Calling a particular NHL player “overpaid” is almost always a relative kind of categorization. Why, it wasn’t long ago when some NHL GMs were threatening to take half gainers from the rooftops after a deal like Dustin Penner’s (which averages $4.25 million a season through the 2011-12 campaign) or Brenden Morrow’s (now a downright bargain at $4.1 million a year until 2012-13).
Times change, and in the sports world, costs rarely go down, so I’ll never use the O-Word (no, not ‘Obtuse’) to describe any NHLer.
But I have no qualms whatsoever about using a term such as “gawd-awful” or “mind-bendingly ludicrous” or “words do not have the capacity to describe the sheer absence of brainpower that was behind this” as a label for some of hockey’s off-season, free agent deals. Time and inflation can never alter an act of abject stupidity.
Although there are a number of recognizable, veteran NHL names still available for purchase this off-season, it’s unlikely any yet-to-be-finalized contracts will surpass the ones already signed, either for total bucks or term. Which means it’s time for Screen Shots’ annual list of the five worst contract signings of the year. (Please note: the incensed e-mailer line forms to the left.)
Dishonorable Mentions: Jose Theodore, Washington, (Two years, $9 million), Jeff Finger, Toronto (Four years, $14 million)
5. Bryce Salvador, D, New Jersey (Four years, $11.6 million). People mercilessly ripped Leafs interim GM Cliff Fletcher for signing 28-year-old former Avs defenseman Finger to a four-year deal, one that may yet come to haunt Toronto. But nobody said much when the Devils shelled out nearly $3 million a season for 32-year-old Salvador, a Blues castoff who has never amassed more than 12 points in a single season.
Granted, putting up points isn’t what Salvador is there for. But if you read The Hockey News’ July 1 issue, you’d know Red Wings GM Ken Holland makes a point not to pour bigger-than-average dollars into D-men who only defend. That’s what Lou Lamoriello did here and I’ve got a hunch he’s going to regret it sooner than later.
4. Mike Commodore, D, Columbus (Five years, $18.75 million) Holland’s rule about paying stay-at-home defensemen applies here as well. Commodore is a serviceable second-pair blueliner – and on a genuine Stanley Cup contender, his deal might not stand out as much as it does with Columbus.
Here’s what I’m getting at: as it stands right now, Commodore will be the third-highest-paid player on the Blue Jackets, trailing only Rick Nash and newly-signed Kristian Huselius. Third-highest! Mike! Commodore! And people are seriously debating whether or not this is a playoff team?
3. Michael Ryder, RW, Bruins (Three years, $12 million) Listen, I’m not going to guarantee Ryder won’t recover from a dreadful performance this season and justify GM Peter Chiarelli’s generosity.
However, I am going to tell you that rewarding a guy who suffered nearly a 50 percent drop in offensive production in Montreal with a $1-million-a-season raise does not send a good message to the rest of the Bruins – in particular, someone like Boston winger Marco Sturm; he had a career offensive year (and more than a 25 percent increase in points), yet, because he didn’t wait to sign a contract extension until free agency season, will earn $500,000 a year less than Ryder.
See kids, life’s not fair even for rich athletes!
2. Wade Redden, D, Rangers (Six years, $39 million) Speaking of being rewarded for diminishing returns, Redden secured a lucrative Manhattan transfer despite all but being run out of Ottawa after a year where you often required a Global Positioning System to find him on the ice during games.
But hey, maybe I’m wrong and Redden will rebound from a season in which he posted the lowest goal total and shooting percentage of his 11-year NHL career. And perhaps he’ll continue to earn every penny of his $6.5 million-a-year contract even when he’s 37 years old.
If he doesn’t, there will be no shortage of “I told you so” talk ringing in the ears of Rangers GM Glen Sather – most of it originating from citizens of Canada’s capital city.
1. Ron Hainsey, D, Atlanta (Five years, $22.5 million) What, you thought Brian Campbell’s monster pact with Chicago would be here? At least that franchise is going places in the immediate future, which made it much easier for Hawks GM Dale Tallon to swallow hard and fork over $7.1 million each year for the next eight years to a defenseman who’s played the All-Star Game each of the past two seasons.
The Thrashers, on the other hand, will likely only contend for the 2009 No. 1 draft pick sweepstakes. And that’s why Hainsey’s deal with Atlanta seems so egregious; remember, this was a guy who was riding the NHL’s waiver wire just three years ago.
Hainsey has matured from that period and will help make up for the Thrashers’ abysmal trade with Philadelphia that sent blueline stud Braydon Coburn to Philadelphia for the since-waived Alexei Zhitnik. Nevertheless, Hainsey won’t win a single game for them on his own.
And when that somebody is the second-highest paid player on the roster, as Hainsey will be for Atlanta next season, that’s just not a good deal.
Adam Proteau is The Hockey News’ online columnist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his Ask Adam feature appears Tuesdays and Fridays, and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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