Ranking the 10 Worst Contracts in the NHL for the 2016-17 Season

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2016

Ranking the 10 Worst Contracts in the NHL for the 2016-17 Season

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    The NHL salary cap for 2016-17 increased only slightly, from $71.4 million to $73 million, per NHL.com. For teams carrying players with bad contracts, such as the Los Angeles Kings with left wing Dustin Brown, it makes it difficult to retain key players or to boost their roster.

    Many of the players on this list were signed to their current contracts based on their previous performances. Unfortunately, they failed to play up to expectations. As a result, they've turned into salary-cap burdens for their current clubs. 

    The following slideshow ranks the 10 worst NHL contracts for 2016-17. All carry an annual average salary of $5 million or more. Performance, salary and burden upon their respective teams' salary-cap payroll factored into the compilation.  

    You can express your thoughts on this topic in the comments section below. 

10. Matt Moulson, Buffalo Sabres

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    On July 1, 2014, the Buffalo Sabres signed left wing Matt Moulson to a five-year, $25 million contract. A former 30-goal scorer, Moulson tallied 11 goals and 29 points in 44 games with the Sabres during the 2013-14 campaign.

    For a rebuilding club in need of scoring depth, inking Moulson to a $5 million annual average salary seemingly made sense. He netted a combined 51 points in '13-14 split between the Sabres, New York Islanders and Minnesota Wild. It appeared he would remain productive over the next several seasons.

    However, Moulson managed just 13 goals and 41 points in 77 games in 2014-15. The decline continued last season, as he managed only eight goals and 21 points in 81 games. His ice time dropped sharply, averaging only 11 minutes and 54 seconds.

    Now 32, it's apparent Moulson is no longer capable of reaching his previous offensive heights. With the Sabres stocking up with younger talent, he's unlikely to see a significant increase in playing time.

    The Sabres are now paying $5 million annually for the next three seasons to a player destined to be a fourth-line winger. It's not a hindrance to them now, but Moulson's annual cap hit could become burdensome in the near future. 

9. David Clarkson, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Last season was right wing David Clarkson's first full campaign with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs for right wing Nathan Horton, whose career is likely over because of a back injury

    Swapping Horton for Clarkson meant the Blue Jackets were exchanging a high-salaried sidelined winger for one who could give them some meaningful ice time. Sadly, that didn't work out for Clarkson or the Jackets in 2015-16. The 32-year-old missed all but 23 games to injury. 

    Clarkson will be heading into the fourth season of a seven-year, $36.75 million contract. A physical, agitating forward with a decent scoring touch, Clarkson scored 30 goals with the New Jersey Devils in 2011-12. However, he hasn't come close to returning to those heights. 

    Over the last three seasons, Clarkson's managed a combined 30 points. Age and injuries have taken their toll. The Blue Jackets won't get full value for what they're paying him. 

    While his average cap hit is $5.25 million, Clarkson's actual salary for 2016-17 is $7 million. He'll get the same amount again in 2017-18. The way the deal is structured, a buyout will cost the Jackets $3.75 million per season for two seasons, followed by two seasons at $4.75 million each.

    The combination of a fading, oft-injured player carrying an expensive, almost buyout-proof contract makes Clarkson's contract among the worst for 2016-17. 

8. Andrew MacDonald, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald spent most of last season in the AHL. His contract was a significant reason, as the Flyers needed the salary-cap room. He's a prime example of a bad contract actually hurting an NHL career. 

    In the second season of a six-year, $30 million contract, MacDonald's $5 million annual cap hit makes him the Flyers' second-highest paid defenseman. However, he became more useful to them skating with their farm team. Only when Michael Del Zotto suffered what would be a season-ending injury did they have the cap room to recall MacDonald.

    MacDonald isn't a bad defenseman. He has decent puck-moving skills and logged just over 20 minutes of ice time per game last season during his brief time with the Flyers. He also finished fifth among his teammates in blocked shots (72).

    Had former Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren re-signed MacDonald to a more reasonable contract, the 29-year-old probably wouldn't have been demoted last season. His contract, not his play, kept him out of the big leagues.

