Every NHL Team's Riskiest Contract in the 2013-14 Season

Rob Vollman@robvollmanNHLContributor IDecember 4, 2013

Every NHL Team's Riskiest Contract in the 2013-14 Season

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    To build a winning team, you have to take risks. Risky contracts aren't necessarily bad ones, but rather deals that can make all the difference if they're successful and leave a team holding a very expensive bag if they aren't.

    While some of today's long-term deals might blow up down the road, these selections are based only on which contracts are riskiest right now in the 2013-14 season. This is based on the salary information from Cap Geek and GVT data from Hockey Prospectus.

    What is GVT? It's a high-level estimate of all of a player's overall contributions. Based on the player's current GVT, and what is expected the rest of the way based on his recent performance, the shortfall is calculated by looking at what that level of production normally costs relative to the player's actual cap hit. 

    The common theme throughout this slideshow is the risks teams will take to sign a reliable top-four defenseman, a veteran two-way forward or some stability in nets. Turn over to see the riskiest contract on a team-by-team basis, in alphabetical order.

    All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted. 


Jonas Hiller, G, Anaheim Ducks

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    Cap Hit: $4.5 million

    The Risk: League-average play only, for the past three seasons.

    Resulting Shortfall: $3.9 million

    The Potential Reward: Elite goaltending, like his All-Star 2011 season.

    Jonas Hiller's contract expires this year, at which point he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Will Hiller be dealt? The Ducks have Viktor Fasth (who is no bargain himself at $2.9 million per year) and Frederik Andersen, which could make Hiller expendable.

    The 31-year-old Swiss goalie has had some good seasons, and his underlying numbers aren't quite as bad as they appear. While his overall .904 save percentage may be 30th in the NHL (minimum 10 GP), his .921 in even-strength situations is currently tied with Mike Smith, Ryan Miller, Antti Niemi, Tim Thomas and Henrik Lundqvist for 20th, according to NHL.com.

    The tight competition for the top job and Hiller's admittedly mediocre play thus far makes it unlikely he can live up to the last year of his current deal. It does, however, make it more likely that a lucky NHL team might be able to sew up a solid starting goalie for a discount this summer.

Jarome Iginla, RW, Boston Bruins

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    Cap Hit: $6.0 million (including bonuses)

    The Risk: Age has caught up with Iginla, who has 19 goals in his past 71 games.

    Resulting Shortfall: $2.3 million

    The Potential Reward: A 30-goal season, and his tremendous experience, grit, leadership and clutch play.

    The Boston Bruins knew that of the $6.0 million invested in Jarome Iginla this season, only some of it would get results that could be seen in the scoresheet. The leadership and veteran experience that Iginla can give the Bruins is what they were really after when signing the 36-year-old legend to a one-year deal this offseason.

    Over $17 million is nevertheless a lot to invest in a single line, even if Iginla can get the most out of linemates David Krejci and Milan Lucic. If the gamble pays off, it could very well make the difference between winning the Stanley Cup and coming up short, something that would likely happen if they did nothing at all.

    To make things a bit more confusing, Iginla's cap hit is actually $1.8 million without performance bonuses, with the additional $4.2 million actually going toward the team's 2014-15 cap if he receives them. Iginla could theoretically be a bargain this year and simultaneously a guaranteed big loss next year to a club he's no longer playing for.

Tyler Myers, D, Buffalo Sabres

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    Bill Wippert/Getty Images

    Cap Hit: $5.5 million

    The Risk: A 25-point defenseman who struggles in his own end.

    Resulting Shortfall: $4.0 million

    The Potential Reward: A big and physical 50-point two-way defenseman, like his rookie season.

    The Buffalo Sabres have taken some big gambles over the years, almost as big as their 6'8" star defenseman, Tyler Myers.

    Myers was rewarded for his red-hot rookie and sophomore seasons with a $12 million paycheck for the 2012-13 season, plus a $10 million signing bonus. This was the bulk of a total cap hit of $38.5 million over his seven-year deal that will last through the 2018-19 season.

    Former general manager Darcy Regier even brought back free-agent Henrik Tallinder in an attempt to re-ignite the 23-year-old Myers, but it's been met with very limited success so far. Even if Myers manages to come around, too many of Buffalo's recent gambles have missed their mark, leaving this season essentially over.

