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Screen Shots: Worst UFA signings of 2009

Nikolai Khabibulin had a 25-8-7 record with a .919 SP and 2.33 GAA for the Blackhawks last season. (Getty Images)

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Nikolai Khabibulin had a 25-8-7 record with a .919 SP and 2.33 GAA for the Blackhawks last season. (Getty Images)

Over the course of the past couple years, Screen Shots has weighed in on the worst unrestricted free agent contracts of each NHL off-season – and after each of those pieces were posted, your Screen Shotter-In-Chief has been deluged with nasty lash-outs from oversensitive fans who equate one person’s opinion (in this case, one formed using input from select scouts, GMs and media members) with multiple man-made bowel movements left underneath their Christmas Holiday tree.

But as always, this list is never personal; either toward fortunate players who made out like banking executives or toward GMs who act like drunken bachelors at a meet market’s last call, often picking up somebody not out of love, but solely for the sake of next-day bragging rights.

In some instances, a contract will make this list strictly because of the team doing the signing. For instance, Derek Morris’ one-year, $3.3 million deal with Boston is included below not because he’s a bad player, but because the capped-out Bruins really didn’t desperately need someone with his particular skill set.

So kick back, pop a sedative or five to calm your nerves, decide on a slur for the author beforehand to get it out of the way and dig into 2009’s five worst NHL free agent contracts (in reverse order):

Dishonorable Mentions: Donald Brashear, LW, New York Rangers, two years, $2.8 million; Mikael Samuelsson, Vancouver Canucks, LW, three years, $7.5 million; Derek Morris, D, Boston, one year, $3.3 million.

5. Jaroslav Spacek, D, Montreal Canadiens, three years, $11.5 million.
Spacek was one of Buffalo’s steadiest defensemen last season, but paying a 35-year-old blueliner $3.8 million a season – more than Chicago’s Brent Seabrook ($3.5 million), Minnesota’s Brent Burns ($3.55 million), Atlanta’s Tobias Enstrom ($3.75 million) and $200,000 less than Calgary’s Robyn Regehr (!!!) – represents a perfect example of the overpayments that take place when you’ve got tons of salary cap space, but tons more roster spots to fill out.

4. Ales Kotalik, RW, New York Rangers, three years, $9 million.
It wouldn’t be an annual list of awful free agent contracts without a contribution – or two, as you’ll see below – from Rangers GM Glen “Santa” Sather, the preferred charitable contributor among all NHL agents.

One of the benefactors of Sather’s largesse this summer is Kotalik, who will get a cool, three extra-large each season to flirt with the 20-goal plateau. He was tied with Maxim Afinogenov for the second-worst plus-minus (minus-7) of any Sabres forward last season and probably could describe every inch of the inside of coach Lindy Ruff’s doghouse from memory.

Luckily he’s got a real softy of a coach in John Tortorella this year.

3. Nik Antropov, LW, Atlanta Thrashers, four years, $16 million.
Most of us who watched Antropov play in Toronto understand how streaky of a scorer he is; the evidence of that last year came in the form of a 16-game goalless skid one month before the Maple Leafs traded him to the Rangers.

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But the statistic that best illustrates his lukewarm affect on a team during crunch time came during his short stay in Manhattan: in the Blueshirts’ final 13 games last year – six regular season matchups and seven playoff games against the Capitals and their less-than-elite defense corps – Antropov posted just three goals and only one game-winner.

Sather didn’t exactly beg Antropov to return – and when the optimist of all NHL optimists doubts your upside enough to not pay you $1 million more a year than Kotalik will earn, that should’ve been a massive red flag. It was not to Thrashers GM Don Waddell, however, leaving Thrashers fans a full four years to discover the truth the hard way.

2.  Marian Gaborik, LW, New York Rangers, five years, $37.5 million.
Nobody doubts Gaborik’s offensive capabilities, but for a Rangers team still trying to figure out its identity, committing to a five-year term for a player who has averaged more than 19 missed games a season is a gamble that would make Charles Barkley blush. And we all know how well Sather’s bets have paid off in the past, right?

1.  Nikolai Khabibulin, G, Edmonton Oilers, four years, $15 million.
Here’s how rotten the UFA market has been to goalies this off-season: other than Khabibulin’s inexplicably extended term, the only goalie to get a contract longer than two years was new Panthers backup Scott Clemmensen – and he’s only averaging $1.2 million a season over three years.

Everybody else – including potential starters Dwayne Roloson, Craig Anderson and Martin Biron – signed for one or two seasons on deals that averaged anywhere from $600,000 (Antero Niittymaki in Tampa Bay) to the $2.5 million Roloson will earn on Long Island.

If you’re telling me Khabibulin is going to give the Oilers nearly $1.25 million more a year in performance quality, especially when he’s 40 years old in the final season of his deal, I’m asking you whether Sather is consulting on the down-low for his former employer.

Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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