Every NHL Team's Worst Contract Ahead of the 2014-15 Season
Thanks to the magic of compliance buyouts, many of the NHL's worst contracts have been wiped from the books, including some of the all-time most impressive (Rick DiPietro, Ilya Bryzgalov). The first wave of compliance buyouts in the summer of 2013 cleared away many of those deals, while others (including Ville Leino's) were wiped away this past June.
Still, there are plenty of bad contracts scattered across the league. We've compiled a list identifying the worst deal on each team, with the primary considerations being the age, health and talent of the player as well as the term remaining and dollar figure on each contract.
Read on to see the full list.
Anaheim Ducks: Clayton Stoner
The player: Stoner is a competent third-pairing defender who played a little over 13:00 per game for Minnesota in 2013-14. His calling card is physical play; he's both reliably rough when handling opposing forwards and willing to drop the gloves.
The contract: Anaheim gave Stoner a four-year, $3.25 million-per-season contract this July in what was a crazy period for physical defencemen.
The competition: The Ducks are pretty sound fiscally; outside of Stoner, most of the deals on the roster are entirely reasonable.
Arizona Coyotes: Mike Smith
The player: Mike Smith is a middle-of-the-pack (or slightly worse) NHL starting goaltender. He's delivered reasonable results for two seasons in Arizona following a brilliant 2011-12 campaign.
The contract: The cap hit ($5.67 million) isn't terrible for a goalie of Smith's caliber; the trouble is that the five-year term remaining is a significant risk for a 32-year-old.
The competition: Smith's contract isn't actually that bad; the problem is that Coyotes general manager Don Maloney is one of the most cost-conscious operators in the NHL. Outside of Smith, Martin Erat (one year, $4.5 million cap hit) is the only guy who stands out as any kind of significant risk.
Boston Bruins: Chris Kelly
The player: The 33-year-old Kelly has slipped into a fringe third-line role with age and seen his production drop off. He had 39 points in 2011-12 but managed just 18 last season.
The contract: Kelly has two years left at $3.0 million per season along with a limited no-trade clause.
The competition: Boston doesn't have many poor contracts, and normally, even a deal like Kelly's wouldn't stick out. However, the team has been so successful in recent years that it simply doesn't have the luxury of paying $3.0 million to a forward as unimportant to the club's success as Kelly.
Buffalo Sabres: Cody McCormick
The player: It wasn't all that long ago that Buffalo waived and demoted the now 31-year-old McCormick, who has carved out a living as a physical fourth-liner.
The contract: Three years, $1.5 million per season—a long time and decent money for a fringe NHLer.
The competition: The Sabres have a remarkably ordered financial house. A couple of pending free agents (Drew Stafford, Andrej Meszaros) are the only other deals that even really look questionable.
Calgary Flames: Deryk Engelland
The player: Generally a No. 6/7 defenceman, new Flame Deryk Engelland also spent parts of 2013-14 as a fourth-line forward with the Penguins. He's a good fighter, tough as nails and he can play a little bit.
The contract: Calgary way overpaid in free agency, giving Engelland three years at an average annual value of $2.92 million per season. His salary this year is quintuple his previous career high; he's never had a cap hit over $567,000 before now.
The competition: The Dennis Wideman deal was widely criticized when it was made, but $5.25 million per year seems less exorbitant for a player of his caliber, though it still rates a mention. Ladislav Smid is the Flames' sixth defenceman, and he will be earning $3.5 million per year for three more seasons; meanwhile, ex-Blackhawks enforcer Brandon Bollig will be paid $1.25 million per season until 2017.
Carolina Hurricanes: Cam Ward
The player: Once a highly regarded starter, Ward has suffered through two difficult years in which injury and poor performance have bogged him down. The 'Canes are widely believed to have shopped the 30-year-old with no takers.
The contract: Ward has two years left at a $6.3 million cap hit; he also boasts a no-move clause.
The competition: Alexander Semin's deal is two years longer and has a hefty $7.0 million cap hit; he slipped last year after a stellar 2012-13 campaign in Carolina but could yet rebound.
Chicago Blackhawks: Bryan Bickell
The player: Bickell is big and tough and has been a playoff producer for Chicago. He also hasn't hit 25 points in a season since 2011, and his 11:21 per game ranks him 11th among regular Blackhawks forwards in time on ice.
The contract: Chicago rewarded Bickell for an excellent run in the 2013 playoffs by giving him a four-year contract worth $4.0 million per season, which has three years left on it and a no-trade clause to boot.
The competition: It would be wrong not to mention Corey Crawford's six-year, $36 million deal; the Blackhawks have traditionally gone cheap in net (recall the team walking away from Antti Niemi after the 2010 Cup), and it isn't at all clear that Crawford's good enough to warrant abandoning that policy.
