Ranking the 10 Worst Contracts in the NHL for the 2015-16 Season

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistJuly 14, 2015

Ranking the 10 Worst Contracts in the NHL for the 2015-16 Season

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    Billy Hurst/Associated Press

    A marginal increase in the NHL's salary cap for 2015-16 and limited talent in the free-agent market resulted in more reasonable contract signings this summer compared to recent years. However, there are several players entering next season carrying bad contracts signed in previous years. 

    Some, such as Columbus Blue Jackets winger David Clarkson, failed to play up to expectations after signing expensive deals via free agency. Others, like Dallas Stars center Jason Spezza, are aging veterans who were signed more for their previous exploits than their current abilities.

    The following slideshow ranks the 10 worst NHL contracts for 2015-16. Recent performance, actual salary and cap hit factored into this compilation. All players on this list are earning an annual salary-cap hit of over $5 million.

10. Jason Spezza, Dallas Stars

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    After spending 11 seasons with the Ottawa Senators, the Dallas Stars acquired Jason Spezza last July via trade. The Stars subsequently re-signed him to a four-year, $30 million contract extension commencing 2015-16.

    In Spezza's first season with the Stars, he tallied a respectable 62 points. Unfortunately, that was his lowest point total while playing more than 60 games in a season since 2003-04. Poised to earn $7.5 million next season, Spezza will be expected to put up much better numbers. That could be asking too much for a center who last exceeded 70 points in 2011-12. 

    Spezza is 32 and has undergone two back surgeries in his career, most recently in 2013. While he should remain an effective second-line center for the foreseeable future, the Stars will be paying him like a first-liner for some time. 

9. Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    A four-time 30-plus goal scorer with the Anaheim Ducks, right wing Bobby Ryan was traded to the Ottawa Senators on July 5, 2013. Last October, the Senators re-signed him to a seven-year, $50.75 million contract extension beginning in 2015-16.

    The 28-year-old Ryan must elevate his play if the Senators are to get full value for their money. Over the past two seasons, his numbers were disappointing. Ryan scored 23 goals and 48 points in 2013-14 and last season tallied 18 goals and 54 points.

    Those numbers are well below what's expected from a top-line winger, let alone one entering the first year of a lengthy new contract with an annual cap hit of $7.25 million. With Ryan approaching his 30s and his best seasons seemingly behind him, this deal could become one of the worst in Senators history.

8. Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf will enter the second season of his seven-year, $49 million contract. The average annual cap hit is $7 million, though in real salary the 30-year-old defenseman will earn $8 million.

    Phaneuf's earning the salary of a top-two defenseman, but it's obvious he's best suited for second-pairing duties. Though he's a physical blueliner with a big shot who logs big minutes, Phaneuf tends to struggle in the defensive zone. His 29 points last season were his lowest in a full NHL season since 2010-11.

    While Phaneuf was the subject of trade speculation last season, it now seems unlikely the Leafs will trade their most experienced rearguard. If they do shop him, however, that big contract could prove difficult to move. If Phaneuf isn't traded, that contract will become burdensome for the Leafs over time as his play inevitably declines.

7. Andrew MacDonald, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald's contract is an ugly legacy from former general manager Paul Holmgren. Having acquired MacDonald from the New York Islanders in March 2014, Holmgren subsequently signed him to a six-year, $30 million deal. It was a gross overpayment, as MacDonald's previous annual cap hit was $550,000. 

    While MacDonald is a decent NHL defenseman, he isn't worth $5 million annually. In his first full season with the Flyers, he netted 12 points in 58 games. It's unlikely he'll ever play up to the level expected of his annual salary.  

    MacDonald is earning more than star defensemen such as the New York Rangers' Ryan McDonagh and St. Louis' Kevin Shattenkirk. His contract could also complicate efforts to find sufficient cap space beyond next season to re-sign key forwards Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier.

6. Dave Bolland, Florida Panthers

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Florida Panthers center Dave Bolland is entering the second season of a five-year, $27.5 million contract. He's earning $5.5 million per season, which is a significant overpayment for a third-line center. 

    Panthers general manager Dale Tallon, who drafted Bolland back when he was the Blackhawks GM, sung the center's praises last summer to NHL.com's Alain Poupart. However, he managed only 23 points in 53 games last season as the Panthers missed the playoffs.

