Nearly every team has one of those players: a top talent they were excited to sign and never thought could do anything but help them. In hindsight, history shows that more often than not, expensive, long-term free agent contracts don’t work out. It may look good at first (or it may look bad right away to the outside observer), but players struggle to make their value last throughout a lengthy contract. Those contracts come back to bite teams and are hard to get rid of. As teams begin to finalize their rosters at this point in the off-season, many are struggling to make everyone fit under the salary cap and are regretting these past signings that exasperate a cap crunch that can be tough for even a mistake-free club. Here are the contracts that each team would most like to trade, from Anaheim to Dallas:
Anaheim Ducks: Corey Perry – three years, $25.875MM remaining
Corey Perry is no doubt a fan favorite in Anaheim. The big winger is a career Duck who has always played with an edge and a knack for finding the back of the net. However, the former 50-goal scorer has just 19 and 17 in the past two years respectively to the tune of $8.625MM per year. His lack of speed is apparent to even the most inexperienced hockey fan and he has drawn criticism from both GM Bob Murray and coach Randy Carlyle for the drop-off in his skating ability and production. The Ducks aren’t quite up against the salary cap just yet, but have three restricted free agents still unsigned and some big decisions on the horizon. Things are about to get tight in Anaheim and, as much as Ducks fans may not want to hear it, trading Perry away in the right deal would be the easiest solution.
Arizona Coyotes: None
The Coyotes trade for bad contracts, as the perennial salary cap floor dwellers rarely sign or acquire an expensive, long-term deal with an actual asset who may not be worth it.
Boston Bruins: David Backes – three years, $18MM remaining
On July 1st, 2016, it was leaked that Boston would sign David Backes to a one-year, $6MM contract and the Bruins were praised for bringing the veteran forward in as a hired gun. That celebration was short-lived, as the report was soon corrected to being a five-year deal with the same yearly salary and many questioned adding a 32-year-old with 727 games to his credit on a contract of that length and value. Two years later, the doubters have been proven right for the most part. Backes has not been bad in Boston (71 points in 131 games) and injuries have certainly affected his game, but it appears that his 50-point upside and Selke-caliber high-energy play are a thing of the past. Backes doesn’t have a defined role with the Bruins going forward and, as a team that doesn’t need the extra leadership and locker room presence and does need as much cap space as it can get, Boston would be better off if Backes were elsewhere.
Buffalo Sabres: Zach Bogosian – two years, $10.286MM remaining
The Sabres are finally trending in the right direction and have even used other teams’ bad salary cap situations to bring in some nice players this off-season. Buffalo themselves are in fine shape with the cap. However, there is still one contract that is bringing them down and that is Zach Bogosian. If Bogosian was fully healthy, his cap hit of just over $5.1MM would not be too bad. The 28-year-old defenseman has been a very capable two-way player in his career. Unfortunately, he just hasn’t been healthy enough during his time in Buffalo to be worth that salary. Bogosian played in only 18 games last year due to injury – and when he did play it showed that he wasn’t 100% – and has never topped 64 games in a season with the Sabres. The team has several young defenseman that could use as much ice time as possible and a beat up Bogosian isn’t helping anyone in Buffalo. Chances are the Sabres could still get a good return for the rearguard if he does show signs of being back at full-strength.
Calgary Flames: Troy Brouwer – two years, $9MM remaining
Calgary is in a really difficult salary cap situation with little space as is and five restricted free agent situations still to sort out. The team simply can afford to be paying Brouwer $4.5MM in each of the next two years for what he brings to the table. Many were skeptical of the Brouwer contract when signed and they were correct. The veteran power forward has only 25 and 22 points respectively in his first two years in Calgary, including just six goals last season, and at 32 years old he is unlikely to improve. Brouwer has even lost some of his trademark physical edge and recorded a career-low average time on ice last season when he was simply a non-factor in most games. With multiple players filing for salary arbitration, the Flames have been awarded an extra buyout period and it would not come as a shock to see Brouwer fall victim to it.
Carolina Hurricanes: Scott Darling – three years, $12.45MM remaining
The argument here is not that the Hurricanes should trade Darling because they need the cap space but that they should trade Darling because they need a better starting goaltender. Carolina is in fine salary cap shape, but so long as Darling is making more than $4MM per year, the team is likely to stick with him as the top guy. They have already committed to giving him another chance as the starter next season. Unfortunately, Darling’s first season in Raleigh hardly convinced anyone that this contract would work out. Moving from backup to starter, Darling seemed to crumble under the pressure even behind a stout defense, posting an .888 save percentage and 3.18 GAA as one of the worst keepers in the NHL. Perhaps his play will improve in year two, but the Hurricanes can’t be happy with the early results.
Chicago Blackhawks: Brent Seabrook – six years, $41.25MM remaining
When the Blackhawks made Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews the highest paid players in the league back in 2014, who would have figured that a different contract would be causing the team problems? Brent Seabrook’s eight-year, $55MM extension is already a nightmare for Chicago with the bulk of the contract still to come. Seabrook is a fine defenseman, but that doesn’t cut it when you’re paid like one of the top defenseman in the league, but your play is slipping and your team is finishing last in the division. This past season especially, it was clear that Seabrook has lost a step. Both his scoring and checking have diminished and he no longer resembles the player who was regularly posting 40+ points and garnering Norris Trophy votes. Seabrook will turn 34 later this season and it seems guaranteed that this contract only gets worse unless the team finds some way to trade him.
Colorado Avalanche: Erik Johnson – five years, $30MM remaining
The Avalanche have one of the lowest payrolls in the league with superstar Nathan MacKinnon locked up long-term at a reasonable rate. Their distance from the cap ceiling this season makes egregious contracts with just one year remaining – like streaky starter Semyon Varlamov and invisible forward Colin Wilson – somewhat tolerable. However, several major contributors are set to be restricted free agents after next season, Colorado will need to add another goaltender, and could still stand to add another difference-maker up front. Things could get tighter for the Avs moving forward and the one contract that could become a problem is Erik Johnson. Johnson eats up minutes and plays a defensively sound game, but the veteran defenseman is injury prone and does not create enough offense to warrant a $6MM cap hit. If the Avalanche were offered a reasonable deal for Johnson today they may not take it, but this time next year that same deal will be far more attractive.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Brandon Dubinsky – three years, $17.55MM remaining
The Blue Jackets pay Brandon Dubinsky like a second-line center and last season got fourth-line production from the veteran. Yes, Dubinsky has had his fair share of injuries, but a consistent 40+ point scorer dropping to just 16 points on the year was alarming. Columbus is no longer a small market team still figuring things out; the Jackets are a contender and like most contenders are close to the salary cap limit. The team can’t afford to have Dubinsky continuing to produce at this level while costing them $5.85MM against the cap. They hope that he bounces back this year, but even a slow start could have Columbus taking their best offer.
Dallas Stars: Martin Hanzal – two years, $9.5MM remaining
It may be too early to judge last summer’s Martin Hanzal contract, but if Dallas was offered a re-do right now, they would take it. Hanzal’s first season with the Stars was a disaster. Injuries limited him to just 38 games and even when active he contributed only ten points – a 22-point pace over a full season – and somehow finished with the second-lowest plus/minus rating on the team. If Hanzal gets healthy, which is a big if, he could return to form next season, but if not the Stars could be quick to deal him away. The team desperately needs to bounce back from a devastating slump that cost them a playoff spot and have been rumored to be interested in big (expensive) names all off-season. That plan doesn’t mix well with a $4.75MM player who brought almost nothing to the team last year.
Keep an eye out for Part II of this three-part series coming soon…