Kris Versteeg isn't overly pricey but does have two years left at $2.2 million, and Chicago could use that space. Marian Hossa's eternity deal is sometimes mentioned, but the cap hit is reasonable and he's an exceptional player.
Colorado Avalanche: Jarome Iginla
The player: Iginla has had a brilliant career, and last season, he scored 30 goals for the 12th time. The trouble is simply that his underlying numbers have slipped in recent years and at age 37, he's getting close to the end of the line.
The contract: If Iginla's performance doesn't fall off, he's pretty good value at $5.33 million per year, and the cap hit isn't a concern. But can he hold off Father Time for its three-year term?
The competition: Reto Berra's three-year deal with a $1.45 million cap hit looks pretty suspect for a guy with 31 NHL games and a .893 save percentage.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Nathan Horton
The player: The 29-year-old Horton had a disastrous first year in Ohio, scoring just four goals in an injury-shortened campaign. An extremely effective power winger when he's healthy, he hasn't been healthy often enough in recent years, and a lingering back issue, according to The Cannon's Dan P., makes him less than 100 percent for training camp.
The contract: Horton has six seasons left on his current deal at a cap hit of $5.3 million; the deal includes a no-move clause through 2017 and a limited no-trade clause after.
The competition: Columbus is fiscally responsible as a rule.
Dallas Stars: Shawn Horcoff
The player: Horcoff is a veteran two-way centre who is well-regarded for his character and work ethic. He was also a regular fourth-liner in Texas last season.
The contract: Horcoff has just one year left on a long-term deal; his cap hit is a hefty $5.5 million but his salary is a more modest $3.0 million.
The competition: Dallas really only has short-term overpays. Sergei Gonchar has one year left at $5.0 million per annum. Erik Cole has a year left on a deal that will pay him $4.0 million in salary but registers as a $4.5 million cap hit.
Detroit Red Wings: Stephen Weiss
The player: The 31-year-old Weiss was once a two-way centre of some repute, but injuries have limited him to 43 games over the last two seasons, and ineffectiveness has held him to just three goals and eight points (along with a minus-17 rating) in that span.
The contract: Four years remaining with a $4.9 million cap hit, along with a no-move clause and a modified no-trade agreement.
The competition: Most of the head-scratchers on the Detroit roster are older players who either shouldn't have been signed at all or who got too much money over a short term. Danny Cleary and to a lesser extent Jonas Gustavsson belong in the former category; Kyle Quincey arguably belongs in the latter.
Edmonton Oilers: Andrew Ference
The player: Ference is a perfectly serviceable No. 5 or No. 6 defenceman as he enters the latter half of his 30s, and he brings versatility and character to any team. He simply isn't the top-four defenceman he was for so many years in Boston.
The contract: The deal he signed in 2013 as an unrestricted free agent has three years left on a contract that pays him $3.25 million per season. The money is a little steep right now, as he looks likely to slide into the No. 5 slot on the Oilers depth chart, but it's the term that stands out for a guy nearing the end of his career.
The competition: The Oilers made a big splash in free agency, signing NHL rambler Benoit Pouliot to a rich, long-term deal and big rearguard Nikita Nikitin to a rich, short-term deal. Also in the running is Matt Hendricks, a tough defensive specialist who had three years left at $1.85 million per year and turned 33 in the offseason.
Florida Panthers: Dave Bolland
The player: Bolland ranked 10th among Maple Leafs forwards in per-game ice time in 2013-14 and ninth at even-strength ice time with third-line minutes. It's much the same role he had in Chicago in 2012-13 before falling out of favour in the playoffs and ultimately being moved for picks.
The contract: The oft-injured Bolland got term (five years) in free agency and didn't have to sacrifice dollars to do it; he'll earn $5.5 million per season in the Sunshine State.
The competition: With the exception of the incoming class of free agents, Florida isn't in bad shape. Fringe NHLer Shawn Thornton got a two-year, $2.4 million contract while ancient rearguard Willie Mitchell will earn $9.0 million over his two years with the Panthers. Beyond that, Roberto Luongo is signed until 2022 but at a modest $4.53 million cap hit to Florida.
Los Angeles Kings: Mike Richards
The player: The one-time Flyers No. 1 pivot fell to the fourth line in L.A.'s 2014 run to the Cup. That misstates his role a little—he spent time on special teams and was double-shifted—but he nevertheless has fallen off greatly from what he once was.
The contract: Richard's 12-year deal carries a $5.75 million cap hit and runs until 2020.
The competition: Los Angeles likes its long-term contracts. Dustin Brown managed 27 points last year; he's signed until 2022 at a cap hit just shy of $6.0 million. Matt Greene, the team's 31-year-old No. 6/7 defender, just got a four-year deal at $2.5 million per. Also worth keeping an eye on is Jonathan Quick, who's signed until 2023; if his performance slips or injury strikes, there is a lot of risk there.