    This summer, the Flyers have four restricted free agents still to re-sign (notably forward Brayden Schenn) and promising blueliners Ivan Provorov and Samuel Morin waiting in the wings. MacDonald could once again become a salary-cap casualty. 

7. Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The 12-year, $63.3 million contract inked by Marian Hossa with the Chicago Blackhawks on July 1, 2009 was a ticking time bomb for the Hawks' salary-cap payroll. It could finally explode in 2016-17. 

    Up until 2015-16, the Blackhawks got a great return on their investment in Hossa. He was consistently one of their top six forwards, helping them win three Stanley Cup championships. Despite being hampered by injuries, Hossa has still managed five 50-plus point campaigns over the last seven years. 

    Last season, however, the 37-year-old Hossa struggled through a 33-point effort in 64 games. His postseason numbers were a little better, collecting five points in seven games. Still, his overall performance was not up to his usual standard. 

    At an annual salary cap hit of $5.275 million, Hossa's contract eats up valuable cap space. That money could've been used to re-sign a young forward, such as the recently departed Andrew Shaw. It could also make it difficult for the cap-strapped Blackhawks to boost their roster. 

    Hossa could rebound with another 50-plus point performance in 2016-17. However, he's at the stage in his career when age (37) and the wear and tear of 18 NHL seasons could finally take their toll. If so, his cap hit could become more costly for the Hawks over the next five years.

6. Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard is entering the fourth season of a six-year, $31.75 million contract. The annual average salary is $5.291 million. 

    Howard's solid play from 2009-10 to 2012-13 earned him that lucrative deal. In three of those seasons, his save percentage was .920 or better, along with three 35-plus win performances. He recorded a goals-against average of 2.13 in consecutive seasons (2011-12 and 2012-13). 

    Since the first year of his current deal (2013-14), however, Howard's game has steadily eroded. Last season was his worst as a starting goalie, with a 2.80 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. He eventually lost the starter's job to young Petr Mrazek.

    The Red Wings could try to trade Howard, but they won't find many takers for a struggling starter with three seasons remaining on his contract. While his cap hit wasn't too much of a hindrance this offseason for the Wings, it could potentially hamper future efforts to re-sign key players and bring in outside talent.

    If unable to move Howard via trade in 2016-17, the Wings could leave him exposed in next June's NHL expansion draft. 

5. Jason Pominville, Minnesota Wild

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    On Oct. 3, 2013, the Minnesota Wild re-signed right wing Jason Pominville to a five-year, $28 million contract extension. At the time, he had six seasons of 50-plus points between 2006-07 and 2013-14. His new deal seemed like a good investment in a versatile, all-around veteran forward.

    Over the next two seasons, Pominville reached the 50-point plateau twice more. In 2015-16, however, he managed only 36 points in 75 games. It was his worst effort in a non-lockout season since his 30-point rookie debut in 2005-06. 

    The Wild's inconsistent play last season, which also saw a midseason coaching change, could account in part for the sharp decline in Pominville's production.

    Age, however, could also be a factor. At 33, Pominville's now at the point in his career where performance inevitably declines. 

    Pominville carries an annual salary-cap hit of $5.6 million. In actual salary, he'll earn $6.25 million in 2016-17. If the erosion in his skills proves irreversible, the Wild will have an expensive, rapidly declining veteran on their hands. 

4. Ryan Callahan, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    On June 25, 2014, the Tampa Bay Lightning signed right wing Ryan Callahan to a six-year, $34.8 million contract. The annual average salary is $5.8 million, making him the Lightning's second-highest paid forward. 

    A hardworking two-way player and former captain of the New York Rangers, Callahan became an alternate captain with the Lightning. He was expected to bring the same level of skill and production to the Bolts as he did with the Rangers.

    In 2014-15, Callahan matched a career high for points (54) and helped the Lightning reach the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. Last season, he led the Bolts in hits (164), topped all Lightning forwards in blocked shots (71) and was among their leaders in takeaways (34). However, he tallied only 28 points in 73 games. 