    While Bolland was a member of two Stanley Cup-winning teams (2010, 2013) with the Blackhawks, he never filled the second-line center role on a full-time basis. His best season (47 points) was back in 2009-10. As Bolland approaches his 30s, it's unlikely the oft-injured center can consistently elevate his play to the level worthy of his salary. 

5. Matt Moulson, Buffalo Sabres

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    A former three-time 30-plus goal scorer, Buffalo Sabres left wing Matt Moulson is entering the second season of a five-year, $25 million contract. While the average cap hit is $5 million, he'll earn $6 million in actual salary for 2015-16. 

    The Sabres are paying Moulson as a first-line winger, but it's doubtful they'll ever get full value for their money. His career-best season (36 goals, 69 points) came in 2011-12 with the New York Islanders, playing alongside superstar John Tavares.

    Since leaving the Isles, Moulson hasn't come close to reaching those numbers. In his first full campaign with the Sabres, he scored 13 goals and 41 points. Moulson turns 32 on November 1 and is at an age when an NHL player's performance steadily declines. His 30-goal days are well in the past.

4. Mike Smith, Arizona Coyotes

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Arizona Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith is entering the third year of his six-year, $34 million contract. His average salary-cap hit is over $5.666 million, but his actual salary for 2015-16 is $6.5 million. While he's earning the actual salary of a top NHL goaltender, he hasn't performed like one for some time.

    Smith's best campaign (38 wins, 2.21 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and eight shutouts) came in 2011-12. He hasn't come close to matching that performance. Smith turns 34 next March, meaning the chances of returning to his once-stellar form are slim. 

    In Smith's defense,  the Coyotes' defensive game wasn't the best last season. However, it's worth noting Devan Dubnyk outplayed Smith during his short tenure last season as Arizona's backup.

3. Travis Zajac, New Jersey Devils

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac is entering the third year of an eight-year, $46 million contract. While his annual salary-cap hit is $5.75 million, he'll earn $6.5 million in actual salary. Zajac is a good two-way playmaker, but he's a second-line center putting up third-line numbers.

    Zajac's best season (25 goals, 67 points) came in 2009-10. He tallied only 11 goals and 25 points last season, which were his worst numbers in a full NHL campaign. While the 30-year-old Zajac hasn't been surrounded by quality linemates in recent years, he's reaching the stage where decline in his performance is inevitable. It may have already begun.

    The Devils are paying far too much for a two-way center whose best seasons are well behind him. Zajac's contract is not one of the better decisions made by former Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello.

2. Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    Los Angeles Kings right wing Dustin Brown is entering the second season of an eight-year, $47 million contract. Though the annual salary-cap hit is $5.875 million, the Kings captain will earn $7.25 million in actual salary. Given Brown's recent performance, he's earning far more than his actual worth at this stage of his career.

    Brown's leadership and physical all-around play were crucial to the Kings' Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014. In recent years, however, his game has noticeably declined. A five-time 50-plus-point winger, Brown last reached that mark in 2011-12. He's managed only 27 points in each of the past two seasons. 

    Set to turn 31 on November 4, Brown's best seasons may be behind him. For a cap-strapped team like the Kings, their captain's big contract will complicate management's efforts to sign or retain other players. 

1. David Clarkson, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Last season, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded winger David Clarkson to the Columbus Blue Jackets for injured winger Nathan Horton, who's facing career-ending back surgery. In other words, the Leafs were so keen to shed Clarkson's awful contract, they swapped him for a forward who might never play again

    The Blue Jackets acquired Clarkson's $5.25 million annual cap hit (which includes two seasons where he'll earn $7 million in actual salary) for the next five years because Horton's career could be over. Carrying a serviceable, grossly overpaid player was better than an expensive one confined to long-term injured reserve. 

    Since signing his seven-year, $36.75 million contract with the Leafs in July 2013, Clarkson managed a grand total of 26 points through two seasons shortened by injuries and suspensions. He will earn $5.75 million in actual salary for 2015-16. With his career-best 30-goal, 46-point performance well in the past (2011-12), the 31-year-old Clarkson is unlikely to see those numbers again.

    All player statistics and information via NHL.com. Salary information via General Fanager.