Given expectations, it could easily be argued that Jan Kovar was the summer’s worst signing.
A consistent scorer in the KHL over the past three seasons who had posted a point per game across nearly 300 games in the primarily Russian circuit, Kovar was picked up by the New York Islanders and expected to be, at the very least, a fit in the middle six as a veteran scorer. Instead, Kovar didn’t make the Islanders out of camp, didn’t report to the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers, was placed on unconditional waivers and had his contract terminated. Then, he signed a brief deal with the AHL’s Providence Bruins, and when that didn’t work out, he headed back to the Czech League, where he’s spent the past few weeks with HC Plzen.
So, yeah, safe to say things didn’t quite go as planned.
However, you won’t find Kovar listed below among the league’s least cost-effective off-season moves. That’s because, as with the earlier look at most cost-effective scorers, we’ve set some parameters for determining the players who haven’t earned their keep, financially speaking, and given Kovar didn’t even see NHL ice this season and the Islanders got out of the deal before it really began, he doesn’t fit the bill.
Once again, this list contains no entry-level players. As with the other cost-per-point breakdown, too, the players on this list had to change teams. No contract extensions or past signings included here. In addition, no players whose games played totals have been limited by injury, because that can skew the entire equation. Only those who’ve played 35-plus games. Finally, the list is limited to forwards. Reason being is that poor starts by defensemen and goaltenders aren't quite as quantifiable in a bad-money sense.
With that, here are the five off-season moves that have proven to be the least cost-effective:
5. Blake Comeau, Dallas Stars — $342,857
Comeau has historically been one of those guns for hire that fills out a team’s depth. Since the 2011-12 campaign, he has bounced from the Calgary Flames to the New York Islanders, back to the Flames, on to the Columbus Blue Jackets and then over to the Pittsburgh Penguins before a three-year stay with the Colorado Avalanche, where he scored 33 goals and 90 points across three seasons. He looked like a smart signing in the summer for the Stars, a depth fit on a roster in dire need of secondary scoring.
Unfortunately, the offense hasn’t come for Comeau. Thanks to four goals and seven points through 44 games, Comeau is on pace to score just seven goals and 13 points this season while skating fringe top-six minutes. To put that into context, it would be the worst offensive season of Comeau’s career and see him narrowly surpass his 12-point total from the lockout-shortened campaign. He scored a dozen points that season.
The silver lining? Comeau’s locked up for another two years at $2.4-million per, so he might be a prime bounce back candidate next year.
4. Valeri Nichushkin, Dallas Stars — $421,429
Maybe it could be argued we’re breaking our own rules here, but while Nichushki's rights were owned by the Stars, he was property of the KHL’s CSKA Moscow heading into the off-season. Believed to be a player with yet-untapped potential, Nichushkin was lured back to Dallas on a relatively high-paying, two-year pact worth $5.9 million across two seasons. But the Stars first-round pick in 2013, selected 10th overall, has fallen absolutely flat in his return to the NHL.
At 35 games played, he just makes the cut, and his production in those outings has been suspect. A 14-goal scorer during his rookie campaign and a nine-goal player as a third-year NHLer, Nichushkin has yet to find twine and has only seven assists to his name. He’s skating little more than a dozen minutes per night.
It hasn’t been a successful return for Nichushkin, and it might only be a matter of time before he’s KHL bound once again.
3. Vladimir Sobotka, Buffalo Sabres — $500,000
When the Sabres shipped Ryan O’Reilly off to the St. Louis Blues, the hope was that the veteran pieces of the return — Sobotka and Patrik Berglund — could help fill the void while the long-term pieces — a first-round pick, second-round pick and youngster Tage Thompson — could grow to be part of Buffalo’s core. Turns out the opposite may be true. Thompson has played relatively well, scoring five goals and nine points in limited minutes, and the draft picks project to be high choices if St. Louis’ struggles continue. Meanwhile, Berglund had his contract terminated by the Sabres in one of the most bizarre situations of the season, and Sobotka hasn’t quite been his usual 30-point self. In fact, he’s been about half that player.
Through 41 games in Buffalo, Sobotka has struggled mightily to adjust. Averaging upwards of 15 minutes per game, he’s scored just three goals and seven points. Two of those points have come in his past four games. It really hasn’t worked out for the veteran pivot in Buffalo. The Sabres hope he can iron it out next year, the final season of his three-year, $10.5-million pact.
2. James Neal, Calgary Flames — $638,889
The long view on Neal’s contract was never all that great. A five-year, $28.75-million deal for a 31-year-old winger meant that Calgary was going to be paying big bucks to a 36-year-old Neal, who likely wasn’t going to be the same consistent 20-goal guy he had been over the past several seasons. That said, the short-term value looked like it was there. Neal had been to consecutive Stanley Cup finals, he’d performed well in both runs and he had potential to be a good fit in the top-six in Calgary.
And while the jury is still out on how he plays during the post-season for what looks to be a potentially Cup-contending Flames group, he certainly hasn’t lived up to his offensive expectations during the regular season. Through 45 games in Calgary, he has just four goals and nine points and he’s averaging the lowest ice time of his career. At this rate, Neal would be lucky to crack 20 points this season, which is unbelievable considering he has scored at least 35 points in every single campaign prior, including the lockout-shortened season.
1. Riley Nash, Columbus Blue Jackets — $687,500
Nash played his way into a great position last season. Skating middle-six minutes with the Boston Bruins, Nash went out and had himself a brilliant campaign as a depth scorer, notching what were far and away career-best numbers: 15 goals and 41 points. Nash’s production meant that he was going to be a hot commodity in the summer, too. He was a depth center who had just scored more than a half-point per game. So, the Blue Jackets went out and snapped Nash up on a three-year pact at $2.75-million per season.
It could have been a decent deal if Nash produced well in his newfound role in the middle of the lineup in Columbus, too, but it has backfired big time. Not only has Nash’s role dipped to the bottom of the lineup — he’s averaged 10:45 per game this season and has skated less than 10 minutes in each of his past six games — but he’s scored just one goal and four points in 42 outings. That’s a two-goal, eight-point pace across a full season.