This post will serve as a cautionary tale to those General Managers around the league who feel they need to make a splash on July 1st when the free agency period opens. This version of Top Ten Tuesday focuses on the biggest Free Agent busts, those who were awarded huge contracts and didn’t come even close to fulfilling the expectations associated with the contract they were given.
There have been so many that could be considered for this list, that for the first time since I started Top Ten Tuesday, I will start off by giving some honorable mentions: Martin Gerber (4 years, $15.1 M) in Ottawa in 2006. Alex Mogilny (2 yrs, $7 M) in New Jersey in 2005, Markus Naslund (2 yrs, $8M) for the NYR in 2008, and Rob Scuderi (4 yrs, $13.6 M) for the Los Angeles Kings in 2009.
Now on with the actual top-10 list (contacts signed since the Lockout) :
10. Sean Avery, Dallas Stars – 2008 (4 years, $15.5 M) - Super pest Avery was brought in to do a specific job in Dallas. Unfortunately his history of being a distraction followed him to Dallas and he was suspended by the league and then by the team for comments about Dion Phaneuf‘s girlfriend, who was also Avery’s ex-girlfriend. Avery was demoted to the minors and then claimed by the Rangers on re-entry waivers in Marh 2009. The Stars are still on the hook for half of Avery’s nearly $4 M salary through the 2011-12 season.
His stat line for the Stars reads: 23 GP, 3 G, 7 A, 10 PTS, 77 PIM.
9. Brian Rolston, New Jersey Devils – 2008 (4 years, $20.5 M) – New Jersey brought back the veteran forward to the team that drafted him in 1991. When the 35 year old signed on for more than $5 M per year, many eyebrows were raised, since there would be no way to get out of the contract if it went south. Sure enough, Rolston showed he was in the twilight of his career and found himself on the third or fourth line on many nights. With a contract that runs through this coming season, it is an albatross that Lou Lamoriello wishes he could have back.
Since signing the deal, here are Rolston’s stats: 3 seasons, 209 GP, 49 G, 54 A, 103 PTs
8. Alex Kovalev, Ottawa Senators – 2009 (2 years, $10 M) - Bryan Murray took a risk bringing in the talented but inconsistent Kovalev. In the wake of the Dany Heatley saga, Kovalev was looked to for some offensive punch. What he gave the team was minimal, and he gave the fans headaches, sprinkling in rare moments of mastery that frustrated those fans and management even more because they were so few and far between. At the 2011 trade deadline, Kovalev was dealt to Pittsburgh for a conditional 7th round pick.
The “damage” for Kovalev in a Sens uniform: 2 seasons, 131 GP, 32 G, 44 A, 76 PTS
7. Scott Gomez, New York Rangers – 2007 (7 years, $51.5 M) – When he was in Edmonton, current Rangers GM Glen Sather often boasted about what he could do with an unlimited budget. Well, when he moved to Broadway he showed that his talents were for tossing huge contracts around to buy the best players and turn them into busts. Gomez was poached from the rival New Jersey Devils in 2007. He was underwhelming at best for the Rangers, although he did put up some points, his play wasn’t up to what a player making a cap hit of over $7.3 M should be. After just two seasons, the Rangers were able to pawn him off on the Montreal Canadiens, who are still carrying his inflated cap hit and deflated production for another 3 seasons.
His contribution to the Rangers was: 2 seasons, 158 GP, 32 G, 96 A, 128 PTS
6. Chris Drury – New York Rangers – 2007 (5 years, $35.25 M) – At the same time as the Gomez signing, Sather also threw a wad of cash at Buffalo Sabres co-captain Chris Drury. With a reputation of scoring big goals and winning at all levels, Drury was seen as a compliment to Gomez in the Rangers lineup. Compliment Gomez he did, as it would be tough to pick which player was more disappointing. After scoring 37 goals and 69 points in his last year as a Sabre, he was unable to crack the 30 goal or 60 point barrier in New York. Drury is currently involved in a bitter buyout/injury conflict with the Rangers, but either way his NHL days are likely over.
