As September rolls around, we bid farewell to the offseason and celebrate the return of hockey. Comfortably in the rear-view lies the summer spending spree known as unrestricted free agency. As a result, we welcome new members into the fraternity of most overpaid NHL players, while also taking the time to acknowledge those who have managed to secure big money deals in the past. These players will be on the receiving end of criticism all season long, regardless of how their respective teams perform, based solely on their annual salaries. It may not be fair, but it’s probably a safe bet that they will take that trade-off.
The Bad Contracts
Marian Gaborik is entering the last year of his 5 year/$37.5 million contract, a contract he signed with the New York Rangers in 2009. Gaborik is a talented, but one dimensional player making a great deal of money. Although he provided a lot of offense in New York, his salary was one of a few that made the Rangers a top heavy team, and ultimately, he was deemed the most expendable by the team. In Columbus, his contract isn’t as detrimental, evidenced by the fact that the team was still able to go out and sign free agent Nathan Horton this summer. The real question will be whether or not Gaborik can produce with a far less talented supporting cast in Columbus, and if he can’t, this contract will begin to look a lot worse.
Brian Campbell is entering the sixth year of his 8 year/$57.143 million contract, a contract that he had signed with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2008. At the time of the signing, this deal looked like it had the potential to be an absolute disaster for the Blackhawks. Campbell was a talented player, but that kind of money and term for a player that hadn’t established the track record of an elite defenseman was a big risk. Campbell would help lead the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup Championship in 2010, making the investment worthwhile for the Blackhawks. In the following seasons, Chicago was desperately trying to clear cap space, hoping to lock up their young core, and Campbell’s contract made him trade bait. His contract was so big that they ended up trading him for pennies on the dollar, just to clear his cap hit. He is currently the number one defenseman for the Florida Panthers, playing nearly 30 minutes per night. Despite the time on ice that Campbell logs, his devastating +/- of -22 in 2013 was not even close to what the Panthers were expecting from him, and the team regressed greatly as a result. As Campbell heads into his mid-thirties, his deal won’t get any easier to stomach, even though the Panthers have more than enough cap space to spare.
James Wisniewski is entering the third year of his 6 year/$33 million contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Wisniewski signed the deal in the summer of 2011, leveraging the best season of his career into a long-term deal. Unlike many of the players on this list, Wisniewski is still in his twenties, so he is not yet at a point where his age will begin to diminish his skills. Unfortunately, he is paid based on the numbers that he posted in his career year, numbers that he has never approached in any other season. Wisniewski is set to make $6 million for the 2013-2014 season, which is the pay of a number one defenseman on most teams. That makes the fact that Wisniewski averaged the third highest time on-ice per game amongst Columbus defensemen last season, all the more discouraging. He consistently contributes offense, but not enough to substantiate his contract.
Milan Michalek is entering the last year of his 6 year/$26 million contract that he signed with the San Jose Sharks in 2008. In the last year of his deal, Michalek is set to make $6 million, a figure that carries with it some very high expectations. Michalek has had a few seasons that justified this contract, and a few less than stellar seasons that make this season’s salary look bad. Last year was not one of his better seasons. One down year does not make this contract a really bad contract for the team. Instead, it is the transactions that the team made and/or could not make due to the contract. With Michalek owed $6 million, the Senators let the face of the franchise, Daniel Alfredsson, leave via free agency. Then, in a move that may end up demoting Michalek to the second line, the Senators traded for Bobby Ryan. Michalek is only 28 years old, and will likely bounce back, but if he doesn’t, he may become a scapegoat for Alfredsson jumping ship.
The Really Bad Contracts
Roberto Luongo is entering the fourth year of his 12 year/$64 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks. Even for an elite goalie, which Luongo was at the time of this signing, this deal was risky. The contract is front loaded, but at the age of 34, Luongo still has 9 seasons and upwards of $40 million left on his deal. The Canucks traded Cory Schneider this summer, despite rampant speculation that Luongo’s days in Vancouver were done, and committed themselves to Luongo. This came as a surprise to many fans, but it came as an even bigger surprise to Luongo. He seemed completely ready to move on from the Canucks, and leave his big game struggles behind him. Instead, Luongo is stuck in Vancouver, once again the number one starter, and with each passing season, he becomes more untradeable. Barring a drastic improvement in his game, it seems unlikely that a team would trade for Luongo and his contract at this point.
