There have been grumblings from the NHLPA that they want their contracts to remain secret from the public. Today’s NHL is so heavily influenced by cap hits it's incredible. A player like David Clarkson was loved in New Jersey, and would be loved on any team if he made just a couple million less. But that's supply and demand for you. Glen Sather knows more than anyone how crazy free agency can make you (Bobby Holik, Valeri Kamensky, Chris Drury, Scott Gomez etc...). To be fair to Clarkson, when he signed, there was a much more favorable response to the contract. The Toronto media even slapped him on the cover of the newspaper with the infamous “Wendel Clarkson” photo, there was nowhere to go but down. Defencemen like Clayton Stoner and Rob Scuderi were crucial parts to their teams' success but once they step into a higher pay rate, they become a liability preventing their team from improving. And how will we see Chicago’s two massive contracts this upcoming season? Chicago has been in a cap crunch ever since they won their first modern-era cup, no other team has contributed more to parity then the Hawks. It should be another feeding frenzy this off-season.
How far can the cap continue to rise? There are already teams that don’t pay to the maximum, and each year will continue to push that higher. The benefit of this, is that the poorer teams can take on those front-loaded contracts, utilizing their cap space and lack of real dollars. If Clarkson's contract can be traded, it gives hope to everyone on this list.
The list of bad contracts only seems to grow as free agency continues to drive up the market value unrealistically every year. This trade deadline showed just how thin the available talent is, and how many teams consider themselves in the race. Expect to see a few more names join this list July 1st 2015. This list will take into account a player's annual cap hit and the term left on the contract.
18 Andrew MacDonald - $5 million through 2019-20
The Flyers have such a great group of forwards, that their lack of success must be so frustrating for the fans, though by now they must be used to it. The Flyers have always built their team like a video game, putting the emphasis on flashy forwards over defence and goaltending. MacDonald is a decent defenceman but nowhere near worth his $5 million cap hit. He is taking up precious cap dollars that could be spent on a top-pairing guy. The Flyers need to completely rework the back end of this team before they can compete with teams like New York or Tampa Bay.
17 Kari Lehtonen - $5.9 million through 2017-18
He’s been off and on as a number one goaltender, and that's just not good enough or his huge cap hit. In his defense, the Dallas defense has been terrible but Lehtonen hasn't provided enough of a difference. There are too many goalies out there looking for work that could be had for far less. With the Stars now having acquired Jonas Enroth, you wonder if they'll try to move Lehtonen and try to re-sing a cheaper option in Enroth, or perhaps make a run at a James Reimer in free agency.
16 Stephen Weiss - $4.9 million through 2017-18
Detroit rarely makes a misstep. They have a reputation for being the ultimate window shoppers. They show plenty of interest around the league but usually do the right thing and shy away when the price gets too high. Weiss looked good coming in. His skill set should have fit like a glove in the Detroit system. Perhaps losing for so many years in Florida had a negative impact. Weiss has shown flashes of effectiveness, but has suffered injury trouble preventing him from getting any solid momentum. Weiss has the potential to turn it around and provide a veteran presence for at least a year if and when Datsyuk retires.
17. Travis Zajac - $5.75 million through 2020-21
The Devils are in trouble. Their payroll is built like a Stanley Cup team, and they would be, if it was 10 years ago. Zajac has always been more about intangibles than scoring, but as the Devils float through mediocrity, they’re stuck with his large cap hit for six more years! If the Devils ever decide to rebuild, his contract would prove tough to move.
You’ve gotta feel for Cory Schneider. He got his wish to be a number one goaltender and make the big money, but now he's stuck in the ultimate hangover from the New Jersey Stanley Cup era.
15 Bryan Bickell - $4 million through 2016-17
The Blackhawks have to make tough decisions every year when it comes to their cap. Look around the league and see former Blackhawks in prominent positions. Just look back at their 2009-10 roster and see how many have spread out across the league. The Hawks chose to gamble on Bryan Bickell after his playoff success. He hasn't been able to replicate that in the regular season, and sits at $4 million a year until 2017. Not a terrible contract for most teams, but with Chicago's two massive contracts kicking in next season they can't spare a nickel. If he can turn it on again in the playoffs he will redeem himself, but for now, he makes it on the list. What's crazy is, had he hit free agency in 2013, the contract would still be far worse. Many said he took a hometown discount to remain in a good situation.
