It’s common to overpay when there aren’t many top options available on the UFA market and you’re in the middle of a rebuild.
Last summer, Vancouver spent a lot of money on veterans to fill role-player spots throughout the lineup. Take Jay Beagle, for example. He has never eclipsed the 30-point mark in his career, but Vancouver liked his value as a defensive center enough to give him a four-year deal at $3 million per season. A broken forearm prevented Beagle from scoring his first goal until mid-December, and his 13 points were his fewest since 2013-14. Yes, the team didn’t hire him to score, but he’s near the top when it comes to expensive fourth-liners.
Between Beagle, Loui Eriksson and Antoine Roussel, the Canucks paid $12 million for just 23 goals for three players that moved in and out of the bottom six. Add in the $3-million recapture penalty due to Roberto Luongo’s retirement, and the Canucks will need to get creative with the $15.53 million they have available this summer. Beagle’s contract isn’t great, especially since he’s 33, but it was a necessary evil at the time.
Teams will never cease to stop signing mid-pack players to big deals to address needs. After nearly a year since the start of the last free agency period, let’s look at how some of the worst signings from 2018 have fared:
James Neal, LW, 31 ($5.75 million per/five years with Calgary)
Neal was supposed to provide a nice kick to Calgary’s winger situation, with the big forward adding extra scoring depth despite a so-so offensive year in Vegas. Neal missed games due to an injury, but that doesn’t change the fact he had seven goals and 19 points in 63 games. That’s the thing: he’s typically good for 25 goals a season, but absolutely nothing went his way on a Flames team that finished first in the Western Conference.
Jack Johnson, D, 32 ($3.25 million per/five years with Pittsburgh)
It’s truly sad to see how Johnson, a former top prospect, has deteriorated. Johnson’s five-year deal looked like a mistake immediately. He was often Pittsburgh’s worst defenseman this season. finished with six points in 5-on-5 play and was a healthy scratch to kick off the playoffs. It can’t be a coincidence that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin’s Corsi absolutely skyrocket with Johnson off the ice. Johnson’s best days are behind him, but he’s capable of being a decent bottom-pairing defenseman – yet at $3.25 million per season, that’s not great value.
Erik Gudbranson, D, 27 ($4 million per/three years with Vancouver)
Technically, Gudbranson’s contract was signed last February, but didn’t kick in until this season. Gudbranson didn’t finish the campaign with the team that signed him, but he was yet another example of a terrible signing by the Canucks. Gudbranson couldn’t find his game in Vancouver and was shipped to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline, finishing on the third pairing with two assists in 19 games. At the time, the Canucks addressed a need and added a big body to fill a physical role, but $4 million is a lot to pay for a bottom-pairing guy. At least for Vancouver, it’s Pittsburgh’s problem now.
Valeri Nichushkin, RW, 24 ($2.95 million per/two years with Dallas)
Nichushkin’s career has been a mess. He never lived up to the hype of being a first-round pick in 2013 (10th overall) and bolted for the KHL after three mediocre seasons with the Stars. Dallas brought him back last summer as an RFA, and there was some hope the goal-scoring power forward would add stability in the team’s middle six. Nichushkin found himself a healthy scratch on many occasions and finished with 10 points in 57 games – but worst of all, he never scored. Another bad season could spell the end of his NHL career.
Ryan Strome, C, 25 ($3.1 million per/two years with Edmonton)
Strome’s first full season in 2014-15 saw him put up 50 points. Since then, it’s been a downward spiral. Strome had 35 points this season, but just two of them came with the team that signed him, the Oilers. He later became a bright spot for the Rangers after a trade earlier in the season for forward Ryan Spooner, but the Oilers got three points in 25 games from the latter before he was sent to Vancouver. Spooner’s deal was even more expensive at $4 million, but the Oilers did end up with Sam Gagner from the Canucks, who performed better than Strome and Spooner on a $3.15-million pact.
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