Bad contracts are never ideal, but sometimes, they’re simply unavoidable. Either you sign them yourself – and this can happen thanks to free agency inflation, a perceived need you’re desperate to fill, or needing to reach the cap floor – or you trade for them, perhaps because you feel the player will be good for you in the immediate, or to pick up another asset.
But as unavoidable as they are, they’re never desirable. They have the potential to tear apart teams, force unwanted trades, and prevent the signings other, better players. There’s no upside.
It’s still something every team has to deal with, though, and the Flames are no exception. Last year, they were swimming in cap space, so it didn’t matter; this year, they’re up against the cap, and with some big raises due the year after.
Here’s a look at the worst contracts the Flames have to offer.
Deryk Engelland: ~$2.9 million, two more seasons. Something should tip you off when the entire hockey world is incredulous about the deal you just signed, and that’s exactly what happened when the Flames signed Engelland on July 1, 2014.
“That’s $2.9 million per” is a horrifying sentence when thinking about a guy who is, at absolute best, a bottom pairing defenceman, but that ended up being the case. The Flames vastly overpaid for a player who is not a difference maker – and some would argue, hurts the team with his presence more than helps it – and created the worst contract currently on their books.
There’s simply no making sense of this one. Engelland averaged just 14:19 a game over five years with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He doesn’t put up points. He almost never has the puck, and when he does, he almost never does anything constructive with it. He’s a perpetual negative CF% rel player. And to top it all off, he’s in his early 30s, with pretty much zero chance of improvement.
Nobody’s ever going to take that contract, because nobody in their right mind would have signed it to begin with.
Ladislav Smid: $3.5 million, two more seasons. The Flames didn’t sign this contract, but they did trade for it. And true: right now, it’s more of a nuisance than a threat. With Smid’s injury history, including his most recent neck issues, the Flames can simply place him on long-term injury reserve when the season starts, and all the problems his contract causes disappear.
Except… what if Smid recovers enough to be able to play? Then all the problems his contract causes come rushing back in, and for another two years.
Smid was never particularly great to begin with, and he was losing a step by the time he came to Calgary, so he probably never should have been acquired. You need a defenceman? Look somewhere else; namely, look for a cheap pickup first and foremost, not a defenceman of questionable talent on an awful team signed to a big deal.
The Flames have seriously improved their backend over the past few months. Last year, we got several games wherein Smid and Engelland were the bottom defence pairing: something that will likely never occur again. Smid doesn’t have a place on this team anymore, and it’s really, really hard to justify $3.5 million of cap space going to a body that isn’t going to contribute.
As long as he stays on LTIR, this is a non-issue. The second he comes off it, it becomes one of the absolute worst contracts on the Flames. And that’s still a possibility.
The non-ideal, somewhat defensible
Mason Raymond: $3.15 million, two more seasons. Raymond finally got his contractual break. After years of short-term deals at modest cap hits, including a training camp tryout that earned him a $1 million deal for one year, he finally got a bigger contract he looked worthy of: three years, $3.15 million, with a no trade clause from him hometown to boot.
It was a nice story. It was a nice story for the guy who finally proved himself after several seasons looking like he was, at absolute worst, a good depth option. It continued to be a nice story when he scored a hat trick in just his second game with his new team.
It stopped being a nice story when Raymond got injured, his production fell off a cliff, and by the end of the season, he found himself relegated to either the fourth line or the pressbox.
Raymond had one of the worst seasons of his career this past season, and he’s still locked in at a too-high price tag for another two years: one that could end up causing problems for the Flames very, very soon. The forward group is already extremely crowded, and Raymond adds absolutely nothing. In fact, all he’s really doing is taking a spot from a player who could be more deserving, but also may not have a chance, thanks to Raymond’s contract.
The defence for Raymond? He’s had good seasons in the past. There’s a chance he can rebound, and become a more productive member of the forward group once again.
But in the meantime, this is a deal the Flames would certainly be better without.
Brandon Bollig: $1.25 million, two more seasons. Bollig is just like everybody else preceding him on this list: in danger of losing his job, simply by being not good enough. The forward lineup is full, and all Bollig is doing is being a warm body occupying a spot. He’s not one of the top 12 forwards on this team; in fact, he’s the worst of the 16 or so guys the Flames will have battling it out.
Like Smid, this isn’t a contract the Flames signed, it’s one they willingly traded for: an overpriced, too-long deal for a forward who has never performed well at any point in his career, and a forward who should be completely pushed out of the regular lineup from here on out.
The only reason it’s defensible is because it’s a relatively cheap deal; at least, cheaper than the other guys on this list. But it’s one that really shouldn’t be on the books, and provides no help whatsoever.
The ones likely to hurt in the future
Dennis Wideman: $5.25 million, two more seasons. Wideman has been one of the Flames’ most expensive defencemen throughout his career in Calgary, all the while being mostly underwhelming. True, he had a career season last year, and was a massive part of the Flames having such a high-scoring backend. He’s also 32 years old, and unlikely to have another year as good as that one.
Wideman’s defensive game leaves a lot to be desired, and at the cap hit he has, that’s inexcusable; especially when he could be preventing the Flames from signing Cody Franson, a much better, younger option. This isn’t just a short-term repercussion: it’s a long-term one as well, and all for a defenceman who will be 34 years old by the time his contract ends.
Remember, there’s a reason Wideman was a healthy scratch at the start of the most recent season. That’s an issue that could easily arise this season, too. Throw in his no movement clause, and a potentially toxic contract becomes even more difficult to move.
This offseason is probably the best chance the Flames have to move his less-than-desirable deal. It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, and that’s going to hurt down the line.
Matt Stajan: $3.125 million, three more seasons. What Stajan doesn’t do in scoring, he makes up for in defensive acumen and sheltering the kids breaking into the league. His value isn’t exactly noticeable on the scoreboard, but it pays dividends throughout the lineup.
The problem: he still costs a fair amount, and he’s going to cost that fair amount for a while longer yet. It’s nice to have good insurance options, but when your insurance is your sixth-highest paid forward and has a no trade clause? That’s not particularly pretty.
For the time being, Stajan is still a great, valued member of the Flames. Are we going to be able to say the same as his contract expires? Three seasons from now, if still in Calgary, Stajan will be a 34-year-old centre with 29, 24, and 22-year-olds ahead of him on the depth chart. At that price tag, it’s no longer money well spent.
Moving these guys
To deal with the impending cap crunch, it’s best if the Flames can move some of these players to other teams. The bad part about this is the most moveable guys, Wideman and Stajan, are the most useful on the ice. The guys you really want to get rid of – Engelland, Smid, Raymond, and Bollig – are going to be difficult to move out, if even possible at all (without giving up a quality asset: think the Flames offering to take on Cam Ward or Mike Ribeiro’s contracts in exchange for additional first round picks a couple of seasons ago).
Considering the current forward situation, it’s imperative to clear out some bodies from that group. Considering how the defence has been bolstered with the addition of Dougie Hamilton and the potential of a handful of newly-found prospects, the battle for potential NHLers to make the lineup is all the more intense, and there doesn’t need to be dead weight around complicating things.
You just hope it’s possible for the Flames to move some of these players within the year, and that it doesn’t hurt them in the long run.