    A high-salaried two-way player such as Callahan must perform well at both ends of the ice. Now 31, his offensive game could be in decline. If so, his cap hit increasingly becomes a burden for the Lightning.

    Callahan's salary could take up cap space better used to retain younger, better-skilled teammates. The Lightning must re-sign restricted free agent forwards Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn this summer. Next year, rising stars Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat are also due expensive new contracts. 

3. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    On Jan. 30, 2014, the Colorado Avalanche re-signed goaltender Semyon Varlamov to a five-year, $29.5 million contract extension. The annual salary-cap hit is $5.9 million. 

    At the time, Varlamov was in the midst of a career-best season. He went on to win 41 of 63 games played, posting a .927 save percentage while backstopping the Avalanche to their first postseason appearance since 2010. He led all NHL netminders in victories, shots against (2,013) and saves (1,867), becoming a finalist for the 2014 Vezina Trophy

    Since then, however, Varlamov's struggled to replicate that stellar performance. His save percentage fell to .921 in 2014-15 and .914 in 2015-16. His goals-against average rose from 2.41 in 2013-14 to 2.56 the following season. In 2015-16, it was a bloated 2.81. 

    Part of the blame goes toward the lousy Avalanche defense. However, the number of shots against Varlamov faced fell to 1,791 in 57 games played in 2014-15 and 1,714 last season, also in 57 games. Nagging injuries also affected his play. At times, he was benched in favor of backups Reto Berra or Calvin Pickard

    Varlamov's among the NHL's highest-paid goaltenders, but his performance over the last two seasons doesn't match his salary grade. The ongoing decline of his numbers is a troubling trend for the Avs, one that doesn't bode well for 2016-17. 

2. Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    On July 18, 2013, the Los Angeles Kings re-signed left wing Dustin Brown to an eight-year, $47 million contract extension. The move came just over a year after he captained the Kings to their first Stanley Cup championship (2012) and following their march to the 2013 Western Conference Final. 

    While it was a lengthy new deal with an annual salary-cap hit of $5.875 million, it seemed a worthwhile signing at the time. The Kings were among the NHL's dominant teams and would win their second Cup championship a year later.

    Brown tallied 29 points in 46 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, with five straight 50-plus point campaigns before that. A versatile, hard-hitting winger and leader, he appeared to have several quality seasons ahead of him. 

    Since signing that contract, however, Brown's scoring has steadily declined. While still a solid defensive forward, he's averaged 27 points per season since 2013-14. Those numbers are nowhere near what's expected of a player with his hefty contract. 

    Now 31, Brown's best days are behind him. The decline in his production led to management replacing him as captain with the more consistent Anze Kopitar. However, Brown remains the Kings' second-highest paid forward. He annual cap hit is now taking up valuable salary-cap space that would be better invested in younger talent. 

1. Dion Phaneuf, Ottawa Senators

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    On Feb. 9, the Ottawa Senators acquired defenseman Dion Phaneuf in a multiplayer trade. They also picked up the full cap hit of his contract ($7 million annually) through 2020-21. 

    Phaneuf is a second-pairing defenseman earning a first-pairing salary. He regularly skates over 20 minutes per game (23:10 with the Senators last season), plays a physical style and has a big point shot. However, he can be beaten by swifter opponents and is prone to defensive mistakes. 

    If Senators management thought a change of scenery would improve Phaneuf's game last season, it was mistaken. His addition did nothing to improve the Sens' playoff hopes. While he's no longer expected to lead the defense, as he did with the Maple Leafs, his performance still doesn't match his salary.

    Phaneuf remains among the NHL's highest-paid blueliners. Indeed, his cap hit is more than Senators superstar blueliner Erik Karlsson ($6.5 million). The Senators are paying far too much for what he brings to the ice.

    Given Phaneuf's age (31) and with his best seasons in the past, the Sens are carrying an expensive declining defenseman. His salary eats up a considerable amount of cap space for the budget-conscious Senators. That could hurt future efforts to retain key players and to bolster their depth via trades or free agency.