The 20 Worst NHL Contracts

I know, I’m supposed to be writing a travel blog. But when two NHL teams complete one of the more unusual trades I’ve ever seen, it gets my attention.

In exchange for Arizona’s 2nd and 3rd round draft choices in future drafts, Florida gave up Lawson Crouse–their 2015 1st round pick, 11th overall, and top prospect. Teams don’t generally do that, unless the prospect has some serious issues, like being wanted for murder or something. By all accounts, Crouse is solid citizen.

Here’s the kicker: Florida also sent to Arizona Dave Bolland. To call Bolland oft-injured would be an understatement–he has missed 158 out of a possible 294 games over the last 4 seasons. And indications are that Bolland won’t play at all in 2016-17.

More accurately, Arizona accepted Bolland’s contract–a 5 year, $27.5 million pact signed with Florida in 2014. As a team that fancies itself a Cup contender, the Panthers can’t afford to have that much cap space tied up in an injured player. Crouse was the price for Arizona to take on Bolland.

That got me thinking: what are the worst contracts in the NHL? I’m talking the most immovable objects to team-building. Multi-year deals for big money to players of declining (or non-existent) value. Think long-term; a guy might be worth the money today, but in 7 years?

I narrowed it down to 20, which wasn’t easy. Contract details are pulled from General Fanager, listed with years left, total dollars left, and average annual value (cap hit) in parentheses. In reverse order:

20. Casey Cizikas – 5 years, $16,750,000 ($3,350,000)

Cizikas is a perfectly fine 4th line center, but 4th line centers are replaceable. Check out the last 5 years of Maxime Talbot’s career to see what can happen with long-term deals to bottom-6 forwards.

19. Rick Nash – 2 years, $16,200,000 ($7,800,000)

The Rangers wanted to trade Nash, but couldn’t. That kept New York out of the free agent market, forcing them to make a series of low-dollar gambles (like Jimmy Vesey) and hope a 32-year old Nash can regain his former scoring prowess. History says this is unlikely.

18. Jimmy Howard – 3 years, $14,750,000 ($5,291,666)

Howard’s deal looked like a potential bargain just 2 years ago. But attrition among goalies in the NHL is incredible. No one wants to be locked into a $5+ million deal for a backup, especially not the cap-strapped Wings.

17. Ryan Kesler – 6 years, $41,250,000 ($6,875,000)

One of those contracts that drew immediate scorn as it was being announced. Kesler is coming off a productive season, but he turns 32 tomorrow. Does he have 6 more of them left?

16. Milan Lucic – 7 years, $42,000,000 ($6,000,000)

NHL teams covet power forwards the way Pooh craves honey. Lucic is signed through his 34th birthday, and players of his ilk do not age well.

15. Roberto Luongo – 6 years, $20,428,000 ($4,533,333 FLA; $800,000 VAN)

It’s not so bad for Florida, having Luongo locked up for the rest of his career. No, the problem is for Vancouver, thanks to a little something called cap recapture. If Luongo retires before the end of this contract–a possibility considering that he’s signed through age-43–Vancouver loses cap space. Potentially a lot of it.

14. Brooks Orpik – 3 years, $15,500,000 ($5,500,000)

Last year was the nightmare scenario Caps’ fans feared: Orpik being injured and ineffective. That happens to soon-to-be 36-year old players. Which is why most of them don’t get 5 year deals.

13. Ryan Callahan – 4 years, $22,400,000 ($5,800,000)

Callahan is a gritty, team-first player with intangible benefits, but at almost $6 million year, he had better bring some tangible offense, too.

12. Nick Foligno – 5 years, $27,500,000 ($5,500,000)

Foligno had a career year in 2014-15. He then shockingly went back to being the same player he had been the rest of his career, only with a much larger bank account.

11.  Dion Phaneuf – 5 years, $33,000,00 ($7,000,000)

Remember when The Hockey News seriously wondered if teams would rather have Phaneuf over Crosby or Ovechkin?

10. Marc-Andre Fleury – 3 years, $17,250,000 ($5,750,000)

Fleury still looks the part of a starting goalie. But it’s hard to imagine him getting the top job in Pittsburgh after the playoff run Matt Murray just had. Which means the Penguins, like the Red Wings, have a very expensive backup.

9. Bobby Ryan – 6 years, $44,250,000 ($7,250,000)

Ryan hasn’t topped 23 goals in 4 years. Yet Ottawa gave him star money. I swear I’m not picking on the Senators. But even Team USA thinks Ryan is overrated.

8. Zach Parise – 9 years, $54,000,000 ($7,538,461)

I feel bad about doing this. I love Parise’s game–it’s just nonstop energy. But he is already 32, and the decline is evident in his numbers. What’s worse, the contract is eligible for cap recapture penalties if Parise retires early; with Parise’s injury history, early retirement doesn’t seem far-fetched.

7. Andrew MacDonald – 4 years, $21,250,000 ($5,000,000)

MacDonald went from being one of the best values in the league with the Islanders to the AHL’s highest paid player after being buried in the minors by the Flyers. At least he may have reclaimed an NHL spot toward the end of last season.

6. Loui Eriksson – 6 years, $36,000,000 ($6,000,000)

Cousin Loui is a good player now. The concern is if he stops being a good player during the next 6 years. Most of the contract money is in signing bonuses, which Vancouver pays even if they buy Eriksson out. It’s essentially buyout-proof.

5. Dan Girardi – 4 years, $19,000,000 ($5,500,000)

Once upon a time, Girardi’s shot-blocking game earned him a reputation as a shutdown defenseman. As teams have begun to embrace analytics, though, Girardi’s poor possession numbers have spotlighted him as a hindrance to his team’s success.

4. Mike Smith – 3 years, $17,500,000 ($5,666,667)

Smith had a season for the ages in 2011-12. Other than that, he’s mostly been a mediocre goalie. I wonder if Coyotes’ fans would give back that 2011-12 season to get out from under Smith’s contract.

3. Dave Bolland – 3 years, $16,500,000 ($5,500,000)

Just to recap: if Bolland can’t play this season, that will make it 240 games he has missed in the last 5 seasons.

2. David Clarkson – 4 years, $25,000,000 ($5,250,000)

Clarkson was traded straight up for someone who will never play in the NHL again. And that was considered a win-win.

1. Dustin Brown – 6 years, $32,500,000 ($5,875,000)

Brown’s value went beyond scoring–he was the captain and leader of the Kings, and had an extraordinary ability to draw penalties. He now has none of those things. The cautionary tale for teams thinking of giving big money to physical forwards, like Milan Lucic. Say…

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