Every team in sports, no matter how good, or how bad, has to deal with underperforming players. Whether the player or players are stuck in a rut, or just can't perform at the level in which they play, there is always at least one case on every team. This holds true in the NHL. Even the top 5 teams in the NHL last season have at least one or two players who underperform or simply cannot live up to expectations. It is bound to happen.
It's a risk for every team. Every time a player is signed, there is a risk that player could underperform or be a so called "bust". Usually, if a player has high expectations coming into a season, and is touted to be a difference maker, the more closely that player will be watched, and scrutinized for underperforming at any point of the season. For players who play for teams in "hockey crazy" markets, like Montreal, Toronto, Boston or Vancouver, players are criticized heavily and talked about in the media often. This is often the reason many players who do not deal with fame and attention well, choose to stay away from these teams. Some players cannot handle the pressure and prefer to be under the radar.
This list is based on the past two NHL seasons and features the top 20 NHL players who were highly touted, signed big contracts and ended up underperforming. This list does not include anyone who is currently a free agent or on waivers. Here are the top 20 NHL overpaid players:
15 Dion Phaneuf
Phaneuf started his career in Calgary and in his first four NHL seasons began to build a reputation of a star defensemen in the making. In his first four seasons, Phaneuf racked up 45-plus points and 10-plus goals in each season. He was a dominant, physical force on the ice, and could put up the points to prove he could score as well. Phaneuf had major potential. However, ever since being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Phaneuf's career seemed to dwindle. His point production significantly decreased as his playing time increased, the added pressure of playing for a failing organization in a market desperate for success was getting to him.
Phaneuf was constantly scrutinized and put in the spotlight for much of his career in Toronto. After the Leafs former captain was on the verge of becoming a free agent, the team signed him to a monster, deal worth $7 million a year, through the 2021-22 season. When he was traded to Ottawa last season, that contract became the burden of the Senators, and no longer a problem for the Leafs.
14 Dave Bolland
After winning a Stanley Cup in Chicago and proving himself to be a tough guy who can score, and be a crucial part of a team's success, Dave Bolland became hot property in NHL market. The Leafs scooped him up first, but then lost him to the Florida Panthers. According to many hockey analysts, the Leafs simply did not want to pay out Bolland's high salary demands, and I guess Florida saw it fit to pay Bolland what he wanted. He signed a five-year $27 million contract with the Panthers. Since signing that contract, Bolland has played two seasons in Florida and failed to play more than 55 games in each season.
He hasn't managed to score more than 25-plus points in each season and was sent down to the AHL for a minor two game stint last year. Given what has gone on in Bolland's first two seasons in Florida, he doesn't seem like the kind of player who is worth $5.5 million a year.
13 Mike Smith
When the Coyotes went on an unexpected run in 2012, and made it to the western conference finals, losing to LA, much of the credit for that run went to Mike Smith. His play in net during the regular season and in the playoffs, was top notch. Smith's stats in that season were those of a star NHL goalie, garnering interesting contract talks with the Coyotes when his contract was due to expire. The Coyotes signed Smith to a six-year, $34 million deal, worth $5.66 million a year. Since signing the contract, Smith seemed to lose his touch.
The Coyotes have not made the playoffs since Smith signed that contract and his poor play has forced the franchise to think about a possible replacement for their once star goaltender. Now, Arizona finds themselves rebuilding and Smith doesn't seem like part of the solution.
12 Joffrey Lupul
The Leafs will appear a lot on this list, considering they have not made the best financial decisions in the past five seasons. This upcoming season, Joffrey Lupul is due to make just under $7 million. That's a lot of money for someone who hasn't played more than 70-plus games in a single season since 2008-09. Lupul has been riddled with injuries his entire career and has been heavily criticized for underperforming and ringing the Leafs dry for every dollar he can manage to squeeze out of them. Last year, Lupul managed to put up only 14 points and before that, 21 points. Its fair to say, Lupul does not deserve the cap hit of $5.25 million he will be carrying this upcoming season and the one after.
It seems that Lupul will be traded the second the Leafs find a team willing to take on his contract. That likely won't happen until he's in his contract year in 2017-18.
