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. We already took a look at the first third of the league; here are the contracts that each team would most like to trade, from Detroit to Ottawa:
Detroit Red Wings: Frans Nielsen – four years, $21MM remaining
As speculated by some readers in the comments section, it was no mistake that Part I ended with Dallas. Detroit deserved both some extra consideration and to lead off an article about poor contracts. There is an argument to be made that almost every single player age 28 and over on the Red Wings roster is signed to a bad contract for one reason or another. Detroit is a team that ranks towards the bottom of the standings and towards the top of the salary cap and that is not just bad luck. However, some are much worse than others and they are so bad that it is tough to choose between them. Take this scenario: Player A scored 35 points in 75 games last season. It was 14 points more than the season prior, including six more goals, and Player A also led the team in hits. He is 31 years old and signed for five more years at $4.25MM per. Player B scored 33 points in 79 games last season. It was eight points less than the season prior, and Player B also had the worst face-off percentage among the team’s centers. He is 34 years old and signed for four more years at $5.25MM per. Still undecided about which contract the team would rather trade? Player A is a Michigan native and career Red Wing and Player B is entering only his third year after signing a lucrative free agent contract. Player A of course is perennial whipping boy Justin Abdelkader. Yes, the Abdelkader contract is terrible. At no point in his career has he been worth his current contract value. Yet, he improved last season, is younger and brings a defensive element to his game, and is also loyal to the current administration – the call of the question after all is which contract the team would most like to trade. That would instead be Player B, Frans Nielsen, who at 34 is predictably declining and last year made more than Abdelkader for less production and there is no reason to believe that trend won’t continue. The team rewarded Adbelkader for years of service, whereas they took a gamble on Nielsen that hasn’t paid off. One of those moves is far more regrettable. Nielsen is the guy, but he only narrowly edged out Abdelkader and defenseman Danny DeKeyser, who also has relative age and Detroit roots to his advantage.
Edmonton Oilers: Milan Lucic – five years, $30MM remaining
The Oilers can refute trade rumors surrounding Milan Lucic all they want. The truth of the matter is that GM Peter Chiarelli signed Lucic hoping that he could both produce with and protect Connor McDavid in Edmonton as he did for David Krejci in Boston. The only problem is that the 30-year-old power forward can no longer keep up with a player of McDavid’s caliber. Lucic managed to score 34 points last season, tied for fourth on the team, but that is nowhere near what is expected of a $6MM player, especially when he scored 50 in year one with the Oilers and topped that mark many times with the Bruins. Edmonton still may be holding out hope that Lucic can turn it around and be just as much of a scoring threat as he is a physical threat, but make no mistake that the team would be quick to get rid of his contract if the right deal came along. In contrast, the team would be far more hesitant to move a hefty contract like defenseman Andrej Sekera who has been good and injury-prone, rather than healthy and underwhelming.
Florida Panthers: Roberto Luongo – four years, $18.13MM remaining
Florida is a tough one. Dale Tallon has done a good job of locking up his core long-term and, despite being right up against the cap, there are few egregious contracts on the roster right now. Give it a few years and maybe Michael Matheson will hold this title, but for now it goes to Roberto Luongo by default. Of course, Luongo is beloved in Florida and the team doesn’t even have to carry the whole of his cap hit, with the Vancouver Canucks retaining $800K each year. However, the reality is that Luongo will turn 40 this season and it will be only the first of four years left on his deal. The Panthers have almost $8MM committed to two goalies for the next few years and the other, James Reimer, is younger and outplayed Luongo in 2016-17 and in more games to boot. While they both fought injuries this past season, it was Luongo back on top performance-wise, but the impressive numbers he did post came in just 35 appearances versus Reimer’s 44. Florida paying over $4.5MM per year to a backup goalie in his forties just doesn’t make sense and the team would be better off moving forward with just Reimer and Michael Hutchinson if they could find a way to trade Luongo. Another reason this contract is bad: both the Panthers and Canucks will be hit with cap recapture penalties if Luongo retires prior to 2022.
Los Angeles Kings: Dustin Brown – four years, $23.5MM remaining
For the first time in years, Kings fans are feeling good about Dustin Brown. That is why now is the perfect time to trade him. Brown had been the bane of L.A.’s existence for four years, registering no more than 36 points each year while eating up $5.875MM in cap space, when he finally broke out of his funk in 2017-18 with a massive 61-point season and one of the league’s best plus/minus ratings. The question now is whether the past four years were an aberration with this season setting a new baseline or will Brown regress back to his bottom-six production. With a cap-strapped roster full of expensive contracts for older players, L.A. can’t take the risk of keeping Brown around if the right opportunity presents itself. They would be forced to trade the career King if a taker came forward rather than hold out hope that he doesn’t revert back to his old ways of being drastically overpaid.
Minnesota Wild: Zach Parise – seven years, $52.77MM remaining
When the Wild signed 28-year-old’s Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching 13-year contracts worth almost $100MM apiece, they knew that those deals would have dark days at some point in the future. However, they never could have imagined that Parise’s decline would come so soon. Parise remains one of the most popular players on the team, but injuries have kept him off the ice and affected his play when on the ice over the ice and his stock is falling quickly. Parise has never been able to reach the peaks he enjoyed in New Jersey, but he still produced at a high level over his first four seasons with the team. The past two years have been a different story and Parise appears to be trending in the wrong direction. Now 33, Parise isn’t totally beyond help and could turn it around. If back at 100%, Parise has enough natural ability and enough talent around him to still be a $7.5MM player. However, it would be nearly impossible for Minnesota to ever move the behemoth that is his contract so, if somehow they received an offer, they would take it without a second thought. Fan favorite or not, there is too much risk associated with Parise moving forward.