Tuomo Ruutu, C, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

    Cap Hit: $4.75 million

    The Risk: An oft-injured offensive-minded player who struggles to score 30 points.

    Resulting Shortfall: $3.7 million

    The Potential Reward: A beloved and hard-working pest who reaches the 50-point plateau.

    Selected ninth overall in 2001, Ruutu was acquired from Chicago for Andrew Ladd and immediately won over fans and management with his hard-working play. It's that same kind of play that could turn things around right now.

    Unfortunately, the 30-year-old Finn is recovering from offseason hip surgery and is an offensive-minded player with only five points in 22 games. Ruutu still has two more years left on this contract after this.

    Ruutu's contract isn't the only cause for alarm in Carolina, for sure. Not only is $6.3 million in cap space invested in Cam Ward for the three more years, but a total of $15.25 million is tied up in Eric Staal and Alexander Semin for the same period of time, plus two more $7.0 million seasons for Semin alone after that.

    Quite a few things have to break right for Carolina to climb back into the playoff picture, including a return to form from Tuomo Ruutu.

Karri Ramo, G, Calgary Flames

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    Derek Leung/Getty Images

    Cap Hit: $2.75 million

    The Risk: A goalie with an .894 career NHL save percentage.

    Resulting Shortfall: $2.2 million

    The Potential Reward: His outstanding play in the KHL translates to top NHL goaltending.

    After tearing up the KHL for three seasons, Karri Ramo was signed to a two-year deal this offseason to replace fellow famous Finnish countryman Miikka Kiprusoff as the starting goalie for the Calgary Flames. Unfortunately, it's a job the 27-year-old already lost to NHL newcomer Reto Berra.

    Ramo was actually acquired by the Flames in January 2012 as part of the same deal in which they got Mike Cammalleri, whose $6.0 million deal ends this season. That contract is really the last one left on a team that used to take a lot of contract-related risks.

    In the end, and relative to the Flames' recent history, $2.75 million actually wasn't a lot to risk on a goalie of Ramo's potential. He has proven his ability to shut the door on one continent, and he can do it on another.

Nikolai Khabibulin, G, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Cap Hit: $2.0 million (including bonuses)

    The Risk: A 40-year-old replacement-level goalie.

    Resulting Shortfall: $1.4 million

    The Potential Reward: Key veteran experience stepping in whenever he's needed.

    The cash-strapped Chicago Blackhawks are not a team with a lot of money to throw around nor are they in a position where they need to take any risks. Those are just two reasons why their goaltending decisions have been riskier than expected.

    Starter Corey Crawford was given an extension that carries a $6.0 million cap hit until the end of 2019-20. Since that doesn't officially kick in until next year, it's his 40-year-old backup, Nikolai Khabibulin, whose deal may be riskiest right now.

    Khabibulin was injured during his fourth appearance this season, during which time his save percentage was .811 with a goals-against average of 5.00. Since his injury, he's been capably replaced by Antti Raanta, who may even remain Chicago's backup even upon the Bulin Wall's return. Things are obviously going well when this deal (or Bryan Bickell's) is your biggest risk.

Paul Stastny, C, Colorado Avalanche

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    Cap Hit: $6.6 million

    The Risk: A second-line center with point totals in the low 50s.

    Resulting Shortfall: $2.5 million

    The Potential Reward: One of the game's better two-way forwards, potentially scoring 80 points.

    Paul Stastny is on the final season of a five-year deal signed after scoring 185 points in 193 games by the time he was 23. The Avs' star forward was then shifted into a more defensive role, and his scoring consequently dropped.

    The 27-year-old is having something of a bounce-back season on the surprising, young Avalanche—but not bouncing quite high enough to fully cover the risk of his high-priced deal. It's a tall order, but when their overachieving young stars inevitably begin to cool off, it's going to be up to players like Stastny to keep the team going.

    Colorado is otherwise not a team taking on a lot of risk right now. It has made big investments in players like Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, but not the kind that carry much risk of a backfire.

Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Cap Hit: $5.625 million

    The Risk: League-average goaltending.

    Resulting Shortfall: $4.1 million

    The Potential Reward: Another Vezina-winning season and a playoff berth.

    You can hardly fault the Blue Jackets for opening their wallets wide for a two-year deal with Sergei Bobrovsky, whose Vezina-winning performance in nets almost got them their second-ever franchise playoff berth.

