The NHL’s 10 worst contracts

Matt Larkin
(David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
(David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

It’s not the pre-season, but it’s the pre-pre-season. That means assessing each team’s chances for 2014-15 and beyond, looking their rosters up and down and even checking out their salary cap situation.

When we peruse the contracts on capgeek.com, our eyes bug out of our head from time to time. “They paid how much for how long for that guy? I forgot about that.” Some deals have cumbersome cap hits, others absurdly long terms for players past their primes, and many have no-trade clauses. The perfect storm of bad contracts contains all three, and some of my picks for the league’s 10 worst deals fit that description.

We’ll start with No. 10.

10. Nathan Horton (six years left, $5.3 million per)

The healthy, playoff monster version of Nathan Horton is worth every cent of his $5.3-million average annual value. Columbus probably won’t feel the sting of this deal for a few seasons. But, sheesh, the Jackets are on the hook another six years, and Horton has taken a licking. He’s 29, but his body has aged into its 30s. His no-movement clause remains for the next three seasons before a limited no-trade kicks in.

9. Deryk Engelland (three years left, $2.92 million per)

Pretty bad omen to ponder how many years Engelland has left on his deal when he just signed it. Nothing against him, but to put things in perspective, if the cap hit was half as much, it would still look like an overpay. Engelland is a tenacious competitor, but couldn’t crack the Pittburgh Penguins’ top six defensemen on a nightly basis. He was a frequent healthy scratch and played 56 games. Now he’ll earn top-four money to play a top-six role, while switching to the Western Conference. Godspeed, Calgary.

8. Henrik and Daniel Sedin (four years left, $14 million per)

See what I did there? We may as well count them as a package cap hit, since they’d never change teams without each other. They commence their four-year extensions this season and will earn $7 million in real money and cap money apiece until they’re 37 years old. That’s frightening when they’re already in decline. Henrik won the scoring race with 112 points in 82 games in 2009-10, and Daniel did it with 104 points in 82 games the following season. Henrik has 95 points over 118 games in his last two campaigns. Daniel? 87 in 110. The twins aren’t done, but their cap hits, which carry no-trade clauses, are crippling. Daniel is the bigger worry. Since Duncan Keith concussed him in late 2012: just 28 goals in those 110 games.

7. Brooks Orpik (five years left, $5.5 million per)

It’s unnerving how many of the contracts on this list have wet ink. The surprising thing about the Orpik deal: when I spoke with Capitals GM Brian MacLellan a month ago, he said Orpik, not Matt Niskanen, was Washington’s original target. MacLellan and the Caps apparently didn’t see what the Penguins did: declining play from Orpik, whose body is simply breaking down at 33 after years in a physically taxing role. He’s still good enough to help Washington in the short term, as Brooks Orpik is still better than Not Having Brooks Orpik, but it looks like he’ll be a shell of a man when he finishes this contract at 38. The saving grace is the pact has no restrictions on movement. Then again, any imaginary Orpik deal down the road would almost certainly require Washington to eat some of his salary.

6. Rick Nash (four years left, $7.8 million per)

Nash’s deal carries extra sting because it’s backloaded, meaning he makes his most actual money in the final years of the deal. He’ll get $7.9 million, $7.9 million, $8 million and $8.2 million to close this puppy out. He’s a better two-way player than he gets credit for, but the Blueshirts pay No. 61 to score goals. His 26 in the regular season weren’t horrible, but three in 25 playoff games? Bitter pill. Other players within $500,000 on either side of Nash’s price: Claude Giroux, Eric Staal, Ryan Getzlaf, Phil Kessel, Shea Weber, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Steven Stamkos and Pavel Datsyuk. That’s the type of production you expect for $7.8 million.

5. Alexander Semin (four years left, $7 million per)

You never know what Semin will give you year to year. That makes $7 million an awfully big gamble, even if the money reflects his raw talent. At least there are no restrictions on his movement and some team desperate for scoring might stomach his cap hit over the last couple years of his deal.

4. Dion Phaneuf (seven years left, $7 million per)

The anti-Leaf brigade may stump for Phaneuf at No. 1, but I won’t go that far. His play doesn’t justify the $7-million price tag, and term really weighs this contract down. Feels like it was signed in haste. That said, would I pay $1 million less for a two-way defenseman who plays 25 minutes a night? Probably. It’s a bad contract, but it’s not the bad contract considering the premium on workhorse defensemen.

3. Travis Zajac (seven years left, $5.75 million per)

Now we enter the “are you kidding me?” stratosphere. Zajac was roughly a top-25 possession player in the NHL last season according to his Corsi rating, which makes his deal slightly more justifiable. Even as an advanced stats proponent, however, I believe there’s a salary barrier between “good possession player” and “good possession player who can score.” Zajac is on the wrong side of it with this money and term. His career highs are 25 goals and 67 points, and he hit those marks four years ago. Since then he’s produced like an average second-line center or even an elite third-line center. Yet Zajac makes almost as much money as Joe Pavelski does.

2. Kris Letang (eight years left, $7.25 million per)

Flash back to last summer, when Letang signed this mammoth extension. Even then, the deal looked like an overpay. He’d missed 44 games in the previous two seasons, yet the Pens agreed to make him richer than Erik Karlsson, Alex Pietrangelo and Drew Doughty. Yes, Letang was older and entering unrestricted free agency, but Karlsson, Pietrangelo and Doughty signed long-term deals, so the comparison still provides some perspective. A year later, Letang has a terrifying stroke scare on top of what was already a checkered health history. Talented as he is, this contract looks like an albatross already. He’s technically tradeable to 17 teams, as he can submit a 12-team no-trade list before each season.

1. David Clarkson (six years left, $5.25 million per)

The dead horse is so long beaten, it’s a skeleton now. Regardless, it would be irresponsible not to crown Clarkson’s whopper of a deal the NHL’s most odorous. Hey, he’s a likeable guy and he’s a near-lock to improve on last season. But, boy, six years to go. It’s not his fault, especially when the high-demand, low supply market last summer dictated his cap hit. But…six years to go.

Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blogFor more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazineFollow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin