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THN.com Blog: The crush of expectations

Chris Drury is on pace for nine goals and 27 points this season, which would be his worst campaign over his 11-year career. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Chris Drury is on pace for nine goals and 27 points this season, which would be his worst campaign over his 11-year career. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

Prior to the lockout, you could forgive a player who was overpaid because it didn’t really impact the team; you could simply throw more money at the problem, filling the hole left by the underperformer.

But nowadays, and it’s been an issue that’s grown year after year since 2005-06 as more teams gravitate to the salary cap ceiling and space becomes increasingly precious, being overpaid is a crime deemed worse than anything ever perpetuated by Alan Eagleson.

If a player is heaped a handsome sum, he is expected to maintain or elevate his play, even though his best years may have gone by or were never even possible.

That has been the case with the following four. Not a soul amongst this quartet has played overly poorly, but the grand expectations placed upon them based on their stipend have resulted in unrealistic goals.

Brad Richards, C, Dallas Stars ($7.8 million cap hit)
The league’s fifth highest cap hit and 12th highest salary (also $7.8 million), Richards was rewarded for his brilliant 91-point effort and two-way play in 2005-06.

It was a steady decline in production from that point on, however, with seasons of 70, 62, 51 and 48 points. His plus-minus suffered as well – though that’s as much a product of a shaky team in Tampa – going minus-46 in the 144 games after inking the deal.

The 29-year-old is generating top-notch numbers this season and is on pace for 23 goals and 93 points, but replicating this year’s effort next season will be a must if he hopes to prove he is in fact a true No. 1 pivot and deserving of such dough.

Scott Gomez, C, Montreal Canadiens ($7.3 million cap hit)
Perhaps Gomez doesn’t belong on this list as he arguably hasn’t lived up to even what he should be – a second line center. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and suggest if he was making $4-5 million the collective complaints wouldn’t be nearly as loud.

In his two seasons in New York, the skilled setup man had seasons of 54 and 42 assists to go along with 16 goals in each campaign. The numbers weren’t bad, but the Broadway masses expected him to immediately gel with Jaromir Jagr and create instant magic. We know how that turned out.

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Now he’s on pace for his worst season ever, making Habs GM Bob Gainey look terrible in the process. If he doesn’t bounce back in the second half, he’d be overpaid at half price.

Brian Campbell, D, Chicago Blackhawks ($7.1 million cap hit)
Oh how the Blackhawks wish they could turn back the clock and avoid doling out $57 million to the mobile defenseman. Then-GM Dale Tallon should have had the foresight to see his own cadre of blueliners would develop into a formidable corps, but instead Campbell has become cap enemy No. 1 (after Cristobal Huet stepped up his game this season) on a team that will be in dire straits this summer.

The Hawks’ highest-paid player is third on their defenseman depth chart and in average time-on-ice (behind Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook), but would be a top-pair blueliner on 80 percent of the league’s clubs. Even so, few of that 80 percent would find it worth spending 12.5 percent of available cap space on a single, one-dimensional defender.

Chris Drury, C, New York Rangers ($7 million cap hit)
Blueshirts GM Glen Sather must have thought Drury was the second coming of Mark Messier when he doled out more than $35 million for seven seasons to a player who had never topped the 70-point mark.

Leadership is an intangible that doesn’t show up on the scoresheet and Drury certainly has that trait in spades, but the 33-year-old was and is better suited for second-line duty. With that in mind, his performance (22-plus goals and 56-plus points in each of his first two years on Broadway) would reap positive reviews.

But like his brethren on this list, his egregious contract will always be his millstone.

Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog appears Thursdays.

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

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