Ranking the 10 Worst Contracts in the NHL Right Now

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistDecember 1, 2020

Ranking the 10 Worst Contracts in the NHL Right Now

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Several notable players, including Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom, signed lucrative contracts during this NHL offseason. They could be worth every penny to their respective teams, but there's also a risk they could become expensive mistakes.

    Some teams will sign a key player to a big raise expecting they'll remain an elite player. Such was the case with Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook. Other clubs, such as the Minnesota Wild, will ink unrestricted free agent stars such as Zach Parise and Ryan Suter believing they'll carry them to success.

    Sometimes, however, age, injuries or other factors deplete a player's skills. Others will struggle to meet the expectations that come with their high-priced deals.

    Here's our ranking of the 10 worst contracts entering 2020-21. Contract length and amount, player performance and the potential short- and long-term effects on a club's salary-cap payroll factored in to the compilation.

10. Ryan Johansen, Nashville Predators

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    The Nashville Predators thought they were getting a potential first-line center when they shipped defenseman Seth Jones to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Ryan Johansen during the 2015-16 season. So certain were they of Johansen that they signed him to an eight-year, $64 million contract in July 2017. So far, they haven't received the expected bang for their buck.

    To his credit, Johansen has had two 60-point performances during his first three full seasons centering the Predators' top line between wingers Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson. However, his production is simply not that of a franchise center with an annual $8 million cap hit.

    It can be argued the Predators' tendency to play a more defense-minded system is behind Johansen's less-than-stellar production. Nevertheless, the 28-year-old playmaker has the offensive skills to put up better numbers. He proved it with the Blue Jackets, tallying a career-best 71 points in 2014-15.

    Johansen may be earning first-line dollars, but he's played like a second-line center. There's still time for him to improve, but his performance over the past three years suggests he won't reach the level expected. If so, that overpayment will be a drag on the Predators payroll until the end of the 2024-25 season.

9. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes in August 2018, Jeff Skinner netted a career-high 40 goals in his first season with the Buffalo Sabres. They signed him to an eight-year, $72 million contract rather than risk losing him via free agency in 2019. A year later, that deal seems on the verge of becoming a long, costly problem.

    A speedy, skilled winger, Skinner had three 30-goal seasons during his eight years with the Hurricanes. While he was a streaky scorer with Carolina, he seemed to mesh well with Buffalo center Jack Eichel in 2018-19—though his production dropped sharply over the second half of the season.

    Expectations were high for Skinner entering 2019-20. With his hefty new deal, he struggled offensively and was removed from Eichel's line, finishing the season with just 14 goals and 23 points in 59 games.

    Since the Sabres signed Taylor Hall in October, the 28-year-old Skinner is expected to get second-line duty alongside former Hurricanes teammate Eric Staal. If the two fail to click, Skinner's $9 million annual average value will plague the Sabres through 2026-27.

8. Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Hoping to address their need for a proven starting goaltender, the Florida Panthers signed Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year, $70 million contract in July 2019. If the 32-year-old netminder's performance during the first season of that deal is any indication, the Panthers will have buyer's remorse over the remaining six seasons.

    The only active multitime Vezina Trophy winner, Bobrovsky joined the Panthers after backstopping the Columbus Blue Jackets to their first playoff series victory. However, he was inconsistent throughout the 2018-19 season, finishing with stats (2.58 goals-against average, .913 save percentage) well below those of his Vezina years.

    Bobrovsky's first season behind a porous Panthers defense resulted in a career-worst 3.23 GAA and a disappointing .900 save percentage. He also finished with a bloated 3.07 GAA and poor .901 save percentage as the Panthers were eliminated from the preliminary playoff round by the New York Islanders.

    A lousy defense didn't help Bobrovsky in his debut campaign with the Panthers, but his performance was also well below expectations. He could bounce back, but he probably doesn't have many more quality years remaining. If last season was a sign of things to come, the Panthers will take a $10 million annual cap hit for the next six years on a goalie well past his best-before date.

7. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    In July 2018, the Arizona Coyotes signed Oliver Ekman-Larsson to an eight-year, $66 million contract extension. However, a downturn in his performance could turn his $8.3 million annual average value into a problem for their salary cap.

    Considered among the NHL's elite defensemen, Ekman-Larsson netted 42 or more points five times from 2013-14 to 2018-19. He's still a good all-around defenseman, but his play last season (30 points) didn't reach the level expected of a player with his salary.

    Attempting to cut costs, the Coyotes tried to trade Ekman-Larsson in October, but he only agreed to waive his no-movement clause for the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks. Efforts to deal him fell through by his self-imposed Oct. 9 deadline.

    Ekman-Larsson will turn 30 on July 17. He still has time to improve enough to justify his salary. If he doesn't, it will become more of a cap issue for the Coyotes through 2026-27.

6. Andrew Ladd, New York Islanders

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    Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

    The New York Islanders made a big splash in the 2016 free-agent pool by signing Andrew Ladd to a seven-year, $38.5 million contract. A respected left winger with two Stanley Cup rings, Ladd was expected to bring championship experience, leadership and two-way skill to the Islanders. Instead, his deal became a salary-cap nightmare.

    Ladd had tallied 20 or more goals five times and 40 points seven times before joining the Islanders. While he netted 23 goals during his first season, he collected only eight assists. That was followed by a 29-point effort in 2017-18. Injuries limited Ladd to just 12 points in 30 games over the next two seasons.

    He will turn 35 on Dec. 15, and his best years are now well behind him. Having inherited this contract from his predecessor, general manager Lou Lamoriello attempted to move Ladd before the 2019 trade deadline. However, a deal with the Minnesota Wild for Zach Parise fell through. It's unlikely to be revisited given the flattened salary cap and the Isles' need to re-sign Mathew Barzal.

    Ladd is signed through 2022-23 with an annual average value of $5.5 million. He has a 15-team no-trade clause starting in 2020-21, but Lamoriello will have difficulty finding any takers. Ladd could be buried in the minors this season, but the Isles will only get $1.1 million in cap relief.

5. Loui Eriksson, Vancouver Canucks

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    In July 2016, the Vancouver Canucks signed Loui Eriksson to a six-year, $36 million contract. The two-time 30-goal scorer was expected to provide a boost of offensive skill to the wing. Instead, the deal became an ongoing headache.

    Eriksson averaged 11 goals in this first three seasons with the Canucks. He also managed 23 to 29 points each year during that period. Last season, he was limited to just six goals and 13 points in 49 games.

    Age and injuries have taken their toll on the 35-year-old. He's fallen down the depth chart as the club transitions toward younger, affordable talent, prompting trade speculation.

    Eriksson is under contract through 2021-22 with an annual average value of $6 million. His movement clause is a 15-team no-trade list, but his cap hit and declining skills will make him tough to deal. He is taking up precious cap space for the Canucks, making it difficult for them to retain key players and pursue additions via trades and free agency.

4. Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Brent Seabrook established himself as a core member of the Chicago Blackhawks beginning with his debut in 2005-06. He helped them win three Stanley Cups, but with the club now in the midst of a rebuild, his contract is hampering those efforts.

    Along with Duncan Keith, Seabrook was a crucial component on the blue line. His solid performance during his first 10 seasons earned him an eight-year, $55 million extension in September 2015.

    Over the last three seasons, however, Seabrook's play has declined as age and injuries began to take their toll. He played only 32 games in 2019-20 before undergoing season-ending hip and shoulder surgeries. The 35-year-old should be ready for next season, but he's no longer an effective top-four defenseman.

    Seabrook's $6.9 million annual average value through 2023-24 is taking up valuable cap space. He also has a no-movement clause. The Hawks will pay first-pairing money to a player who's a third-pairing rearguard.

3. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose Sharks

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The San Jose Sharks carry several players with expensive long-term contracts such as defensemen Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns and forwards Logan Couture and Evander Kane. All but Vlasic, however, can be considered important core members.

    Through the first dozen years of his career, Vlasic was invaluable as a defensive mainstay. He helped the Sharks become a powerhouse in the Western Conference, which included a march to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

    Vlasic's efforts earned him an eight-year, $56 million contract extension in July 2017. Over the past two seasons, however, his performance has declined. Now 33 years old, his best seasons are behind him, yet he's being paid as a top-pairing defenseman. His performance will likely continue to deteriorate over the remainder of his contract, which expires at the end of 2025-26.

    The Sharks could attempt to move Vlasic, but the length of his contract and his full no-movement clause would make it difficult to do so. His decline will hurt the Sharks on the ice and their efforts to find sufficient cap room to bolster the roster.

1 and 2: Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Wild landed the two biggest names of the 2012 free-agency period, signing winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to identical 13-year, $98 million contracts. While they became core members of the roster, their deals have become increasingly burdensome.

    Parise and Suter played well, but they're now in their mid-30s and no longer in their primes. They still have five more seasons remaining on their contracts, too, worth an annual average value of $7.5 million.

    They also carry full no-movement clauses, giving them control over whether they can be traded. Because their contracts were signed before term limits were implemented, the Wild could also face salary-cap recapture penalties if Parise or Suter retires before their deal expires.

    The Wild have $78.8 million invested in 22 players for 2020-21. Parise and Suter take up a combined $15.1 million—money that could be put toward restocking the roster with younger, cost-effective talent. As they grow older and their performance declines, those contracts will further hamper the Wild's effort to build and maintain a competitive club.

       

    Stats via NHL.com. Salary info via CapFriendly.