, and they would be greatly appreciated, rather than constantly reminded of their impact on the bottom line. Their only crime is they were offered more money than their relative worth, and they took it. Who can say no that?
10 Paul Stastny - $7 Million
Stastny impressively started his career averaging .96 PPG over his first 4 season. He was predicted to follow in his Hall of Fame father Peter's footsteps and continue the tradition of dominant Colorado Avalanche centers like Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Stastny’s game started to drift off however. He followed his early season success with three middling seasons of .69 PPG.
Heading into free agency last season he rebounded somewhat with 60 points in 71 games, tempting teams looking for a top level center in free agency. St. Louis had a problem scoring goals, and went big on Stastny, to the tune of four years, $28 million.
9 Tomas Fleischmann - $4.5 million
A newcomer to this list. Fleischmann previously led his Panthers in scoring for two seasons, giving great value for his $4.5M cap hit. Last year, however, he struggled with just eight goals and 28 points, and this year is not much better (a goal and three points after 21 games). At this rate he is projected to score just 11 points. if Tomas cannot turn it around and provide adequate top-6 scoring he will remain a disappointing overpayment throughout the 2014-2015 season.
8 Dave Bolland - $5.5 Million
Bolland was incredibly effective for the Chicago Blackhawks while winning the Stanley Cup twice. He was an excellent shut-down center, agitating the opposition and providing plenty of timely offence, potting the cup winner in the 2013 final. Unfortunately for Bolland, success in the NHL has a price. The Blackhawks were forced to sacrifice him to the Leafs for draft picks a mere six days after his cup-winning goal.
His contract ended after one year with Toronto and he chose to sign with Florida for a whopping $27.5 million over five years. All of a sudden, his cap hit is tough to swallow $5.5 million. Bolland actually has very mediocre numbers. He has also struggled with injuries his entire career, playing more than 76 games only twice.
7 Brian Campbell - $7 Million
Quality defencemen are vital to a team's success. L.A, Chicago and Boston have all recently featured dominant no.1 blue liners in their Stanley Cup victories. Brian Campbell is not one. He was no.3 in Chicago’s championship season, and is most effective as a no.2 at most. At a cap hit of $7 million, (5th highest among all defencemen in the NHL) he is taking up far too much cap room for his contributions.
Campbell can still be quite effective. He skates the puck out of his end with ease. He can run a powerplay. And until this year (seven points in 24 games) he has had consistently strong point production (.55 PPG in three years with FLA). He will just never be the game-changing dominant force that Drew Doughty, Zdeno Chara, Duncan Keith are (all having a lower cap-hit than Campbell).
6 Brooks Orpik - $5.5 million
Brooks Orpik is overpaid in a slightly different fashion than the rest of this list. His cap hit of $5.5 million is quite reasonable for what he brings to the table. His new goaltender Braden Holtby gives a glowing review:
"He makes a very good first pass. He steadies things down back there. He’s a veteran guy that I think we were missing last year. His leadership is already showing through in our locker room. His calmness. He’s one of those guys who’s intangibles are invaluable."
Orpik also brings Stanley Cup winning experience, winning it all with the Pens in 2009.
The problem arises however, in the total length of his contract. Brooks is already 34, and this is just the first of an excessively long 5-year contract. Given the nature of Orpik’s physical play, it is highly unlikely he will provide $5.5 million worth of play for much longer. Washington most likely had to offer this ridiculous term in order to secure Orpik’s services and upgrade their defence. It just seems likely they will be regretting it in the future.
5 Mike Smith - 6 years, $5.666 Million
After middling with Tampa Bay, Mike Smith broke out in a big way in 2011-12 as a Phoenix Coyote. He recorded recorded career highs of 38 wins, a .930 SV%, and a 2.21 GAA. He also led his team on an improbable post-season run to the Western Conference Final. Smith struggled in the lockout shortened year of 2012-2013, but that didn’t stop the Coyotes from locking up their no.1 goalie for six years and $34 million.
Unfortunately, his GAA has steadily risen since his breakout season. Twenty games into the season, it’s currently at an ugly 3.29, while his SV% sits at an abysmal .890. Many Coyotes fans are frustrated that Smith and the other struggling veterans (Doan, Erat) still receive prime ice-time, in spite of their poor individual performances.
4 David Clarkson - $5.25 Million
When a player has ONE 30-goal season, and in that season he scores almost twice as many goals (30) as assists (16), that’s a big red flag. Toronto gambled on the idea of the big physical forward potting 30 goals for them every year, outbidding everyone for the former Devil. To put it lightly, the gamble has not paid off.
Last season was a complete disaster. Clarkson looked lost. Trying to do too much, he forgot how to play his game and do what made him successful in the first place. At one point he came off the bench to defend a teammate, and wound up suspended for 10 games.
This year has seen a marginal improvement. Clarkson has provided grit as an effective utility/energy player, adding some scoring touch (seven goals in 24 games). However, his lone assist and eight points are not adequate for his sizeable cap hit. If Clarkson continues at this pace he'll end up with 22 goals and 3 assists.
3 Shawn Horcoff $5.5 Million
Shawn Horcoff is not a bad player by any means. As a former captain of the Oilers and current alternate with Dallas, he provides leadership and intangibles not seen on his mediocre stat sheet. Taylor Hall once said of Horcoff “...for me to be on his line right now and sitting beside him in the room, and him kind of taking me under his wing is very special," Horcoff also proved surprisingly effective in the playoffs last year for Dallas, scoring at a point-a-game pace.
He just can’t score consistently enough to justify the cap hit. Since signing the big contract, his highest point total has been 36. His first season in Dallas, he scored just seven goals in 77 games. He is currently on pace for 29 points this season. Although if he repeats last years playoff production, Dallas really won’t care how over-paid we think he is. The only problem is, they have to get there first.
2 Dion Phaneuf - $7 Million
Dion could be a very valuable no.2 defenceman for around $5 million. He eats up a lot of minutes, plays the PP and PK , has a big shot, and can intimidate physically. TSN 1050 AM Leaf's Lunch co-host Jeff O'Neill has commented several times at how difficult Phaneuf was to play against in the past. He also notes how Phaneuf's reckless, physical, punishing style has apparently disappeared while playing in Toronto.
1 Alex Semin - $7 Million
Alex Semin must have caught the “Enigmatic Russian” bug being surrounded by his countrymen at the Sochi Olympics. After the Olympic season he went from scoring 40 goals and 84 points to a far more modest 28 goals and 54 points, and even worse production the following year. You never know what you’re going to get with old Alex as he follows in the footsteps of legendary inconsistent Alex’s: Mogilny and Kovalev.
Semin appeared to rebound with a much welcomed point-per-game effort in 2012-13. This was his first season with the Hurricanes, and surprise surprise, it was on a one-year-deal in Carolina, who rewarded his production with four years at $7 million. Semin rewarded the Hurricanes with the second lowest point total of his career and his disinterested play seems to have spilled over into this season.
Here are some really fun statistics: Semin is 421st in games played, 342nd in points, 694th in plus-minus at -8 and one goal.
Leadership and intangibles aren’t quantifiable, but if they were, he’d probably be around 694th in that too.
Carolina has tried making Semin a healthy scratch a few times already this season. He has been demoted to the bottom six and bounced around the lineup, but nothing seems to motivate him. He drives his own bus, and Carolina appears to be stuck with him. Carolina’s cap headache will end in 2017-18 or if/when Semin heads to the KHL, whichever comes first.
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