Have you ever noticed that some NHL players in the first year of a long term contract can suffer from large immediate declines in production? Here is my top ten list since the salary cap, goalies not included. Contracts that are at least 4 years long, ranked on 2 criteria: the size of the decline in points per game production in the first season of the contract, and the size of the contract.
Here they are:
1) David Clarkson, Toronto 2013/14: Has there ever been a more disappointing free agent arrival than Clarkson? It didn't help that his collapse came in the media firestorm of Toronto, or that he started to suck almost immediately. His Points Per Game dropped by 63% in the first year, coring just 5 goals. That's like a million dollars per goal.
2) Mikhail Grabovski, Toronto 2012/13: Mikhail only played one year of his 5 year $27.5M deal before the buyout, a season where he experienced a 52% decline in Points Per Game. It's safe to assume the conversation in the front office over whether or not to use a compliance buyout on Grabo did not require much deliberation. This contract had to be among the factors that led to the surprise ouster of Brian Burke.
3) Nick Foligno, Columbus 2015/16: What happened to Nick Foligno last season? He dropped from 73 PTS to 37 PTS the first season of a new 6 year $33M contract. At age 27 he should have been in a position for a career year, but instead it seems he may have peaked at 26. Blue Jackets fans sure have to hope he bounces back, because 5 more years at under 40 PTS is not what they're paying for. Yes he's a character guy, but beware paying too much for character.
4) Ville Leino, Buffalo 2011/2012: You could make a case that this was the worst contract ever awarded under the salary cap, 6 years $27M, at least when considering his small body of work in the NHL at the time of signing. It did not take long for people to notice that he wasn't earning his new contract. He scored just 10 goals over 3 seasons before the Sabres bought him out. He went back to Europe.
5) Christian Ehrhoff, Buffalo 2011/12: The Buffalo Sabres sure struck out hard with free agency in the summer of 2011. The owner told the GM to go out and spend, and the result was $67 Million for Ehrhoff and Leino. Ouch! This was a big reason that one of the longest serving General Managers in the NHL was fired in 2013 and got his next GM job in the minor leagues. If he has interviewed for any NHL GM jobs since, I gotta think the first question he's asked is "dude, Leino, Ehrhoff, WTF?"
6) Shawn Horcoff, Edmonton 2009/10: Horcoff was coming off 3 consecutive 50 point seasons before signing a rich new contract at age 30. He would only average slightly over 10 goals per season under this contract while earning a $5.5M AAV. The Oilers were/are too poor to afford burning this much on a declining asset. It was a front loaded contract that otherwise would have been a 2013 compliance buyout candidate if not for the fact that the real money on the back end was much smaller.
7) Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh 2009/10: Perhaps it was a Stanley Cup hangover that led Malkin to drop from 113 PTS in 2009 to 77 PTS in 2010, but Geno had his best year in the NHL at age 22 and has declined since. Don't get me wrong, he's still a world class player, but he signed an expensive new contract and then saw a production drop of 36 PTS. He fit the criteria for this list, but I still wouldn't call it a bad contract. He's got 2 rings.
8) Mattias Ohlund, Tampa 2009/10: I'm not sure it ever made sense to give a 33 year old defenseman in decline a 7 year contract for $25M. Tampa got lucky that Ohlund was not healthy for most of the contract, allowing them to hide it on long term IR. He hasn't played since 2011 but the contract only just expired in 2016. He did play over 100 games for the Lightning, but was never again the player that he was in Vancouver.
9) Viktor Stalberg, Nashville 2013/14: This was a relatively small contract at 4 years $12M, but the production decline was substantial. In the first year his production dropped almost in half. He only played out half the contract before being bought out, but he went on to find new NHL employment for over $1 million dollars annually. His agent has earned his commission.
10) Matt Stajan, Calgary 2010/11: He scored 19 goals and 57 PTS in 2010, and 6 G, 31 PTS in 2011 after signing a 4 year $14M contract. He survived getting bought out, but never again came close to the production that earned him this deal. It should be noted that Calgary played exactly zero playoff games for the duration of this contract.
Honorable mentions: Alex Edler 2014, Colin Wilson 2016, Martin Havlat 2010, Jochen Hecht 2009, Mike Grabner 2012