14 Clayton Stoner - $3.25 million through 2017-18
Clayton Stoner had a great run in Minnesota and the fans wanted to keep him, but not for $3.25 million. While he provides a great physical preference on the third pairing, it doesn't justify his salary. In today's NHL that spot is usually taken up by a younger player making far less. Anaheim's weakness heading into the playoffs is their defensive depth, and Stoner is currently hogging too much of the pie. Luckily for Anaheim they have a bargain on the blueline in Cam Fowler.
13 Dan Girardi - $5.5 million through 2019-20
It seems $5 million is the going rate for a solid defenceman, and Dan Girardi looked to be worth it a season or so ago. Unfortunately his play has regressed and the Rangers are stuck with him for a while. Even though the going rate for defencemen is incredibly high, he has a no movement clause for the next few years, and a modified no-trade after that. The Rangers want to win now, and they depend on Girardi giving them as much bang for their buck as possible.
12 The Sedins - $7 million through 2017-18
The Sedins have shown flashes of brilliance this season but their age and the increasing speed of the game have dampened their effectiveness. They're not an ideal first line at this point and are taking up the lion's share of the salary cap for the next three years. At a few million less they would give great value as a second line or a 1B line providing adequate scoring while mentoring the next generation of stars like Bo Horvat. For the next few seasons, new GM Jim Benning will have little flexibility to make any drastic moves.
11 Nathan Horton - $5.3 million thru 2019-20
For the moment, the Toronto fan base looks at this as the greatest contract in the NHL. Their prayers were answered when Horton's uninsured contract allowed them to put a band-aid on the gaping wound of Clarkson's deal.
While Leafs-nation is overjoyed, an uninsured $30+ million for a player who unfortunately will most likely never play again is obviously a terrible value to everyone outside of the insurance company.
Here's hoping that Horton can recover enough to live pain-free and enjoy the fruits of his labour.
10 Roberto Luongo - $5.33 million through 2021-22
This one has almost been forgotten about since Luongo's return to hockey obscurity in Florida. The problem is not his play, which has been excellent, nor the very reasonable cap-hit for such a reliable workhorse. It's the fact that Luongo's contract doesn't expire until he's in his 40's. It's a ridiculous reminder of the loopholes in the previous CBA. While it's not impossible for Luongo to play out out his contract, it's highly unlikely and seems unavoidable that Vancouver will get smacked with a cap-recapture penalty.
9 Vincent Lecavalier - $4.5 million through 2017-18
This guy proves money doesn’t buy happiness. Already bought out of one gigantic contract, he was promptly signed to another over-payment. While his bank account is happy, the former Stanley Cup winner has been miserable in Philadelphia. The Flyers haven't found a fit for Vinny, and they fired the coach he was excited to play for. The Flyers are a mess, and this contract is not helping at all. Remarkably, if it was possible, Lecavalier would be the first NHL player to be bought out twice!
8 Dave Bolland - $5.5 million 2018-19
An excellent utility player paid like a top liner. For the next few years this shouldn’t be a problem as the Panthers are still waiting for some of their pieces to grow. The problem is that this contract goes until 2019, which could become a big liability when their younger players like Aaron Ekblad or Aleksander Barkov need a raise. Although Dale Tallon proved his genius once again, somehow getting powerhouse center Nick Bjugstad at $4.1 million for six years!
7 Johan Franzen - $3.9 million through 2019-20
The wings went with Johan Franzen over Valtteri Filppula and are probably regretting it now. The contract almost made sense at the time but looks awful now and will continue to worsen with every year. Franzen is already 35, has suffered through injuries and is posting one of his worst seasons so far. The Wings are in a tough spot because they will either keep him on the roster until he's 40, or if he retires they will suffer cap penalties.
6 Cody Hodgson - $4.25 million through 2018-19
Cody Hodgson is further proof that Alain Vigneault is a mastermind of a coach. While in Vancouver, Vigneault was criticized heavily for not playing Hodgson more, for not pushing him as one of the offensive leaders on the team. At that point, he was behind a Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler in their primes. He was too small to be a proper third line center, and couldn't find a fit as a winger. Vigneault protected Hodgson with a ridiculous amount of offensive zone starts against the weakest possible opposition. His stock was never higher in that season, which is the reason Vancouver fans were livid that they traded away what they thought was their next captain for the unknown Zack Kassian.
