Welcome back to the third and final part of this mini series where we will finish taking a look at every NHL teams worst contract for the 2021-22 season. As mentioned in both Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, this list does not take into account the term left on a deal. It is just for the 2021-22 season. With that being said, let’s take a look!
Jason Zucker, $5.5 million AAV
When the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Jason Zucker in the early months of 2020, it was a trade that many acknowledged was a big price to pay but most felt worth it given that they were bringing in a proven top six goal scoring winger. Early on it appeared to be a great decision as Zucker recorded six goals and 12 points in 15 regular season games with the Pens and also added two goals in four playoff contests.
The 2020-21 season however was a much different story. Zucker struggled to the tune of nine goals and 18 points in 38 games, which is a far cry from what the Penguins were expecting back when they had traded for him. It very well could have just been an off year for the 29-year-old, but if he struggles again in 2021-22 this contract could soon into an ugly situation for the Pens.
San Jose Sharks
Erik Karlsson, $11.5 million AAV
The San Jose Sharks are a team that is loaded with bad contracts, which is why they have really struggled the past few seasons. Guys like Brent Burns, Marc Edouard-Vlasic, Timo Meier and even to an extent Logan Couture are not living up to their lucrative deals. However, when discussing their worst contract heading into the 2021-22 season, it would be impossible not to list the fourth-highest paid player in the league in Erik Karlsson.
For years, Karlsson was one of the most electric players in the NHL, putting up ridiculous numbers for a defenceman and winning two Norris Trophies during that time. However, since signing his eight-year, $92 million deal during the 2019 offseason, his play has really dropped off. The 2020-21 season was the worst of his career, as he had just 22 points in 52 games. He isn’t old by any means at 31, but has had some significant injuries in the past, making it fair to question if what we saw last season is what we should continue to expect moving forward.
Jamie Oleksiak, $4.6 million AAV
One of the first signings in franchise history for the Seattle Kraken came on the day of the expansion draft when they agreed to terms with Jamie Oleksiak on a five-year deal with an AAV of $4.6 million. This deal came after a 2020-21 season with the Dallas Stars in which he was given a much bigger role, averaging 20:29 in ice time per game. It was a huge jump for the 28-year-old defenceman, who had only once previously averaged over 17 minutes of ice time in a season, that being with the Pittsburgh Penguins back in 2017-18.
Oleksiak is a solid defensive player who will add both size and physicality to the Kraken lineup, attributes which shouldn’t be downplayed. Offensively however, he will give them next to nothing, as in his 369-game career he has just 72 points. He will likely be given an even bigger role with the Kraken this upcoming season, and if he is able to live up to it then this deal will be just fine. Judging right now though, it seems like a pretty big gamble.
St. Louis Blues
Vladimir Tarasenko, $7.5 million AAV
Earlier in the offseason, it appeared that Vladimir Tarasenko’s time with the St. Louis Blues was up after he requested a trade from the organization. However, given the fact that nothing is happened since then, there is a chance the 29-year-old will return to St. Louis for the 2021-22 season. If that does happen to be the case, the Blues will be hoping that he can both stay healthy and perform better than he has as of late.
It has been a rough couple of years for Tarasenko, who has played just 34 games over the past two seasons due to multiple shoulder injuries. He reportedly hasn’t been happy with how they have been dealt with by team doctors which was what led him to requesting a trade in the first place. When he was able to suit up last season, he recorded just four goals and 14 points in 24 games. Hopefully he is fully healthy and able to turn things around, but there is a real chance that these injuries may hinder him moving forward.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Given the fact that the Tampa Bay Lightning have won two straight Stanley Cups, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they don’t have many bad contracts on their roster. In fact, the only questionable one they had recently was Tyler Johnson, who is earning $5 million per season. However, he was recently traded to the Chicago Blackhawks, and with the move the Bolts truly don’t have a single bad contract on the books.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, $10.9 million AAV
This selection will take some heat from Toronto Maple Leafs fans, but the bottom line is Mitch Marner’s five goals in a combined 32 playoff games is not enough for someone with a cap hit of $10.9 million. The argument could be made that his teammate in Auston Matthews, who has an even higher cap hit, hasn’t been very good in the postseason either. While that is true, he is both the better of the two players and also has more impact on games due to the fact that he plays center.
There is no denying Marner’s talents, and at just 24-years-old he is one of the better wingers in the entire NHL. However, he is done nothing to deserve being the second highest paid winger in the league like he is right now. Perhaps he can have not only a huge regular season but also play great hockey in the playoffs next year, which would go a long way in changing the current narrative on him. Until he is able to do that, this contract is a detriment to this Leafs team.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, $7.26 million AAV
This offseason, Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning was able to bring in a very talented winger in Conor Garland from the Arizona Coyotes, but in doing so was also forced to take on the contract of defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The 30-year-old was once highly regarded as one of the games premier blueliners, scoring north of 20 goals in two straight seasons from 2014-2016.
In recent years, his play has declined rapidly. Benning is clearly banking on a change of scenery being enough to turn things around for the Swedish defenceman, and perhaps that will be all it takes. If he continues to play like he has in the past few seasons however, this trade could be looked at as a major error by the Canucks no matter how well Garland performs.
Vegas Golden Knights
Evgeni Dadonov, $5 million AAV
The Vegas Golden Knights are a team that since joining the league have done very well with bringing in numerous highly talented players while still managing to remain cap compliant. For the most part, the players they have brought in have been well worth the contracts they are on. That is why the acquisition of Evgeni Dadonov this offseason is quite puzzling.
Dadonov, 32, returned to the NHL for the 2017-18 season after an unsuccessful first stint several years prior. He quickly showed just how improved he was, scoring 28 goals and 65 points in 74 games for the Florida Panthers. He went on to have two more impressive seasons with them before signing a three-year, $15 million deal with the Ottawa Senators. He had a very poor showing in his first and only season with the Sens, scoring just 13 goals and 20 points in 55 games. The Golden Knights are taking a pretty big risk here in hopes that he can go back to the player he was with the Panthers.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, $7.8 million AAV
Just a few short seasons ago, Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov was viewed as one of the most talented forwards in the NHL. Since then, some off ice incidents along with at times lackadaisical play has reportedly drawn the ire of management, as there were plenty of rumors that they were shopping him earlier this offseason.
When he wants to be, he is still very capable of taking over games. The problem is that he often seems to lack desire, and his nine goals and 29 points in 41 games last season are not good enough for his salary of $7.8 million. Perhaps the negative headlines that have involved his name over the past few months will be enough to motivate him to have a big 2021-22 season, but it is impossible to predict with him.
Pierre-Luc Dubois, $5 million AAV
The Winnipeg Jets are another one of those teams who don’t have any truly bad contracts on their roster. Sure, they’d like Josh Morrissey to be better than he has been the past few seasons, but by no means has he been terrible. Blake Wheeler is a player you could argue is making too much now given that his game is starting to slowly decline, but even still he is putting up very solid numbers. It was a tough choice to select a player on this team, but ultimately I went with Pierre-Luc Dubois.
The 23-year-old was acquired in a trade for Patrik Laine early in the season and struggled to fit in with the Jets. In 41 regular season games he managed just eight goals and 20 points, and was a complete non-factor in the playoffs, failing to score a single goal in seven games. With how young he is paired with the amount of talent he possesses, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him perform much better in his second season with Winnipeg, but the down year is somewhat of a cause for concern.
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