Photo: Sporting News
With NHL free agency set to open in around three week’s time, there are some bargains given out as well as some mammoths that puts huge strains on team’s salary caps every year. NoVa Caps looks at the five worst contracts in the Metropolitan Division.
Note: This post only includes players under contract for the 2022-23 NHL season. Therefore, expiring contracts like defenseman P.K. Subban’s (who’s contract had a $9 million cap hit) are not included. Contracts with cap hits less than $3 million were also not considered.
5. RW Barclay Goodrow, New York Rangers
In need of some toughness after being pushed around by the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals in 2020-21, the Rangers added some beef last offseason, including the signing of the reigning two-time Stanley Cup Champion to a six-year contract that carries a $3,641,667 cap hit.
Goodrow tallied a 13 goals, 33 points, and a 44.42% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage in 79 regular-season games this past season. He added just one assist in nine postseason games.
Prior to 2021-22, the 29-year-old never topped eight goals or 26 points in a single season. While Goodrow had a strong debut season on Broadway, his track record does not back up the cap hit he has and his contract will take him until he is 34.
4. LW Jason Zucker, Pittsburgh Penguins
After a 33-goal, 64-point output in 82 games with the Minnesota Wild in 2017-18, the now 30-year-old cashed in on a five-year contract that comes with a $5.5 million cap hit and includes a 10-team no-trade clause.
Since signing the deal, Zucker’s scoring took an expected hit the next season but he still earned 21 goals and 42 points in 81 games. He produced similar numbers the following season when he was dealt to Pittsburgh mid year.
In his first two full seasons with the Penguins, Zucker’s playing time has been limited due to injuries and he tallied just nine goals and 18 points in 38 games before putting up eight goals, 17 points, and a 53.86% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage in only 41 games this past season.
3. C Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Carolina Hurricanes
The 21-year-old set a career-high in goals with only 12 and faceoff-winning percentage (51.16%) in his first season in Carolina where he also tallied 29 points and a 55.06% five-on-five expected goals-percentage in 66 games. In the midst of it, he signed an eight-year contract extension that contains a lucrative $4.82 million cap hit.
Kotkaniemi has hit the double-digit goal-mark just one other time in his career (11 in 79 games with the Montreal Canadiens during his rookie campaign in 2018-19) and was even sent to the minors in his sophomore campaign where he played just 36 games. He earned only six goals and eight points then.
Kotkaniemi had success in the postseason in Montreal where he earned four goals in 10 games in the Toronto bubble before tallying five goals and eight points in 19 games during the Canadiens’ run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final but was unable to bring it to Carolina. He had just two assists in 14 games this past spring for them.
Kotkaniemi is still young and could live up to that contract one day but it is not looking like a good one for the Hurricanes right now.
2. C Kevin Hayes, Philadelphia Flyers
After hitting the 50-point mark for the first time in his sixth NHL season with the Rangers and Winnipeg Jets in 2018-19, the Flyers traded for Hayes’ unrestricted free agent rights and signed him to a seven-year contract that came with a $7,142,857 cap hit.
Since arriving in Philadelphia, Hayes lived up to his career averages with 23 goals and 41 points in 69 games in his first season, 12 goals and 31 points in 55 games in the shortened 56-game campaign, and 10 goals, 31 points, a 44.05% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 42.83% faceoff-winning percentage in only 48 games this past year.
Hayes was productive for the Flyers in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs where he earned four goals and 13 points in 16 games.
Overall, Hayes has been consistent since stepping into the NHL but not to the extent to earn over $7 million per season. His contract will expire when he is 34-years-old.
1. D Rasmus Ristolainen, Flyers
Following being dealt from the Buffalo Sabres, the 27-year-old turned in a career-worst two goals, a career-low 16 points, a -9 rating, a 46.08% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 46.46% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 45.46% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 66 games for the Flyers. He averaged 21:26 per game this past season (fourth among Philadelphia blue liners), including 41 seconds on the power play (sixth) and 1:54 on the penalty kill (fifth). The Flyers signed him to a five-year contract that will cost them $5.1 million against the salary cap until Ristolainen is 32.
Ristolainen has a -172 rating in 608 NHL games and his career-high in that category is a -2, set in 69 games with the Sabres during the 2019-20 season. Other than that, the highest rating that he has had in a single season is -9. He has also never had a five-on-five expected goals-for percentage higher than 46.5% (including 46.46% this past season) with an exception of 2019-20 when he hit the 48.34% mark.
Ristolainen has eclipsed the 40-point plateau four times in his career but the last time he did came four seasons ago. In fact, Ristolainen’s average of 0.24 points-per-game last season was the lowest he has earned in eight full NHL seasons.
By Harrison Brown