Picking 10 bad free agent signings in this market is like shooting fish in a barrel. With a bigger-than-expected salary cap bump, meaning that almost everyone has a good amount of room to move, and an awful free agent market, it's inevitable that almost everyone who's signed to a long-term deal is going to be significantly overpaid.
So, let us view the worst of the worst...
10. Christian Ehrhoff, Buffalo, 10 years, $40 million. After some thought, and some more bad signings, I don't hate this deal as much as I initially did. I don't mind the $4M per year for Ehrhoff; that's a perfectly reasonable price. But a 10 year contract is always a dicey proposition, and in Ehrhoff's case, while he's 28 years old, he's a 28 year old with significant mileage on his tires already, having already played 6 1/2 NHL seasons with significant playoff time to boot. More to the point, Ehrhoff benefited disproportionately from his teammates; his quality of teammates ranked behind only Dan Hamhuis among Vancouver defensemen, and at even strength, the Canucks were barely better with him on the ice than off it. He'll have some skilled teammates in Buffalo, but nothing like the Sedins. The Sabres smartly front-loaded the contract, so they'll have the option of moving Ehrhoff after a few years to a team that's trying to make the cap floor but save money...however, they nullified much of their ability to do that by giving Ehrhoff a partial no movement clause.
9. Andrei Markov, Montreal, 3 years, $17.25 million. Markov is a fine defenseman when healthy. That's like saying that Beirut is a fine place to visit when it's quiet. Markov missed 75 games last year and 37 the year before. Since being promoted to the big leagues for good in 2002-03, he has played 77 games or more only 4 of those 8 seasons. Look at his injury history. How on earth would you give someone like that 3 years and $17.25 million? He's turning 33 in December, so it's not likely that he's suddenly going to become more durable.
8.Mike Rupp, NY Rangers, 3 years, $4.5 million. It wouldn't be a worst free agent signings list without a Glen Sather move. This is the exact same mistake he made with Derek Boogaard (rest his soul); there is no reason to pay a goon $1.5 million per year on a multi-year deal. Goons, to the extent that you need them, are fungible. Worse, the Rangers didn't need a goon; Sean Avery and Brandon Prust are both perfectly capable of dropping the gloves to defend a teammate. With so many talented restricted free agents on the roster, they couldn't afford to throw money at a designated pugilist.
(I know what you're saying: what about the Brad Richards deal? Honestly, I still haven't made up my mind about that one. Sorry.)
7. Joel Ward, Washington, 4 years, $12 million. George McPhee has had a great offseason, as we'll see later on, but he's not getting off the hook here. 3+ full NHL seasons showed us that Ward is a good fourth liner, or fringe third liner. 12 playoff games made him look like a hero. Ward turns 31 next season, so it's not likely that he suddenly turned into a great player. I'll give you one guess which player is the real Ward, and which was a fluke. Overpaying for role players is exactly the trap that general managers all too often fall into when their team lacks grit, n' heart n' hustle and all those other lovely "intangibles".
6. Tomas Kaberle, Carolina, 3 years, $12.75 million. I give Peter Chiarelli a lot of credit for how he handled this. While I think Kaberle got a bum deal in Boston, it was plain that they saw him as little more than a third pair guy. Carolina essentially traded Joe Corvo for Kaberle. Corvo could have given Carolina about 80-90% of what Kaberle will, at about half the price and one-third the financial commitment. Essentially, Carolina took on a whole bunch of risk for a pretty modest reward.
5. Ville Leino, Buffalo, 6 years, $27 million. Pop quiz, hotshot: you're a general manager, and a player comes to your attention who had a breakout season at the age of 27, with career highs in every category. He also had the second highest quality of teammate on his whole team, and one of the lowest quality of competition as well. Do you: a. look at a short term deal to see if this player can reproduce that production in a new, and surely less favorable, environment; or, b. throw a long term, big money deal at him.