Hodgson has never progressed beyond that season. He has the defensive liabilities of a junior player, and remains just a little too slow and small to be considered a legitimate top two centre. While his contract would be awful on just about any other team, the Sabres can handle this contract. They are embracing futility and obviously going for Connor McDavid to eventually replace Hodgson. Until then, Cody can keep Connor’s spot warm for him.
5 David Clarkson - $5.25 million through 2019-20
The untradeable contract... was traded! If Dave Nonis is responsible than he did well to revive his GM credibility after a poor string of signings. There have been rumors that this deal was proposed by Clarkson's agent, who has been known to make magic happen (heck he got Clarkson signed to that contract in the first place, right?). Whatever the case, Toronto just found a magical solution that every team in the league has now took notice of. And now that it’s out there as a viable solution, we will most likely be seeing more moves like this. Horton's uninsured LTR contract is a special case of course, but there are still other contracts that can benefit from this strategy. Front loaded contracts with high cap hits could be moved to poorer teams who have the cap space and not necessarily the actual dollars to pay them.
5. Mike Smith - $5.666 million through 2018-19
Every team wants a reliable number one goaltender and sometimes they jump on it too soon. Goaltending is a ridiculously unreliable position, and big money contracts too often come back to bite you. While Smith had three strong seasons, he has been far below acceptable for his massive cap hit. It doesn’t look to be getting any easier for Smith as two of their top defencemen were just traded at the deadline. Here are the top five after Ekman-Larsson : Michael Stone, Connor Murphy, John Moore, Brandon Gormley, and Andrew Campbell.
Good luck with that.
4 Dustin Brown - $5.875 million until he’s 37
Dustin Brown is arguably an integral part of the Kings' success. The captain and soul of the team, he is extremely valuable, but not quite as valuable as his golden contract. The contract was pushing it when he signed it in his prime, and it's getting worse every year. This absolutely reeks of Chris Drury's huge contract with the Ranger$. Another heart and soul guy that lost his effectiveness very fast, particularly when they have to give Anze Kopitar a new contract next year.
How bad will this look when he's 37.
3 Mike Richards - $5.75 million through 2019-20
What a ride this guy has seen. Handed the franchise in Philadelphia with his buddy and given a lifetime contract, he was unceremoniously moved out of town after coming within two games of the Stanley Cup. Who would have thought he would quickly win two Cups and then find himself in the AHL? When one of the best teams in the league would rather receive a minuscule amount of cap space (far less than his actual cap hit) to move you to the minors, it’s not looking good. After seeing the Nathan Horton trade, Dean Lombardi must be kicking himself. The problem with having him in the AHL is that it could potentially kill whatever value he had left. Unless his play has been so awful that Lombardi would prefer no GM be able to see it.
2 Dion Phanuef - $7 million through 2020-21
So much has been written about poor Dion. At the time of his signing it actually seemed fair value. As a young man he was a wrecking ball in Calgary, and many predicted he would continue to progress. The weight of the captaincy and number one position have taken a heavy toll on his game. Let's be fair though, as it’s been very tough to play defence in Toronto. Since he’s been there, the forwards have had a video game mentality. The defence are constantly left to fend for themselves with nary a pass option.
It's a tough situation. Detroit was willing to acquire him if the Leafs ate some of the contract. But that's the problem, for a few million less, the Leafs would love to keep him too.
1 Alexander Semin - $7 million through 2017-18
Ah, $7 million, for three and a half more seasons of absolute mediocrity. Although to be fair, the Hurricanes are embracing mediocrity in their race to disgrace, and hopefully a top two pick. We've seen Clarkson moved, but Semin’s has to be even tougher. Semin provides zero value. While Kessel is criticized for his lack of leadership and defence, the man always scores, even when playing with Tyler Bozak. Semin doesn’t score, he doesn’t play defense, he’s not known for his leadership, and he's been a healthy scratch. If the KHL was in better shape, you’d have to believe Semin would already be gone, but with their financial woes, Carolina is stuck paying him the big bucks until 2018.