His New York totals are: 4 seasons, 264 GP, 62 G, 89 A, 151 PTS
5. Michael Nylander – Washington Capitals – 2007 (4 years, $19.5 M) – Coming off an 83 point season with the New York Rangers, the Edmonton Oilers thought they had snagged the self-proclaimed “Swedish Wayne Gretzky” as a free agent in 2007. While the Oilers were waiting for his signature on the contract, he went and signed with the Capitals. Perhaps karma came through, as Nylander struggled through two seasons with the Caps, before Salary Cap issues forced the Capitals to send him to the minors, and subsequently loan him to a Finnish club. Last season he was loaned to the Panthers minor league affiliate where he was seriously injured after being hit from behind. He should recover, but as a free agent this summer, will not likely get much interest.
As a Capital, he put up the following stats: 2 seasons, 112 GP, 20 G, 50 A, 70 PTS
4. Jeff Finger – Toronto Maple Leafs – 2008 (4 years, $ 14 M) – Cliff Fletcher made a lot of shrewd moves in his many years as an NHL GM, but the signing of Finger is a black mark on his record. The Leafs Interim GM at the time, he signed the relative unknown former Avalanche defenseman to a contract with a cap hit of $3.5 M. Finger was 27 at the time and had plaed fewer than 100 NHL games with less than 25 points. Finger was a huge gamble that had everyone in hockey confused. He played last season for the AHL Marlies and is under contract for one more season, unless he is bought out by the Leafs.
His underwhelming stats as a Leaf are: 2 seasons, 105 GP, 8 G, 25 A, 33 PTS
3. Mike Commodore – Columbus Blue Jackets – 2008 (5 years, $ 18.75 M) - Popular wherever he played, but at best a 5-6 defenseman, Columbus saw fit to offer the former Senator a truckload of money in the form of a $3.75 M annual cap hit. not known for his offensive ability, his paycheck demanded more than he was capable of providing the Blue Jackets. After being in and out of the lineup for almost two seasons, Commodore finished the 2010-11 season in the AHL, and has two more years left on his contract.
As a Blue Jacket he managed: 3 seasons, 158 GP, 9 G, 32 A, 41 PTS, 206 PIM
2. Sheldon Souray – Edmonton Oilers – 2007 (5 years, $27 M) – The often injured Souray accepted a boatload of money to move to Edmonton, and continued the trend by missing a lot of time in his first season with injuries. his second season in Edmonton showed what he could do, as he netted 53 points while playing 81 games. Injuries struck again in the 2009-10 season, as a concussion limited him to 37 games. He asked for a trade in the summer of 2010, which strained the relationship between player and team to the point that he was waived and told he would not be welcome at training camp. He went unclaimed (largely due to his massive cap hit and injury history) and was loaned to the Washington Capitals AHL affiliate Hershey Bears. He is still on the hook for one more year, unless he is bought out, which is a strong possibility.
Edmonton fans saw Souray accumulate: 3 seasons, 144 GP, 30 G, 46 A, 76 PTS
1. Wade Redden – New York Rangers – 2008 (6 years, $39 M) – Perhaps there has not been a greater fall from grace than that of the former Senators defenseman. Once considered one of the top blueliners in the game, Redden’s play took a nosedive in the Stanley Cup final year of 2006-07. After another sub-par season in 07-08, Redden’s days of garnering big NHL paychecks were thought to be over. Cue Glen Sather, who obviously hadn’t seen the last two seasons, who offered Redden a massive deal with a cap hit of $6.5 M for 6 years. In the first two seasons, Redden showed that his descent into mediocrity was not temporary and he was assigned to the AHL Connecticut Whale, where he played last season as one of the highest paid AHLers ever. While the Rangers were hoping the 34 year old would retire rather than ride the buses in the minors, Redden seems to be enjoying the ride, and plays because he still wants to.
For their $6.5 M per season the Rangers got: 2 seasons, 156 GP, 5 G, 35 A, 40 PTS
So there is my top 10 list of Free Agent Busts. Obviously the moral of the story is: if you put Glen Sather on a tight budget and give him the greatest player in the history of the game and he can win Stanley Cups. Otherwise, watch out, your cash will flow out the door!
Makes you wonder how some GM’s still have their jobs when they make so many miscalculations.
Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.
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