If you said b., please send your resume to Terry Pegula at HSBC Arena, 1 Seymour H. Knox III Way, Buffalo, NY 14203. Leino was a huge beneficiary of the Flyers' ultra-deep forward corps, and constant favorable matchups. In Buffalo, his teammates will be worse, and he'll be in a first or second line capacity. If he breaks the 15 goal plateau, I will be stunned.
4. James Wisniewski, Columbus, 6 years, $32.5 million. Speaking of players who thrived in favorable situations, there's this guy. The Wiz is indeed a power play wizard, no doubt. However, he's an absolute liability five on five. The Canadiens were significantly better with him off the ice than on it in five on five situations, despite The Wiz (like Leino) having the benefit of great teammates and favorable matchups, not to mention starting the majority of his shifts in the offensive zone. Wisniewski is going to have to produce on the power play at levels reserved for Niklas Lidstrom at the peak of his powers to come within shouting distance of justifying this contract.
3. Ilya Bryzgalov, 9 years, $51 million. This is what happens when you overreact to a bad playoff loss. Again, credit must be given to Peter Chiarelli, who avoided precisely this sort of panic after the Bruins' humiliating 2010 playoff exit. Paul Holmgren decided against keeping an ultra-talented team together and threw a mammoth contract at a 31 year old goaltender who performed at almost the exact same level as the guy opening the gate on the bench over the last few years. Offloading the contracts of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter was defensible as a means of restoring some salary cap flexibility, but then they turned around and blew a huge amount of money on a goaltender that they did not have to.
2. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado, 3 years, $8.5 million. The contract itself is fine. Except, the Avalanche gave Washington a first and second round pick. Had they simply slapped an offer sheet on him, they'd have had to surrender only a second rounder. I refuse to believe that the market for Varlamov was so competitive that they had to give up that first rounder, and even if it was...so what? Walk away! When bad teams trade away first round picks, it seldom works out well (right, Brian Burke?). The Avalanche are not going to be a good team this year unless Varlamov turns into Patrick Roy v.2.0 and some of their kids grow up awfully fast. I'm not counting on either. In any other year, this would be #1, but then there's....
1. Almost everything Florida has done. I'm cheating here, I know. But if I itemized every dumb move the Panthers have done this offseason, I'd barely have room for anyone else on this list. They picked up Brian Campbell's cap-crushing deal from Chicago, essentially for nothing. Campbell's a good player, but he's injury-prone, turns 33 next year, and by the time the Panthers are ready to be competitive, Campbell's $7.1 million will be a millstone around the cap. They signed Scottie Upshall to a 4 year, $14M deal and Sean Bergenheim to a 4 year, $11 million deal, despite a paucity of evidence that either is more than a quality third liner. They signed Jose Theodore for 2 years and $3 million and let Tomas Vokoun walk to Washington for 1 year and $1.5 million, even though Vokoun is a top 10 goaltender and Theodore is, at best, a fringe starter. And that was after making no effort whatsoever to trade Vokoun at the trading deadline! Then they signed Ed Jovanovski to a 4 year deal at $16.5M, which has the added bonus of being an over-35 deal. Jovanovski isn't trending toward replacement level...he's hurtling toward it at light speed. His GVT has dropped from 12.3 to 3.6 in three years. Was this meant to be a nostalgia trip for those happy 20 minutes in the mid-90s when the Panthers weren't terrible?
Dale Tallon is very good at identifying and acquiring young talent. He built the 2010 Stanley Cup champs, after all. Alas, his salary cap management is absolutely inept. His combination of qualifying offer misadventures and appetite for huge contracts killed any chance for a dynasty in the Second City, and Tallon's moves this offseason have shown that he learned nothing at all from his mistakes. He could have rented out his mammoth cap space, taking contracts off teams at a premium. Look at how the Sabres fleeced the Flames out of Robyn Regehr and a second round pick, just for taking on Ales Kotalik's 1 year and $3 million. Unfortunately, such sound asset management seems to be beyond his grasp.