There are very few things in the NHL that devastate a team like a free-agent flop. An NHL team spends millions of dollars, which represents a big portion of their available cap space and addresses an immediate need. If the free agent doesn't deliver, it can be a disaster management and team.
The downside can come early, the spotlight is on the player who doesn't deliver after signing the big contract. Injury, ineffective play, long periods of adjustment and chemistry all conspire against a smooth transition.
In some cases, the decisions made in free agency can cost tens of millions of dollars. It's early, but here are the 10 most disappointing free-agent signings—so far—from the summer.
Contract Details: A one-year contract for $2 million.
What Was Expected: Bouchard was signed to provide offense for the Islanders. The club took a chance because of his injury history, but he's always been able to help offensively when healthy. The club certainly had every right to expect 40 points from the forward.
What's Gone Wrong: Bouchard never got going in New York. After 565 games in Minnesota, the concussions, added to wear and tear, have impacted the skill forward. Things have been so bad on the Island for Bouchard that the club placed him on waivers, and he went unclaimed.
Chances of a Turnaround: The Islanders recalled Ryan Strome when Bouchard was placed on waivers, and Strome has struggled in the NHL. Meanwhile, Bouchard is a point-per-game player in Bridgeport (AHL). If Bouchard can impact the offense in the minors, he could receive another NHL chance this season. Considering Strome's offense has been poor in his brief time with the Islanders, the club might be looking to shake things up soon.
Contract Details: A four-year contract for $12 million.
What Was Expected: Nashville signed Stalberg to be a big part of their offense and were willing to give him more playing time than he'd seen in Chicago. His previous career high was 22 goals and 43 points. Nashville expected that kind of production at a minimum from Stalberg.
What's Gone Wrong: He was slow returning from a shoulder injury and hasn't been able to impact the offense this year. His current numbers (32GP, 4-7-11) have him on track for fewer than 30 points. His playing time is less than last season in Chicago, and the Predators are not happy with his production.
Chances of a Turnaround: In a five-game period beginning December 5, Stalberg went scored a couple of goals and added two assists, returning to more normal offensive levels. Although his production since then (5GP, 0-1-1) has has taken a downturn, there's hope he can find the range again in the new year.
Contract Details: A five-year contract for $24.5 million.
What Was Expected: The Red Wings acquired Weiss to play on their second line, possibly beside Daniel Alfredsson. The idea was to create another scoring line, and Weiss had a strong track record for producing seasons above 50 points.
What's Gone Wrong: Late in pre-season he suffered a groin injury and started slowly. After 12 games, Weiss had only two points—a far cry from the expected total. The injury impacted him to the point where he was forced to have surgery for a sports hernia. Reports suggest he will be gone for many weeks.
Chances of a Turnaround: Weiss is not expected to return until after the Olympics, which means late February or early March. Although the season has been a train wreck, there's a reason for the struggles. Once he's past this surgery and recovers, the Red Wings should expect good production from Weiss.
Contract Details: A five-year contract for $24.25 million.
What Was Expected: Clowe is a power winger just a couple of seasons removed from a 60-point campaign. Although counting on Clowe for that kind of production was unrealistic, the Devils probably felt comfortable expecting 40 points from the big man.
What's Gone Wrong: In mid-October, Clowe was elbowed in the head by Winnipeg rookie Jacob Trouba, and his concussion issues have kept him out of all but six games before Christmas. He was back in the lineup last night for the Devils, playing just over 10 minutes.
Chances of a Turnaround: Clowe is a veteran player and if he can recover completely from the concussion issues, New Jersey should be able to count on a return to form.
Contract Details: A one-year contract for $1.5 million.
What Was Expected: The Habs signed Murray to provide a physical presence on their blue line and to play a reliable defensive game. Depth defenseman is a job NHL teams can cover inexpensively, but Montreal spent $1.5 million on the veteran.
What's Gone Wrong: Everything. He suffered a lower body injury late in training camp (believed to be groin) and took several weeks to get into action. Since then, he's been exposed defensively, got the daylights beaten out of him by John Scott and is -11 on the season.