11 Alex Burrows
Alex Burrows is set to carry a cap hit of $4.5 million this upcoming season, as he has for the past three seasons. In the past three seasons, he has failed to put up more than 33 points and has a plus/minus rating of minus-22 in those seasons combined. After Burrows managed to score 25+ goals in back to back seasons in 2010-11 and 2011-12, the Canucks were ready to sign him to a big contract. They signed him to a four year deal worth $4.5 million a year and since then, Burrows has failed to repeat the same success he had in each of those two previous seasons. Besides scoring 18 goals in 2014-15, Burrows hasn't managed to score more than 9 goals in his past three NHL seasons.
What's worse is that Burrows was signed partly for his playoff heroics, but the Canucks haven't even passed the first round of the playoffs since 2011.
10 Paul Stastny
Paul Stastny has two years left on his deal and finds himself making a base salary of $7 million for the upcoming season. His stats have hardly been overwhelming in St. Louis, as he's yet to crack the 50-point mark as a Blue. For the money he's making, clearly the Blues expected more when they signed him. With the departure of David Backes this offseason, that opens up a spot down the middle, meaning Stastny will likely have to play a bigger role for the Blues. We'll have to see if he's up to it, as he's always been a solid player, but has never quite become a great NHL player.
Hopefully Stastny can improve on his numbers, because the Blues' window to a Stanley Cup is closing as veterans continue to depart. His signing two years ago hasn't quite paid off in the way the Blues had hoped.
9 Sergei Bobrovsky
The Columbus goaltender is due to carry a cap hit of over $7 million this upcoming season. To put things in perspective, Bobrovsky went 15-19 last season, and for this upcoming season, he is making more than Carey Price, Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne. Bobrovsky won the Vezna Trophy in 2012-13 after he had an outstanding season with the Bluejackets, but since then he has underperformed. Columbus has only made the playoffs once since Bobrovsky won the Vezina trophy. In two of his past four seasons Bobrovsky has also allowed over 130 goals.
Again to put things in perspective, in his Vezina trophy winning season, he allowed 74 goals in and had a GAA of 2.00, albeit in a shortened 48-game schedule. Since that season, he has only had a GAA under 2.50 once. Bobrovsky is making more money than every goaltender in the NHL for this upcoming season except for one, Henrik Lundqvist. Let that sink in for a minute.
8 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
The Edmonton Oilers' past decade has been filled with disappointment. Young players with major potential who fail to make an impact on the team and change the losing pattern which has plagued the organization for the past 10 seasons. Nugent-Hopkins was the first overall pick in his draft class and the Oilers' second first overall pick in two seasons. The hopes were high and expectations were big for Nugent-Hopkins when he came into the NHL. In five seasons with the Oilers so far, Nugent-Hopkins has only had one season in which he had a positive plus/minus rating.
He has scored 20+ goals once in his career and last season failed to score more than 34 points. Since joining the team, the Oilers have failed to make the playoffs, and have not been able to crack the top 20 in the overall NHL standings. Seems like a lot of disappointment for a player who is scheduled to make $6 million a year for the next five seasons.
7 Jordan Staal
Staal is due to make $6 million each season for the next seven seasons, which is a lengthy contract, at a big cost for the Hurricanes. Since joining Carolina, Staal has failed to live up to the worth of his contract or the expectations placed on him by the organization. In his four seasons with Carolina, Staal has only played over 48 games twice and has only had a positive plus/minus rating in two seasons. He has failed to score more than 20 goals and put up more than 48 points.
Considering he is making the same money per season as Taylor Hall, David Backes and Joe Pavelski, his production seems really low. Since joining the Hurricanes, Staal has not met expectations and its safe to say he is being overpaid for his services. The Hurricanes would be a lot better off without Staal's contract holding them down.
6 Alexander Radulov
The last time Radulov played in the NHL, he put up great numbers. In his last full NHL season (Nashville 2007-08), he played in 81 games, scored 26 goals and put up 58 points. Since leaving the NHL, Radulov has found success as an individual player and with his team CSKA Moscow in the KHL. He is consistently in the top 10 in KHL scoring, and CSKA is consistently in the playoffs and contending for the KHL championship. Radulov's production has never been a problem.
In the NHL, his problem was his attitude and his commitment to his team. There have been numerous reports of Radulov breaking team rules during his time with Nashville. This summer, Radulov signed a one-year deal with the Canadiens worth $5.75 million. He is a big risk, because his play and performance can be unpredictable based on his attitude and commitment issues. He will be making the same money as Tyler Seguin and Marc Andre-Fluery this upcoming season.
5 Jeff Petry
In his past four NHL seasons, Petry has played for both the Oilers and the Canadiens. He has failed to have a positive plus-minus rating in each of those four seasons and has played more than 59 games, only once. For the next five seasons, Petry will be making $5.5 million a season in Montreal. Since joining Montreal, Petry has been injury plagued. He only played 51 games last season, suffering from a hernia.
He also hasn't put up more than 25 points in any of his NHL seasons and has not had a positive plus/minus ratio. Petry is locked in to a long term deal with the Canadiens and will have to prove his worth over the next few seasons, otherwise he will never see this kind of money again. He'll be asked to play a bigger role in distributing the puck with the departure of P.K. Subban from Montreal.
4 Tyler Myers
Expectations could not have been bigger for Tyler Myers coming into the NHL, but like some highly touted young players, he failed to meet expectations, and still does. Myers started his career in Buffalo, where the organization had big hopes that he could become the leader of the team from the blue line, however, those hopes were crushed. Myers has yet to have a breakout season in the NHL and impress anyone with his play. In his past five NHL seasons, he has been plagued with injury while splitting time between the Jets and the Sabres.
He's failed to produce more than 10 goals in each his past five seasons. The Jets traded away Evander Kane to land a piece like Tyler Myers so obviously the Jets were hoping he'd bring something significant to the table. That hasn't happened yet and likely never will at this point.
3 Seth Jones
Another highly touted young defensemen who had yet to live up to his expectations is Seth Jones. Jones was the no.4 draft pick in 2013 for the Nashville Predators and was expected to be an offensive force on the blue line. In his three NHL seasons, Jones has stayed injury free and has played more than 76 games in every season. However, his point production and overall impact on the ice, has been dismal in comparison to his expectations. In his first NHL season Jones put up 25 points, but had a plus/minus rating of minus-23, which he managed to improve the following season to plus-3.
After being traded to Columbus last season, Jones finished the year with 3 goals and 31 points, but had a plus/minus rating of -14. For this upcoming season, Jones will be making $5.4 million, which seems like a lot based on his production so far in his career.
However, that money is going towards his growth and hopefully, towards the player he could become in Columbus. He is locked up for the next six seasons.
2 Matt Moulson
Matt Moulson will carry a cap hit of $5 million over the next three seasons, because of the contract he signed with the Sabres two seasons ago. Since signing that contract, Moulson has not played less than 77 games in either of his past two seasons with the Sabres, which is a positive. However, not so positive, is his production. Moulson has failed to score more than 15 goals in either of his seasons with Buffalo, as well as more than 41 points. Compared to his previous production with his former team, the Islanders, Moulson is seriously underperforming.
With the Islanders Moulson hit career highs. Between 2009 and 2012 he played in every regular season game for the team and scored 30-plus goals in each of those three seasons. The Sabres signed him for his goal scoring ability and his past success in the NHL. They have yet to see a return on their investment and if Moulson fails to produce again in this upcoming season, he will become a bonafide bust.
1 Dustin Brown
Dustin Brown was stripped of his captaincy this offseason due to his decline in play. Despite his dip in production, he is still carrying a cap hit of $5.875 million for the next six seasons. That pretty much makes him untradeable and odds are the Kings will be stuck with his contract for the remainder of it.
Brown's role has been reduced to that of a bottom six player and even his leadership is not enough to make him worth that kind of money to the Kings. They'll hope that Brown can improve his numbers at some point but that seems unlikely given Brown's taxing style of play.
Brown's base salary this coming season will be $7 million even though he's likely going to be getting limited minutes. It must be nice to be making that kind of money when so much pressure is off of you.