It’s becoming increasingly difficult for NHL teams to make in-season trades with one another. Many teams are up tight against the salary cap which makes taking on additional salary tough business. Teams and players have also become increasingly more willing to sign long term deals to lock up elite level players before they reach unrestricted free agency, watering down the talent level of players available for trade. Throw in the fact that there are so many three point games keeping many teams in playoff contention all season long and it should come as no surprise that there has been very little player movement in the opening months of the 2015-16 NHL season.
This isn’t really a new revelation. The lack of player transactions early in the season has been prevalent for years. As always, the deeper we get into the season, and the better idea teams have of the position and their needs,the more moves will be made and there will be a huge flurry of activity at the trade deadline, which this season falls on the rare day of February 29th. There are a few big name pending free agents who could be available for the right price, including Steven Stamkos, Dustin Byfgulien, and Eric Staal. As for players who still have term on their contract, this could finally be the year that Patrick Marleau gets dealt out of San Jose.
We’re not here to discuss the players who could be moved though. Instead we’re here to look at the players who won’t be dealt. All of these players have big money contracts. Some of those contracts were deserved at the time, some of them were not, but all 15 of these players have failed to live up to expectations and at this point have become untradeable.
15. Jordan Staal
When the Carolina Hurricanes traded for Jordan Staal and signed him to a 10-year, $60 million contract it was expected that he would emerge as more of an offensive threat, away from the shadows of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. That hasn’t happened and Staal has yet to replicate the 25 goals and 50 points he produced during his final season in Pittsburgh.
Staal has remained a strong puck possession player, but that hasn’t translated onto the score sheet. While his brother Eric could be dealt,the Hurricanes would have a difficult time finding a taker for the final six years of Jordan’s deal.
14. Mike Smith
When you think of big money contracts in the NHL, you don’t typically think of the Arizona Coyotes. However the Coyotes handed out a six year, $34 million contract extension to goaltender Mike Smith in the summer of 2013. Signing any goaltender to a long term contract is usually risky business. Smith had a great season in 2011-12, posting a 38-18-10 record with a .930 SV%, 2.21 GAA, and eight shutouts, but his play has been up and down since.
In 2014-15 he was an awful 14-42-5 with a .904 SV% and 3.16 GAA. Smith began 2015-16 well enough, but the game continues to be a roller coaster for the 33-year-old. Sooner or later the young Coyotes are going to have to find their goaltender of the future and rid themselves of Smith, but that might have to happen via a buyout.
13. Jonathan Bernier
After Bernier struggled between the pipes to end the 2014-15 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs took their goaltender to arbitration this summer, but before a verdict could be announced the two sides reach an agreement on a two year extension worth an average salary of $4.15 million. So far in 2015-16 Bernier has been terrible, going winless in his first nine starts and losing the starting job to James Reimer. With Reimer out with an injury, Bernier was given another chance to start, but continued to struggle and was benched in favor of Garret Sparks who posted a shutout in his NHL debut.
If Reimer and Sparks continue to play well, the Maple Leafs will want to move Bernier. Trading a goaltender for fair value is difficult at the best of times. Trading an unproductive goaltender who makes over $4 million per season may be impossible.
12. Stephane Robidas
Stephane Robidas’ first year of a three year, $9 million contract was a bad one. Robidas posted just six points and had a horrific 43.2 Corsi For % on an atrocious Maple Leafs team in 2014-15. Robidas has yet to play a game in 2015-16 due to an “injury”. Robidas showed no signs of injury during training camp and looked likely to be waived and sent to the minors, but before the season began general manager Lou Lamoriello revealed that Robidas would be placed on injury reserve.
For all intents and purposes, his NHL career is over. Robidas will likely remain on long term injured reserve until his contract expires, as there would be no interest in the 38-year-old from other teams and his retirement would hurt the Maple Leafs’ cap savings.
11. Travis Zajac
Travis Zajac looked like a potential top line centre for the New Jersey Devils after posting back to back 60 point seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10. However, his point totals dropped off in 2010-11 and he was limited to just 15 games the following season. This didn’t keep the Devils from signing him to an eight-year, $46 million contract after the 2012-13 lockout ended.
Zajac has mostly struggled since signing the deal. His 25 points in 74 games in 2014-15 was the lowest full season point total of his career. So far Zajac appears to be having a bit of a bounce back season in 2015-16. Still, Zajac would have to finish the season with quite an offensive improvement for anyone to consider taking on the final five years of his deal.
10. Dave Bolland
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
During Dave Bolland’s lone season with the Maple Leafs in 2013-14 he posted just eight goals and 12 points in 23 games while sporting poor puck possession numbers, but drew praise from the previous management regime for his “grit” and “leadership” abilities. When Bolland reached free agency his asking price proved to be too high for the Maple Leafs and he signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract with the Florida Panthers.
Bolland continues to be a poor puck possession and injury prone player in Florida, while his point totals continue to drop. Bolland scored just six goals and 23 points in 53 games in 2014-15. Teams won’t be lining up to trade for his $5.5 million salary anytime soon.
9. Dion Phaneuf
Phaneuf has long been a controversial player for fans and media. Some are critical of Phaneuf’s defensive play and his inability to replicate the success of his 60 point 2007-08 season with the Calgary Flames in which he finished second in voting for the Norris Trophy. Others have accepted Phaneuf for what he is: a defenseman whose offensive numbers will never be what they were, a player who is prone to defensive lapses and a guy who is better suited to be a second pairing defenseman, instead of the number one role he’s had with the Maple Leafs.