Chances of a Turnaround: At 33, this looks very much like the end of the line. Veteran defensemen can fool you, but Murray's foot speed is a real concern at this point in his career. He averaged 17:35 per game last season and is playing four fewer minutes for Montreal this year.
Contract Details: A two-year contract for $5 million.
What Was Expected: The Devils signed Brunner to a two-year deal based on a very short NHL career so far (44 games with Detroit during the 2012-13 season) but clearly felt he could be a significant offensive player.
What's Gone Wrong: In his first 22 games with the Devils, Brunner didn't accomplish much (4-3-7). After that, he was better (10GP, 4-2-6). However, he suffered a knee injury just before Christmas and will be sidelined for a month.
Chances of a Turnaround: The problem for New Jersey is they don't have enough of a sample size to judge what they have in Brunner. If he comes back and scores well the team will consider him a bargain. However, based on what they've seen so far Brunner has been a disappointment.
Contract Details: A one-year contract for $3.25 million.
What Was Expected: Nabokov had been a workhorse goalie for the Islanders since arriving, and played well in 41 of 48 games during the 2012-13 season. The Islanders likely looked at his .910 overall save percentage and hoped he could sustain it or improve a little to aid their playoff efforts.
What's Gone Wrong: Two things: His save percentage has regressed to .901 and the club cannot hold third period leads—and although the blame is being shared there's more than enough for the goaltending. The number of points the Islanders have kissed goodbye in the third period is a big part of their story this season.
Chances of a Turnaround: It's a long season and the Islanders aren't out of it, but their weak link is goaltending. It is extremely likely Garth Snow replaces Nabokov as the team's starter at some point this season.
Contract Details: A seven-year contract for $37.1 million.
What Was Expected: Columbus signed one of the few real gems available in the 2013 free-agent sweepstakes, and expectations were high for Horton. A talented goal scorer along with physical play and some swagger were part of the expected package, although the club and fans would need to wait until December because of offseason shoulder surgery.
What's Gone Wrong: Horton had the shoulder surgery in the summer, with a six-month timeline for return (December). His return date has now been moved to January, and before Christmas, coach Todd Richards said he didn't know when the big winger would make his Blue Jacket debut.
Chances of a Turnaround: When healthy, Horton has enough talent to make a difference. With about half the season remaining (if he returns in January), fans can expect 10-15 goals and a tough customer every night.
Contract Details: A one-year contract for $2 million.
What Was Expected: At 43-years-old, some erosion was expected but the Ducks were probably counting on another 20 goals and strong power-play contributions. As Selanne has gone public that this will be his last year, it would also serve as a goodbye tour and a chance for fans to thank him for wonderful moments over the years.
What's Gone Wrong: Father Time has caught up to Teemu Selanne. He's on track for his worst full NHL season (even worse than the lost 2003-04 season in Denver) and is looking at more time off and fewer minutes as the season wears on.
Chances of a Turnaround: When it comes to Selanne, it's best not to say anything with certainty, especially during his retirement season. He did seem to be catching fire before the break (5GP, 1-3-4) and he could end up finishing with a flourish. I wouldn't bet against him doing it.
Contract Details: A seven-year contract for $36.75 million.
What Was Expected: Toronto signed Clarkson to a monster contract, with the expectations he would deliver as a power forward. Clarkson was signed to score 25 plus goals, provide a nasty physical presence and an ability to play with skilled men.
What's Gone Wrong: During pre-season, trying to be a good teammate, Clarkson jumped over the boards and straight into a 10-game suspension. It was a ludicrous decision, and he rightly suffered the wrath of the Leafs fan base over it. After that, Clarkson has had a difficult time finding chemistry with the Leafs' other skill forwards, and at this point, his offensive output has been wildly disappointing.
Chances of a Turnaround: Clarkson's career stats suggest it was always going to be difficult to deliver enough for this contract to be considered a good one. Still, he's young enough to play well for several more years and provide the Leafs with a physical winger who can play a complementary offensive role.