Montreal Canadiens: Shea Weber – seven years, $55MM remaining
I know what you’re thinking and yes, the Carey Price contract doesn’t look great right now. However, an extension of any length and value for any player coming off an injury-riddled season would bring a skewed perception. Price has been one of the best goalies in the league for years and one bad season doesn’t change that. Will he lose that title in the next eight years? For sure, but it would be a shock to see the Canadiens move their poster boy any time soon. Their #1 defenseman is another question though. When Montreal acquired Shea Weber for P.K. Subban, they never could have anticipated that his body would break down so soon after. Injuries cost Weber all but 26 games last season and he will miss the beginning of 2018-19 as well. Weber doesn’t seem like the type of player who will retire early, but there is no guarantee that these injuries won’t slow him down significantly for the remainder of his contract. In fact, the only guarantee is that he will slow down over the next seven years. At $7.86MM, the Canadiens need Weber to be his dynamic two-way self. The team already has one overpaid stay-at-home defenseman in Karl Alzner and can’t afford another. If they could move Weber, they would.
Nashville Predators: None
GM David Poile flat out doesn’t sign bad contracts. Criticize the deals for Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris if you like, but the bargain contracts throughout the rest of the lineup have allowed Poile to overpay for reliable centers and that is a team-building model that anyone can get behind.
New Jersey Devils: Corey Schneider – four years, $24MM remaining
The easy answer is that the Devils don’t feel any pressure to trade anyone on the roster. They currently have the lowest payroll in the league with nearly every player signed to a fair deal. Those who are overpriced – Travis Zajac and Andy Greene – play important leadership role and the only player signed to a substantially long-term deal is electric young blue liner Damon Severson. The one and only player that sticks out as a potential long-term cap problem is starting goaltender Corey Schneider. This may surprises some; after all Schneider trails only Tuukka Rask among active save percentage leaders. Schneider had been elite since arriving in New Jersey, but something started to change in 2016-17. His SV% fell to .908 and his GAA inflated to 2.82 and then things only got worse last season with a SV% of .907 and a GAA of 2.93. He was also limited to just 40 appearances this year and was outplayed by journeyman Keith Kinkaid. The Devils can’t count on Kinkaid to repeat his 2017-18 performance moving forward and if Schneider’s back-to-back bad years are more than a fluke, they can’t depend on him for four more years either. He’s not going to be a $6MM backup either. New Jersey will give Schneider the time he needs to return to form, but they may not hesitate if the right trade comes their way as well.
New York Islanders: Andrew Ladd – five years, $27.5MM remaining
The Islanders without John Tavares are a totally different animal. A six-year, $30MM extension for Josh Bailey now looks bad. A $5.75MM cap hit this season for free agents Leo Komarov and Valtteri Filppula signed to make up for Tavares’ lost production looks bad. The likes of Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Cizikas, and Matt Martin now look worse on a team that needs more offense and less grit. However, the one contract that looked miserable well before Tavares bolted to Toronto is Andrew Ladd and it is only going to get much worse. The veteran forward was intended to find chemistry with Tavares when he was signed to a seven-year, $38.5MM contract two years ago. Instead, Ladd has just 60 points over the past two seasons combined and has by all accounts been relegated to a bottom-six role. The 32-year-old will now be asked to take a bigger role in Tavares’ stead and that is a scary proposition. The Islanders aren’t in any cap trouble, but the team should be thinking rebuild and would likely take any offer at all to rid themselves of Ladd.
New York Rangers: Brendan Smith – three years, $13.05MM remaining
Has any free agent contract in recent memory soured as quickly as Brendan Smith’s? Smith signed a four-year deal with the Rangers last June and was expected to play a top-four role for the team for years to come. By February, he had been placed on waivers and buried in the AHL. Smith played in only 44 games with New York and saw less and less ice time as the season wore on and he continued to turn the puck over at an alarming rate and cost his team goals. Now what? One would assume that Smith will be given a second chance this season, but the relationship between he and the team may be beyond repair. There is no doubt that the Rangers would take a re-do on that deal and would move him if possible. Marc Staal is another player that New York wouldn’t mind moving, but as a player who can eat minutes and provide solid play most of the time, his $5.7MM contract seems like nothing next to Smith’s $4.35MM deal.
Ottawa Senators: Bobby Ryan – four years, $29MM remaining
No contract in the league has become as notorious for being labeled a “bad deal” that the team is desperate to trade like Bobby Ryan’s. The Senators are so determined to move on from Ryan that they are trying to force Erik Karlsson trade suitors to take the overpaid forward as well. At one point in time, $7.25MM per year for Ryan seemed like a fair deal. At 23 years old he was a 71-point player with the Anaheim Ducks and even after moving to Ottawa, Ryan started his tenure with three straight seasons in the 50-point range. However, the last two years have been very different. Ryan has only suited up for 62 games in each campaign and has looked like a different player on offense. At his best, he looks disinterested and lucky to be in the right place at the right time and at his worst he costs his team goals. Ryan has managed to register only 58 points combined over the past two years; he had 56 alone in 2015-16. Ryan may just need a change of scenery to jump start what used to be dynamic goal-scoring game, but the Senators don’t care about that. All he is to them is a waste of cap space and of owner Eugene Melnyk’s dwindling wealth. They want him gone at any cost.
Look out for Part III of this three-part series early next week…