    The opportunity to visit the postseason is worth taking a risk, and another year like that would almost definitely get them there. Only five points out of the final Eastern Conference position, it might not even be too late for "Bob" to catch fire.

    The Blue Jackets, who had taken on a few moderately risky deals prior to Bob's contract, recently adopted a high-risk, high-reward mentality. If the addition of Bobrovsky, Nathan Horton and Marian Gaborik all pan out, the Jackets could go from cellar-dweller to a playoff team almost instantly. If they don't, then at least no one can claim they didn't try.

Shawn Horcoff, C, Dallas Stars

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    Cap Hit: $5.5 million

    The Risk: An adequate third-line center falling short of 30 points.

    Resulting Shortfall: $4.7 million

    The Potential Reward: Strong veteran defensive play and leadership, and up to 60 points.

    After years of narrowly missing the postseason, the Dallas Stars completely re-invented themselves this past offseason, a strategy that always comes with some risk.

    Take Shawn Horcoff, for instance. He was one of the league's more solid two-way second-line centers when his 2009 six-year deal was initially signed, but he's been not much more than a capable defensive third-line pivot ever since.

    It was a long shot, but the potential of having an elite shutdown center, and potentially one whose offense might get re-kindled by the right linemates, was a gamble the Stars felt they should take. Some of their moves will pay off and some may not, but sitting idle would never work in the powerhouse Western Conference.

Stephen Weiss, C, Detroit Red Wings

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    Cap Hit: $4.9 million

    The Risk: An oft-injured third-line center with seven points in his last 39 games.

    Resulting Shortfall: $3.3 million

    The Potential Reward: An experienced and consistent two-way forward, like his four preceding seasons.

    The Detroit Red Wings took an uncharacteristic gamble this offseason. Rather than a short-term deal like the single-year contract offered to Daniel Alfredsson, long-time Florida Panther Stephen Weiss was signed to a five-year deal that carries an annual cap hit of $4.9 million.

    The 30-year-old Weiss, who was the fourth overall selection in 2001, is coming off a season cut short by wrist surgery, and he has already struggled through a groin injury so far this year as a Wing. These recent misfortunes were, however, preceded by six seasons as a solid two-way center.

    These types of deals can be season-makers when they work out, but they always come at some risk. Weiss has just three points in 22 games, or seven in 39 games over the past two seasons. The Wings are in the thick of things even without Weiss playing his best game, so it's easy to see how his return to form could put them over the top.

Ales Hemsky, RW, Edmonton Oilers

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    Cap Hit: $5.0 million

    The Risk: An oft-injured forward who hasn't topped 42 points since 2008-09.

    Resulting Shortfall: $3.2 million

    The Potential Reward: An established talent among the team's scoring leaders.

    Ales Hemsky signed a two-year deal in the 2012 offseason, which makes him a free agent at the end of this season. Given his playmaking potential, there will likely be someone interested in the 30-year-old Czech despite his frequent injuries and his 34 points in his last 66 games, but it probably won't be the Oilers.

    Given Edmonton's slow start in the powerhouse Western Conference, they will likely be sellers at this year's trade deadline. They have already shown themselves prepared to trade veteran players like Shawn Horcoff and Ladislav Smid, so Hemsky could be changing uniforms at some point as well.

    Meanwhile, Hemsky is being paired up with Sam Gagner in an attempt to ignite the intensely talented Nail Yakupov. Success on that front could easily propel Hemsky back up the team's scoring race and justify the financial investment the Oilers have made in him.

Brian Campbell, D, Florida Panthers

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    Cap Hit: $7.14+ million

    The Risk: Solid two-way play, but well short of Norris consideration.

    Resulting Shortfall: $3.4 million

    The Potential Reward: Norris-level two-way hockey and a fourth 50-point season.

    The Florida Panthers picked up some real value-priced veterans this past offseason. Brad Boyes, Tom Gilbert and Scott Gomez add up to just a $2.8 million combined cap hit. Brian Campbell, on the other hand, carries a cap hit of over $7.1 million all by himself.

    Campbell is a great defenseman, even at age 34. He plays almost 27 minutes a game and is currently just one point back of the team's scoring lead. He usually makes a star out of his blue-line partner and should be getting a lot more consideration of Team Canada than he has.