Minnesota Wild: Niklas Backstrom
The player: Long an excellent NHL starter, Backstrom is now 36, and the wheels have started to come off. He had a .899 save percentage in 2013-14 and was the worst of the team's four regular 'tenders.
The contract: Backstrom has two-thirds of a three-year deal remaining with a cap hit of $3.42 million, a no-move clause and a no-trade clause. It's also an over-35 deal.
The competition: The Wild don't have many wasted dollars on their roster.
Montreal Canadiens: Peter Budaj
The player: Long-time backup Peter Budaj is still a reasonable No. 2 option, but he clearly seems to have lost the confidence of his coach. Given a choice between the veteran an 'tweener goalie Dustin Tokarski in the postseason, Michel Therrien opted for the latter.
The contract: Budaj only has one year remaining at a $1.4 million cap hit. It's a reasonable deal for a player of his ability, but the problem is that he's somewhat redundant, and dealing confirmed No. 2 goalies is tough to do.
The competition: Aside from an affinity for overpaying fourth-liners (Brandon Prust, Dale Weise and Travis Moen are all on multiyear, seven-figure deals), the Habs are a responsible group.
Nashville Predators: Eric Nystrom
The player: Nystrom tied his career high of 21 points in 2013-14, as he was leaned on in a third-line role by the Predators. The team was destroyed with him on the ice, though; the Preds were badly outshot and badly outscored, and this isn't a new trend for him.
The contract: Three years remain on Nystrom's four-year, $10 million contract, which includes a limited no-trade clause.
The competition: Nystrom narrowly edged out Viktor Stalberg, who is paid $500,000 per year more but also has a longer history of impressive offence.
New Jersey Devils: Ryane Clowe
The player: Clowe had an excellent career as a power forward with the San Jose Sharks, and despite a disappointing 2012-13, he's continued to score at a reasonable rate since. Over the last two seasons, however, head injuries have cost him 49 games, and at age 31, he's on the downhill side of his career arc.
The contract: Clowe has four years left on his current deal at an annual cap hit of $4.85 million; he also boasts a no-move clause.
The competition: Tuomo Ruutu rebounded after being dealt to the Devils, but the 31-year-old has a recent history of struggles and two years left on his deal, which costs New Jersey $3.8 million annually.
New York Islanders: Alexei Yashin
The player: We're cheating a little here, but this is the last year he'll be on the books—and he was the recipient of one of the worst contracts in league history. Alexei Yashin has not played in the NHL since 2007.
The contract: Yashin will be paid a touch over $2.2 million in exchange for doing nothing for the Islanders, as he has been for the past seven campaigns.
The competition: Yashin and Rick DiPietro (no cap hit, but he'll be earning $1.5 million per year until 2029) seem to have taught the Islanders prudence. The team overpaid Nikolai Kulemin (four years, $16.75 million) in free agency, but nobody on the roster is egregiously overcompensated by NHL standards, and there are some real bargains.
New York Rangers: Dan Girardi
The player: Girardi is one of the NHL's real feel-good stories—an undrafted defenceman who started his pro career at the bottom and forced his way into playing significant NHL minutes.
The 30-year-old is still playing top minutes on Broadway, but his underlying numbers have started to collapse, and he's now on the wrong side of 30. Ryan McDonagh has helped keep him afloat, but even playing together frequently in the postseason, the star defender's relative Corsi was three times as good as the total posted by his partner Girardi.
The contract: New York has made a six-year, $33 million bet that Girardi can rebound.
The competition: Glen Sather's team isn't as synonymous with spectacularly bad contracts as it once was. Outside of Girardi, only Tanner Glass (three years, $1.45 million cap hit) really stands out as a terrible deal.
Ottawa Senators: Mark Borowiecki
The player: Mark Borowiecki is a 25-year-old fringe NHL defenceman.
The contract: Borowiecki's new deal will pay him an average of $1.1 million per season for three years, which is a long time for a guy who might not be a full-time NHL player.
The competition: Borowiecki wins this by default. Ottawa doesn't really have a bad contract on the books; the closest might be the Clarke MacArthur contract but only because it has a somewhat risky five-year term.
Philadelphia Flyers: Andrew MacDonald
The player: MacDonald is a divisive player. NHL coaches and managers keep feeding him minutes, but he's an advanced stats train wreck, with his teams being routinely destroyed in terms of shot differential when he's on the ice.
The contract: The Flyers are paying $30 million over six seasons to MacDonald, who will likely continue to be a possession nightmare.