What most people can agree on is that the seven year, $49 million contract he signed in 2013 is not ideal for a player of his caliber. Phaneuf has been better under Mike Babcock, but if the Maple Leafs were to rid themselves of Phaneuf’s contract, they’d have to take back some significant salary to make it work.
8. Johan Franzen
After helping the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup in 2008 and then posting a career high 34 goals and 54 points in 2008-09, Franzen was signed to a massive 11 year, $43.5 million contract. Franzen has remained productive when healthy, but he hasn’t played more than 54 games in a season since 2011-12 and has played just two games in the last 10 months due to symptoms from a concussion.
The Red Wings are tight against the cap and at some point may need to move some salary, but they’ll have a hard time dumping the final five years of Franzen’s contract. Although as long as Franzen remains on long term injured reserve, the Red Wings will be allowed to exceed the salary cap by the amount of his cap hit.
7. Ryan Kesler
This past summer the Anaheim Ducks signed Kesler to a six year, $41.25 million contract which is a tremendous salary for a player who is clearly on the decline. The 31-year-old hasn’t reached the 50 point plateau since 2010-11 and is once pace to have his worst season since 2007-08 on an underwhelming Ducks team that was supposed to compete for the Stanley Cup. Kesler’s contract is among the worst in the NHL and the extension doesn’t even kick in until 2016-17. The Ducks probably won’t try to move Kesler any time soon anyway, but if they did it they probably wouldn’t find any takers.
6. Deryk Engelland
Deryk Engelland is a bad NHL defenseman. There’s no getting around it. His 40.2 Corsi For % in 2014-15 was the worst on a bad puck possession Flames team. He’s also one of the few enforcers remaining in a league where fighting is close to being non existent. Yet the Calgary Flames thought highly enough of Engelland to give him a three year, $8.7 million contract in the summer of 2014. The Flames will likely have to let the contract play itself out or waive and demote Engelland to the minors if they want to be get rid of him. No one is going to trade for a bad player making $2.9 million per year.
5. Dan Girardi
People often point to Girardi’s high hit and blocked shot totals as proof of his strong defensive play. This of course disregards the fact that those numbers indicate that the opposition often has control of the puck when Girardi is on the ice. Nevertheless, it was his abilities in those areas that garnered Girardi a six-year, $33 million extension from the New York Rangers in February of 2014. Since that time Girardi’s poor defensive play has been exposed, specifically during the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs when he often looked lost on the ice.
Giradi’s average ice time in 2015-16 has dropped to its lowest levels since his rookie season, while his usually bad puck possession numbers have plummeted further. It won’t be long before the 31-year-old’s contract is discussed among the worst in the league and he’ll be persona non grata in trade negotiations.
4. Bryan Bickell
After scoring 17 points in 23 playoff games on the way to a Stanley Cup victory in 2013, Bryan Bickell was rewarded by the Chicago Blackhawks with a four year, $16 million contract. Despite his strong play in that postseason Bickell had never scored more than 17 goals and 37 points in an NHL season. Fast forward two years and not surprisingly Bickell hasn’t lived up to the contract.
Bickell posted just 28 points in 2014-15 and was held goaless in the team’s run to the 2015 Stanley Cup. At the beginning of the 2015-16 season the Blackhawks placed Bickell on waivers. He went unclaimed and played seven scoreless games for Chicago before being demoted to the minors. His contract isn’t one that any other team is going to touch.
3. David Clarkson
We’re not quite sure what then Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis was thinking when he signed David Clarkson, he of only one 30 goal season, to a seven-year, $36.75 million contract in the summer of 2013. To say it didn’t work out would be an understatement. Clarkson posted just 15 goals and 26 points in 118 games for the Maple Leafs and he has yet to score a goal since being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for never to play again winger Nathan Horton. The fact that Clarkson has already been traded once under this contract is shocking, the chances of it happening again are practically zero.
2. Andrew MacDonald
During his final season with the New York Islanders Andrew MacDonald drew praise in some circles for his play, despite carrying an abysmal 43.8 Corsi For %. As a pending UFA MacDonald was dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2014 trade deadline and signed to a five year, $30 million extension. MacDonald played just one disappointing season for the Flyers before being waived and demoted to the minors prior to the start of the 2015-16 season. The Flyers can shop MacDonald all they want, no one is touching that contract with a 10 foot pole.
1. Vincent Lecavalier
The Tampa Bay Lightning orchestrated the largest buyout in NHL history in the summer of 2013 when they bought out the final seven years of Vincent Lecavalier’s contract. Lecavalier then signed a five year, $22.5 million deal to join the Philadelphia Flyers where he quickly regained the top spot as the worst contract in the league. Lecavalier scored just 20 goals and 37 points in 69 games in 2013-14 – his worst full season totals since 2001-02. Lecavalier’s play diminished further in 2014-15, leading to just eight goals and 20 points and speculation that he might be bought out for a second time.
The Flyers opted to keep Lecavalier and he’s looked even worse this season, watching many of the lowly Flyers’ games from the pressbox. The Flyers would love to rid themselves of Lecavalier’s contract, but they aren’t going to find any takers for the 35-year-old’s $4.5 million salary when he’s barely capable of playing in the league anymore. If you want to know what’s wrong with the Flyers’ organization, look no further than these last two entries.
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