    All that being said, it's awfully hard to live up to this kind of contract, one which goes on for two more years after this. The season might already be over for Florida, but one more 50-point season from Campbell could be the difference-maker. Sergei Gonchar and Dan Boyle are the only active NHL defensemen with more of them.

Dustin Brown, RW, Los Angeles Kings

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Cap Hit: $5.875 million

    The Risk: A decent two-way 40-point winger.

    Resulting Shortfall: $2.3 million

    The Potential Reward: A hard-working, do-it-all captain scoring 60 points and leading the team to another Stanley Cup.

    The Los Angeles Kings are a great example of what can happen when a team takes the right risks—and they pay off. They won the Stanley Cup in 2012 by signing Drew Doughty to a long-term, high-priced deal and then taking on the high-risk contracts of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards

    More recently, they locked down their hero of the 2012 Cup run, goalie Jonathan Quick, to a 10-year, $58 million contract after that one monster season. He may be struggling with injuries at the moment, but it's the type of move that only a few teams are prepared to make.

    But this year, the riskiest deal might be captain Dustin Brown's. The Kings' 29-year-old hard-working leader has gotten off to a slow start, scoring just nine points in his first 27 games. The Kings are risk-takers, and they're unbeatable whenever those risks are all paying off. Their fate this year might rest on Brown's shoulders.

Dany Heatley, LW, Minnesota Wild

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    Cap Hit: $7.5 million

    The Risk: Hasn't been a top-line scoring threat in years.

    Resulting Shortfall: $6.0 million

    The Potential Reward: One of the world's former best scorers somehow achieves a third 50-goal, 100-point season.

    Dany Heatley was once one of the league's best offensive players, but after a season with just 21 points in 36 games, and with only nine points in his first 28 games this year, it appears highly unlikely that this contract's risk will pay off in its final year.

    Minnesota signed superstars Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to high-priced deals that run until 2024-25. While these obviously carry some long-term risk, there is very little chance of these contracts biting them anywhere soft this year.

    As for Heatley, the 32-year-old always poses a strong secondary scoring threat. In the right situation, he can still easily go on a tear—just not enough to justify his current cap hit. 

Brian Gionta, RW, Montreal Canadiens

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    Cap Hit: $5.0 million

    The Risk: A 34-year-old who hasn't topped 46 points since 2008-09.

    Resulting Shortfall: $2.9 million

    The Potential Reward: Returns to the scoring levels he last achieved in New Jersey, where he once scored 48 goals and 89 points.

    At 34 years of age, Brian Gionta has been consistently scoring at the half-a-point-per-game rate for four seasons now and therefore is at risk of falling short of his $5.0 million contract in its final season.

    Gionta was a top scorer in New Jersey prior to his five-year stay in Montreal, even scoring 48 goals in 2005-06 alongside Scott Gomez.

    Signing a 31-year-old player coming off a 60-point season to a five-year, $5.0 million deal is always the type of contract that carries some risk. It is one that would have paid off if the 5'7" forward had regained anything close to his 48-goal form.

Roman Josi, D, Nashville Predators

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    Cap Hit: $4.0 million

    The Risk: A defenseman who scores about 25 points and can't play against top lines.

    Resulting Shortfall: $2.3 million

    The Potential Reward: A solid top-four defenseman on a team that desperately needs one.

    The Nashville Predators used to take on a lot of risk, signing middling forwards who were past their primes to long-term deals with cap hits of at least $4.0 million.

    They have since backed away from that strategy in favor of locking down superstars like Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne to long-term deals at top dollar. One of the few long-term $4.0 million deals was offered to Roman Josi, who is signed through 2019-20.

    At age 23, Josi easily has the potential to develop into a top-four role and may even become a bargain some day. But probably not in 2013-14.

Travis Zajac, C, New Jersey Devils

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    Cap Hit: $5.75 million

    The Risk: A low-scoring defensive-line forward.

    Resulting Shortfall: $4.7 million

    The Potential Reward: A durable two-way forward who threatens 70 points.

    Travis Zajac is a complete, durable and versatile player. He can work both the penalty kill and the power play, hasn't missed a game in five of the past six seasons and was named New Jersey's Unsung Hero in 2011.