The competition: The field in Philly is formidable. Vincent Lecavalier was on the fourth line last season; he has a no-move clause and four seasons left at a $4.5 million cap hit. Steve Mason has had one good year in Philadelphia. If he works out, great; otherwise, $4.1 million per season for three more years is an albatross. Chris Pronger has an over-35 contract at just under $5.0 million for three more seasons; he's likely to never play again. R.J. Umberger has a $4.6 million cap hit, and Luke Schenn's comes in at $3.6 million.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Kris Letang
The player: Kris Letang is an exceptional defenceman, a legitimate top-pairing option who is one of the top half-dozen offensive blueliners in the NHL. The problem is health; Letang suffered a stroke last season, likely arising from his well-publicized heart condition.
The contract: If Letang's healthy, the $7.25 million cap hit poses no problems. However, the eight-year term represents an incredible amount of risk for the Pens.
The competition: There aren't any really bad contracts on the Penguins roster, and Letang wouldn't qualify under normal conditions, either.
San Jose Sharks: Adam Burish
The player: At his best, Adam Burish was a good NHL fourth-liner. He has three points in 61 games over two seasons since joining the Sharks.
The contract: He has two years left at $1.85 million per.
The competition: Tyler Kennedy's deal is a little rich (one year left at $2.35 million), and Mike Brown, inexplicably, has a two-year contract.
St. Louis Blues: Vladimir Sobotka
The player: Sobotka is a brilliant two-way pivot currently scoring at a point-per-game pace in the KHL. We're cheating a little including him because while the Blues currently own his rights, he won't be playing for them in 2014-15.
The contract: Sobotka currently has a one-year, $2.73 million contract that he was awarded in arbitration after signing in Russia, but the Blues' insistence on saving money means that a legitimate contender will be without an excellent member of its cast.
The competition: St. Louis' money-saving ways have served it well elsewhere; there really isn't much in the way of poor ocntracts on the roster.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Ryan Callahan
The player: Callahan is a heart-and-soul two-way winger who spent most of the last three seasons as captain of the New York Rangers. But he's also a smallish forward who plays a high-risk game and who has already seen his offence start to drop off. More decline lies ahead.
The contract: Callahan is the proud new owner of a six-year, $34.8 million contract with a no-move clause.
The competition: Aside from a couple of old warhorses on the blue line (Mattias Ohlund and Eric Brewer), the Lightning are in an enviable financial position.
Toronto Maple Leafs: David Clarkson
The player: Clarkson is a fine hockey player. He's tough as nails, is a reasonable possession guy and, in good years, adds some scoring punch. Now 30 years old, he's likely to decline gradually from his peak value, but last year's 11-point campaign was still decidedly unexpected.
The contract: Toronto signed Clarkson to a seven-year, $5.25 million-cap-hit deal last July, complete with no-move clause. Six years remain on the contract.
The competition: There are no shortage of candidates. Up front, Toronto is paying Leo Komarov nearly $3.0 million per year for the next four seasons; he has nine career NHL points. On the back end, Dion Phaneuf is earning $7.0 million per year until 2021, while 37-year-old Stephane Robidas has not yet been cleared for contact after breaking his leg twice last year but nevertheless will receive $9.0 million over the next three years.
Vancouver Canucks: Jacob Markstrom
The player: Formerly the Florida Panthers' goalie of the future, Markstrom has been eaten alive every time he plays NHL-level hockey and was particularly wretched in 2013-14.
The contract: Markstrom is signed to a modest one-way deal with a $1.4 million salary, which is a lot for a probable AHL goalie.
The competition: Markstrom is another "win by default" candidate. Vancouver has a number of contracts that look bad given what happened last season, but the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows are good candidates to rebound in a big way.
Washington Capitals: Brooks Laich
The player: At his best, Brooks Laich has been an awfully effective two-way guy with size, versatility and some scoring punch. However, the 31-year-old has been limited to just 60 games over the past two seasons and managed just 19 points in that span as he has fought through various injuries.
The contract: Three years remain at a $4.5 million cap hit, plus he has a limited no-trade clause.
The competition: What is it with the Capitals and guys named Brooks? Washington way overspent on physical second-pair man Brooks Orpik in the summer, signing him to a five-year deal worth $27.5 million.
Winnipeg Jets: Ondrej Pavelec
The player: Ondrej Pavelec has been the starting goalie for the Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers for five consecutive seasons now. In a league where the average save percentage is .914, he's been a league-average goalie exactly once; four times he's posted a .906 save percentage or lower. He's a reasonably competent backup miscast as a starter.
The contract: Two years are gone, but there are still three seasons remaining on a deal that pays him $3.9 million per season.
The competition: Winnipeg has been pretty bright with its contracts overall. Aside from Pavelec, the biggest exception is probably Chris Thorburn, a 31-year-old fourth-liner who will earn $1.2 million per season over the next three years, even if his play falls off and he winds up in the minors.
Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.