Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Building a roster of the cap era’s worst July 1 signings

So the first day of free agency has come and gone. How did your team do?

Probably not well. If history is any guide, your team either missed out on the big signings, or paid way too much to get in on them. If we’ve learned anything about July 1 in the salary cap era, it’s that jumping in with both feet on Day 1 of the open market can lead to a lot of regret. There are bargains, sure, and occasionally a team will sign a big-dollar deal that works out great. But those are exceptions. Most of the time, July 1 is the day that GMs do their very worst work.

That feels like something worth celebrating. So as we recover from yesterday’s chaos and try to digest all the money NHL GMs just threw around, let’s look back on the mistakes of the past by building a full roster out of some of the worst July 1 UFA deals of the cap era.

A couple of quick ground rules:

– We’re only looking for UFA deals that were signed on July 1. That rules out a few names you might be expecting to see here, like New York’s Brad Richards or Calgary’s James Neal (both of whose deals came a few days into free agency) and Philadelphia’s Ilya Bryzgalov (who was actually acquired in a trade and signed before he reached UFA status, but still needs to be mentioned here because that was hilarious).

– We’re judging signings based on a mix of the reaction at the time and how the deal looks with the benefit of hindsight. Because of that second part, we’re going to try really hard not to include any of this year’s signing, although (double-checks yesterday’s list) yeah no promises.

– The 2013 offseason schedule was thrown off a few days by the lockout, so for that season only “July 1” is actually July 5.

All contract information, including signing date and cap hit percentage, is from the CapFriendly signing database. Salaries are average annual value; “cap hit” is the percentage of that season’s cap.

As you might expect, there’s going to be some overlap with our worst possible cap team exercise from last season. But as bad as that roster was, this one might be even more depressing. You’ve been warned. Let’s get started.

First line

Scott Gomez, Rangers, 2007: 7 x $7.357 million, 14.63% cap hit

This deal seemed steep at the time, and got far worse over the years. It wasn’t the complete disaster you might remember it as – Gomez was actually pretty good in his first year in New York, and nearly hit the 60-point mark in the next two. And of course, the Rangers managed to somehow unload the deal onto the Canadiens before it really blew up. But once it did, man, it was awful. When you have your own website to track whether you’ve scored, that’s bad. When that site doesn’t change for over a year, that’s worse.

David Clarkson, Maple Leafs, 2013: 7 x $5.25 million, 8.16% cap hit

“I’m not worried about six or seven right now,” Leafs GM Dave Nonis infamously said when signing the deal. “I’m worried about one. And Year 1, I know we’re going to have a very good player.”

Nope. Clarkson was a miss almost immediately, in part due to an ill-advised suspension that delayed his regular season debut. To be fair, many Leafs fans loved the deal at the time, and some of the local media went nuts for it. Others immediately saw the disaster that was coming, including a young Globe and Mail beat writer who I hear went on to work at some website.

While it was never from lack of trying, Clarkson never clicked in Toronto, and didn’t even last two seasons before the team ate millions of dollars to ship him to Columbus. He hasn’t played since 2015-16 and almost certainly never will again, but his contract is still kicking around the league – partly because Nonis decided to make it virtually buyout proof.

Milan Lucic, Oilers, 2016: 7 x $6 million, 8.22% cap hit

Three years after watching the Leafs throw seven years at an aging power forward because of heart and grit and compete level, the Oilers apparently figured they could do even better. Lucic at least gave them one decent year, which is one more than the Leafs ever got from Clarkson. But unlike the Leafs, the Oilers haven’t yet figured out a way to wiggle out from under this contract, despite rumors that they’re desperately trying.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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