    This past January, it really didn't seem like much of a risk to lock down a player like that until 2020-21 at $5.75 million per season. Unfortunately, the 28-year-old has just 36 points in his last 89 games over the past three seasons, which is about half the pace required for that type of cap hit.

    New Jersey also took some risks signing Martin Brodeur's deal last year, who will still be getting $4.5 million at age 41 this season. Ryan Clowe is another risky deal, a 31-year-old signed at $4.85 per season until 2017-18. All that being said, the Devils are a team that will be ready to compete this very season if all three gambles pay off.

Evgeni Nabokov, G, New York Islanders

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    Cap Hit: $3.25 million

    The Risk: A 38-year-old netminder unable to compete at the level of an NHL starter.

    Resulting Shortfall: $2.7 million

    The Potential Reward: Steady and reliable goaltending for a team in desperate need of such.

    The New York Islanders are 2-10-1 in their last 13 games, dead last in the Metropolitan division and may have gone to great expense to acquire Thomas Vanek for nothing.

    The playoff bubble team did much to improve its forward depth this offseason but has taken the risk of neglecting to do the same on the blue line or in nets.

    That's why the Isles' fate is in the hands of 38-year-old Evgeni Nabokov, a two-time Olympian and 2008 Vezina finalist. He brings 12 seasons and 86 postseason games of NHL experience and is worth the gamble that the 38-year-old has one more year left in him.

    Given Kevin Poulin's inability to carry the load, the Islanders are anxiously awaiting Nabokov's return from a groin injury. The Nabokov gamble is one of the key risks that will need to pay off if the Islanders are going to climb back into contention.

Rick Nash, LW, New York Rangers

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    Cap Hit: $7.8 million

    The Risk: A 30-goal, 60-point player no longer capable of carrying a team's offense.

    Resulting Shortfall: $3.9 million

    The Potential Reward: A franchise player.

    Brad Richards and Rick Nash are two players that the New York Rangers are gambling can bust loose offensively, making their combined $15.5 million cap hit (for several more years) a non-issue.

    Unfortunately, Nash, the five-time All-Star and two-time Olympian, missed 17 games with a concussion, and the Rangers are currently tied with Nashville for 24th in NHL team scoring.

    Even when healthy, living up to the eighth-highest cap hit in the league is a tall order for the 29-year-old, who has only a single 70-point season under his belt. It's a long shot, but in the right situation, Nash could achieve the same scoring levels as his cap hit comparables, which would almost surely be enough to propel the Rangers to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

Milan Michalek, LW, Ottawa Senators

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    Cap Hit: $4.3+ million

    The Risk: Has 28 points in 50 games over the past two seasons.

    Resulting Shortfall: $2.3 million

    The Potential Reward: Another All-Star 35-goal, 60-point season, like 2011-12.

    The Ottawa Senators are having an unexpectedly bad season this year, partly because top-line forwards Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza and starting netminder Craig Anderson haven't been playing anywhere near their tremendous upside potential.

    Michalek, who has always been a solid defensive player, has in fact recently been moved off Spezza's top line to play with Zack Smith on the checking line. The 28-year-old Czech is unlikely to bounce back offensively in that situation, which could lead to a pay cut this summer when his current deal expires.

    The Senators aren't out of it yet, currently sitting just four points back of the final postseason position and with far more talent than most of the teams ahead of them. Michalek is probably the riskiest gamble among those that will have to pay off if the Sens are going to ultimately overcome these early setbacks.

Mark Streit, D, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Cap Hit: $5.25 million

    The Risk: A defensively sheltered 35-point defenseman.

    Resulting Shortfall: $3.1 million

    The Potential Reward: A 50-point offensive catalyst and team leader.

    The Flyers are a team famous for taking contract-related risks, whether it's Jeff Carter, Mike Richards or Ilya Bryzgalov.

    This year, they've really invested in their blue line. They have four defensemen with cap hits of at least $4.0 million, with two more close behind. Minnesota, in contrast, has just a single defenseman making at least $3.0 million.

    Third or fourth on the depth chart right now by most metrics is 35-year-old Mark Streit, who signed a four-year deal that runs through the 2016-17 season. With nine points in 27 games, Streit is on pace for his worst season ever and is becoming one of the team's riskier deals a lot sooner than expected.