Paul Stastny is entering the last year of his 5 year/$33 million contract that he signed with the Colorado Avalanche in 2009. In 2013-2014, Stastny is set to make $6.6 million. In the first year of this deal, Stastny put up career highs in assists and points, but his production has declined in each subsequent season. Stastny has been a minus player over the last three seasons, which, while not a defining statistic, is not what you want to see from a highly paid, top six forward. For a team that does not spend to the cap, this contract almost caused the Avalanche to let Ryan O’Reilly walk as a restricted free agency. Stastny is only 27 and could theoretically turn things around, but he is not trending in the right direction. Fortunately for the Avalanche, this deal expires after this season, allowing them to re-evaluate Stastny’s value. For Stastny, a big year could position him to leave Colorado and land another big deal elsewhere, while another down year could result in a hefty pay cut.
The Worst Contracts
Alexander Semin is set to begin his 5 year/$35 million contract this season with the Carolina Hurricanes. Semin is an elite offensive talent, and yet, not close to a $7 million player. Semin has one 40 goal season on his resume, but has comfortably settled into the 20-30 goal range. The top end of that range is the production of a pretty decent first line forward. $7 million per season is the value of an elite first line forward. To make this contract worse, Carolina already had 3 top offensive options in the Staals and Jeff Skinner, and the money spent on Semin could have been re-allocated throughout the roster to strengthen the overall depth of the team. At only 29 years old, the length of this contract won’t end up burning the Hurricanes, but the annual payments of $7 million could end up restricting the team’s ability to compete for another Stanley Cup Championship.
Mike Cammalleri is entering the last year of his 5 year/$30 million contract that he signed with the Montreal Canadiens in 2009. Since signing this contract, Cammalleri has reached 50 points in a season only once, falling well short of everyone’s expectations. When Cammalleri left Calgary to sign with Montreal, many assumed he was going to continue to progress to elite status. Instead, he began to regress, until the Canadiens decided to cut bait in 2012, sending him back to Calgary for Rene Bourque. In Calgary, his contract is a lot more manageable, as they have plenty of cap space. Calgary is also not a serious contender for a playoff berth, so Cammalleri’s underwhelming performance goes largely unnoticed. That said, if you look across the league, Cammalleri’s contract stands out for all the wrong reasons.
Brad Richards is entering the third year of his 9 year/$60 million contract with the New York Rangers. When the Rangers signed Richards away from the Dallas Stars, they made headlines, nabbing an elite center for their first line. His first two seasons in New York have been nothing to write home about, as his numbers have tailed off across the board. His performance reached an all-time low this past spring, when he was a healthy scratch in the Conference Semi-Finals against the Bruins. At 33, Richards can still provide value on the deal, but with 7 years remaining, he could potentially continue to decline. He is set to make $9 million this season, putting him ahead of the likes of Steven Stamkos and Evgeni Malkin. If Richards doesn’t turn it around fast, this contract could become one of the worst deals in the NHL for years to come.
Chris Pronger is entering the fourth year of his 7 year/$34.55 million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers. At the age of 38, Pronger is set to make $7 million this season, placing him sixth among NHL defensemen. In the first three years of the deal, Pronger has totaled 63 games, 50 of which came in the 2010-2011 season. Due to injuries, Pronger may never play again, a devastating loss for the Flyers and the league as a whole. To make matters worse for the Flyers, Pronger’s deal was signed after he had turned 35 years old, meaning that if he retires, the Flyers are still on the hook for the cap hit. For the next four years, Pronger will watch from the sidelines as the Flyers pay him a top salary, making this contract the worst in the NHL.
Throughout the league, there are many players that are overpaid, but these ten players represent the cream of the crop. At one point, they showed enough to warrant these large contracts, and yet, here we are, discussing where they went wrong. A headline grabbing deal might generate fan base interest, but more often than not, will end up looking far less impressive down the road. Simply put, buyer beware.