David Clarkson (Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)
NHL free agency is always a crapshoot – and columnist Adam Proteau ranks the 10 biggest mistakes teams made when signing players last summer.
The NHL’s unrestricted free agency period is a crapshoot and sometimes the emphasis is on the crap. For every savvy signing – say, Tampa Bay’s five-year contract with Valtteri Filppula, or Boston’s one-year deal with Jarome Iginla – there is at least one free agent deal that sends fans screaming for the weeping tissues. Here are the worst free agent deals signed last summer:
10. Damian Brunner, Devils, two years, $5 million. Some devout Red Wings fans were sad to see Brunner depart the organization after a rookie NHL campaign that included 12 goals and 26 points in 44 games last season. They were less sad after watching him score just 11 times in 60 games this year while averaging only 13:32 of ice time.
9. Derek Roy, Blues, one year, $4 million. Yes, Roy only signed a one-year contract with St. Louis, but it hardly could’ve gone worse for him. The onetime 32-goal-scorer had only nine goals in 75 games as a Blue and was a regular-season and playoff healthy scratch. There’s no chance the 30-year-old returns to the team or makes nearly as much money next season.
8. Daniel Briere, Canadiens, two years, $8 million. Briere is renowned as one of the league’s good guys and seeing the Montreal native head home to play for the Canadiens made for a nice off-season story. It didn’t translate on the ice, though: he had only 13 goals and 25 points in 69 games – nearly one-third of the totals he posted for Philadelphia in 2010-11 (34 goals and 68 points in 77 games).
7. Viktor Stalberg, Predators, four years, $12 million. Since his first NHL days with Toronto, Stalberg has shown flashes of brilliance, but never much in the way of consistency. The Preds were gambling that would change when they signed the 28-year-old to a big-money deal, but he had fewer goals (eight) in 70 games this season than he did last year (nine goals in 47 games with Chicago).
6. Niklas Backstrom, Wild, three years, $10.25-million. Backstrom was a solid netminder through some lean years for Minnesota, but when he signed a three-year contract last summer, he was coming off a year where he posted ordinary numbers (.909 save percentage, 2.48 goals-against-average) – and because he was 35, his contract was guaranteed to stay on the Wild’s salary cap books regardless of whether he retired. The Finn has suffered a slew of injuries this season and his stats (.899 SP, 3.06 G.A.A.) are gruesome.
5. Mike Ribeiro, Coyotes, four years, $22 million. Despite producing at least 51 points in each of his first nine full NHL seasons, Ribeiro has become a journeyman in recent years. So when the 34-year-old joined the Coyotes – the fourth team of his career – on a massive, long-term contract, skeptics wondered if he could be a real difference-maker for Phoenix. The skeptics were validated when he posted only 16 goals and 47 points in 80 games this season. Nobody has ever questioned Ribeiro’s talent with the puck, but when you pay someone $5.5 million a season, you expect more than what he provides.
4. Bryan Bickell, Blackhawks, four years, $16 million. Bickell was a revelation for the Hawks in the 2013 playoffs when he scored nine goals (including two game-winners) and 17 points in 23 games and the cap-challenged team faced a tough decision with the pending UFA last summer. Management made the choice to trade center David Bolland to Toronto to make financial room for Bickell, but the 28-year-old winger hasn’t delivered this year (11 goals and 15 points in 59 games). Was GM Stan Bowman fooled by Bickell’s playoff success skating on a line with stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane? Sure seems that way.
3. Ryan Clowe, Devils, five years, $24.25 million. As a longtime member of the Sharks, Clowe was renowned for his robust physical game – but players of that ilk often break down as they enter their thirties. Clowe was 30 when he signed a massive deal with New Jersey – and wouldn’t you know it, he missed 39 games this year (albeit with a head injury) and amassed just seven goals and 26 points. Playing on the low-scoring Devils, it seems rather unlikely he’ll get back to the career-best 24 goals he scored for San Jose in 2010-11. New Jersey has always found ways to employ high-energy, gritty players, but Clowe is earning far too much to play that role.
2. Stephen Weiss, Red Wings, five years, $24.5 million. Weiss was a four-time 20-goal-scorer with the Panthers when he left Florida for Detroit. Unfortunately for him and his new team, the 31-year-old struggled with a groin injury all season long and finished the 2013-14 campaign with just two goals and four points in 26 games. In part because Weiss was so undependable, Red Wings GM Ken Holland had to make a deal for former Predators pivot David Legwand at the trade deadline. With four years left on his contract, Weiss is stuck in the Motor City and may face a drastically reduced role if Holland chooses to bring Legwand back.
1. David Clarkson, Maple Leafs, seven years, $36.75 million. The former Devil and native Torontonian was heralded loudly and proudly by the Leafs when they signed him to the biggest UFA deal of the off-season, but right from the get-go – when the league made him get up and go to the press box by suspending him the first 10 games of the year for leaving the bench in a pre-season brawl – Clarkson looked utterly lost in Blue and White. If Toronto still had an amnesty buyout to use – and if the CBA would allow them to use one (it doesn’t) – the 30-year-old would almost assuredly be looking for another place to play.