Mike Smith, G, Phoenix Coyotes

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    Cap Hit: $5.66+ million

    The Risk: A league-average goalie with only one spectacular season.

    Resulting Shortfall: $3.4 million

    The Potential Reward: A return to outstanding 2011-12 levels.

    The Phoenix Coyotes have been more prepared to take chances on big contracts recently, whether it's on Mike Smith, Shane Doan or Mike Ribeiro.

    Based on his outstanding run in 2011-12 when he finished fifth in Vezina voting, not to mention an equally spectacular playoff run, Mike Smith was offered a deal to make him the ninth-highest paid goalie in the NHL. Despite being 31 years old, it was a six-year contract that runs through the 2018-19 season.

    Smith has consequently taken on one of the league's heaviest workloads this year, despite the great work by backup Thomas Greiss. Even though the victories are still rolling in, Smith's play so far has already started to suggest that his success in 2011-12 might have been the exception and not the rule.

    Phoenix's continued success in the tough Western Conference may very well depend on the gamble it took on its star goalie paying off, and soon.

Paul Martin, D, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Cap Hit: $5.0 million

    The Risk: A solid but not dominant top-pairing defenseman.

    Resulting Shortfall: $0.8 million

    The Potential Reward: Defensively outstanding while scoring over 30 points.

    To be perfectly frank, the Penguins don't have any particularly risky contracts. At least not until Kris Letang's eight-year, $58 million deal kicks in next season.

    The only contracts on Pittsburgh's books at the moment are all perfectly sized, with very little risk at all. Perhaps the only risk they've taken is to run themselves right up against the cap ceiling without very much room to maneuver at the trade deadline.

    As for Paul Martin, he's one of the league's top penalty-killers, excels at shutting down opposing lines in all manpower situations and is on pace for his best season yet. The only risk is that any injury or slowdown will result in a slight shortfall.

Chris Stewart, RW, St. Louis Blues

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    Cap Hit: $4.15 million

    The Risk: A one-dimensional and inconsistent scorer.

    Resulting Shortfall: $1.9 million

    The Potential Reward: Leads the team in scoring for the second consecutive season.

    The St. Louis Blues are possibly one of the most conservative teams in the NHL when it comes to contracts. Signing their scoring leader a two-year deal worth $4.15 million per season was actually their riskiest decision.

    Chris Stewart is an offensive-minded power forward whose primary contribution is to score, which is something he doesn't always do consistently. His first year as a Blue, for example, he scored just 30 points in 79 games and was a healthy scratch during their playoff run.

    This year, Stewart has just 11 points in 26 games and looks to be heading down that same path. Fortunately, the Blues are an absolute juggernaut of a team even without his scoring and could become downright unbeatable if their minor gamble pays off.

Martin Havlat, RW, San Jose Sharks

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    Cap Hit: $5.0 million

    The Risk: Often injured; 50 points in 92 games over the past three seasons.

    Resulting Shortfall: $1.8 million

    The Potential Reward: A seventh 20-goal season, and matching 2010-11's 62 points.

    San Jose's Martin Havlat is in the penultimate season of a six-year contract he signed with Minnesota the year after his career-high 77 points in Chicago. He did manage 62 points in his last year with the Wild (2010-11), earning a spot in that year's All-Star Game.

    Havlat's time in San Jose has been less successful. Often injured, and just coming off a bilateral pelvic floor reconstruction, the 32-year-old Czech has just 50 points in his 92 games as a Shark over the past three seasons, or 23 in 53 games over the past two. That 35-45 point pace is nowhere near enough for their investment in him to pay off.

    The Sharks will be significantly reducing their risks at the end of the season, when the contracts of Dan Boyle, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau all come to their conclusions. That will free up just under $20.6 million in combined cap space.

Ryan Malone, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Cap Hit: $4.5 million

    The Risk: Often injured; 17 points in 47 games over the past two seasons.

    Resulting Shortfall: $2.2 million

    The Potential Reward: Tough and sound two-way play. 

    There's not a lot of risk on Tampa Bay's roster, though the Lightning have spent a few extra bucks on some veteran defensemen. Their one big offseason gamble was forward Valtteri Filppula, which has paid off handsomely.

    Their biggest risk this season is probably 34-year-old Ryan Malone, who signed a seven-year deal back in the 2008 offseason. While he did score at least 20 goals in six of his first eight seasons, the 2010 U.S. Olympian has just 17 points in 47 games over the past two seasons and isn't the same defensive standout he once was.

    To increase the risk level even further, Malone has struggled with injuries for years and actually fractured his ankle hours before this article was published, per the Tampa Bay Times' Damian Cristodero. The Lightning are a surprisingly competitive team this year, even without Steven Stamkos, and an effective and healthy Malone can keep them that way.

David Clarkson, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Cap Hit: $5.25 million

    The Risk: Inconsistent defensive play, topping 32 points only once.

    Resulting Shortfall: $3.2 million

    The Potential Reward: Added toughness and another 30-goal season. 

    The Toronto Maple Leafs took some risks this offseason, letting Mikael Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur go, trading for Jonathan Bernier and signing Tyler Bozak and David Clarkson to big deals.

    Some of those moves were riskier than others and have had mixed results so far. Right now, most of the attention is on Clarkson, who signed a seven-year deal with an annual cap hit of $5.25 million that would be hard to earn even if he did match the 30 goals he scored in 2011-12.

    Clarkson's single-season career highs are otherwise 17 goals and 32 points. With nine points in his final 36 games last year, and five points in 17 games so far this year, his 14 points in 53 games is surprisingly typical for him. Having been recently demoted to the checking line, his 20-25 point pace is unlikely to change.

    John-Michael Liles's contract is another risky deal, but it's one that is being buried in the AHL, potentially for all of its three remaining seasons.

David Booth, LW, Vancouver Canucks

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    Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

    Cap Hit: $4.25 million

    The Risk: Nine points in 29 games over the past two seasons; often injured.

    Resulting Shortfall: $2.5 million

    The Potential Reward: A strong and fast second-line forward.

    Building a second scoring line behind the Sedins is obviously a must for Vancouver, but it's also something that can require taking some risks.

    David Booth signed a six-year deal back in 2009 after his 30-goal, 60-point season with Florida. Booth has since failed to top 23 goals or 40 points in any single season.

    Booth is a fast and strong power forward and could be just what the Canucks need in a second-line winger. Frequent injuries and a lack of scoring are just two reasons why this has failed to materialize thus far.

Mike Green, D, Washington Capitals

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    Michael Martin/Getty Images

    Cap Hit: $6.08+ million

    The Risk: Hasn't topped 26 points since 2009-10.

    Resulting Shortfall: $4.0 million

    The Potential Reward: A third 70-point season working with Ovechkin as the power-play quarterback.

    Mike Green posted back-to-back 70-point seasons five years ago, including one where he scored an amazing 31 goals. It's easy to see why the Washington Capitals would gamble on a player like that, even after the mere 31 points and 81 games in the two seasons that followed.

    When Green is healthy and playing consistently, he's still capable of great chemistry with Alexander Ovechkin to fuel the league's most potent power play, as last year's 26 points in 35 games can attest. Green has 12 assists in 24 games this year but surprisingly no goals on 62 shots.

    Martin Erat is another equally risky contract, both for what was sacrificed to pick him up from the Nashville Predators and for the steep $4.5 million deal that continues through 2014-15.

Tobias Enstrom, D, Winnipeg Jets

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Cap Hit: $5.75 million

    The Risk: A 30-point second-pairing defenseman.

    Resulting Shortfall: $3.5 million

    The Potential Reward: His third 50-point season as part of the league's best defensive pairing.

    The Jets are a team prepared to take some risks, especially in an effort to finally bring playoff hockey back to Winnipeg. One of those risks is investing $5.75 million per year for the next five seasons in 29-year-old defenseman Tobias Enstrom.

    The upside is for Enstrom to boost his scoring levels back to his 2011 All-Star level, when he had back-to-back 50 point seasons the final two years in Atlanta. Along with Dustin Byfuglien, 23-year-old defensive specialist Zach Bogosian and the up-and-coming Jacob Trouba, that could give Winnipeg one of the league's better top fours.

    The risk is that Enstrom's high-scoring days are behind him and that his more recent 30-point pace will become typical. While you can't fault Winnipeg for gambling, that would probably knock the Jets out of contention in the monster Western Conference.


    Rob Vollman is author of Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, co-author of the annual Hockey Prospectus guides and a featured ESPN Insider writer. @robvollmanNHL.


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