National Hockey League general managers can always find enough salary cap space to pay the truly elite players. They can offset that cost by working in a few more first-contract youngsters and filling depth roles with journeyman types working for mere six-figure salaries.
The budget breakers are veterans making great money for delivering not-so-great results. They aren’t necessarily rolling in dough like lottery winners, but they take up a LOT of space over a lengthy period of time.
These are the salary cap killers. And here are their names:
W: NATHAN HORTON, BRUINS
Total contract: $37.1 million over seven years.
Annual cap hit: $5.3 million until 2019-20.
Why he got paid: He scored 20 or more goals for six consecutive seasons earlier in his career.
Reality check: His first official act as a Blue Jacket was undergoing shoulder surgery that could sideline him into 2014. At least he won’t be at risk of suffering another concussion during his down time.
Damning quote: “I've just been kind of waiting to get it done. I'm definitely going to have surgery. Hopefully in the next week, early week, we can figure that out and get something done, and the sooner the better. I think the recovery is four to six months. I'm hoping four, and I think everyone else would in my situation. I just want to be 100 percent and come back and never have a problem with it again.” –Horton, on needing surgery.
W/C: VILLE LEINO, SABRES
Total contract: $27 million over six years.
Annual cap hit: $4.5 million per year until 2016-17.
Why he got paid: He broke out for 53 points for a loaded Flyers team right before billionaire Terry Pegula bought the Sabres. Like a kid shopping for souvenirs on vacation, Pegula spent irresponsibly on the first few free agents his staff went after.
Reality check: Leino produced just 25 points in his first season in Buffalo, then missed the bulk of last season with a hip injury.
Damning quote: “It took me a really long time to get used to all the stuff. Sometimes the flow in our game wasn’t the way that it should be. We didn’t get the puck. Our defense didn’t get the pucks to forwards. We didn’t make enough plays. We didn’t have the puck enough. The flow of the game, it wasn’t quite there. Sometimes when you go out there and play, it’s easy. It’s just hockey. You go. But sometimes this season I felt like it was a different game. I wasn’t feeling comfortable. I wasn’t feeling like I was just playing hockey. Sometimes I had to think too much or it just was not coming naturally.” – Leino, complaining about Buffalo’s team play in 2011-12.
C-W: VALTTERI FILPPULA
Total contract: $25 million over five years.
Annual cap hit: $5 million until 2017-18
Why he got paid: General manager Steve Yzerman needed a No. 2 center after buying out Vincent Lecavalier. He knew Filppula, a 66-point scorer in 2011-12, from his days in Motown.
Reality check: The Red Wings let Filppula walk because the hockey staff didn’t see him as a viable No. 2 center. Now he is hitting his 30s and replacing the beloved Lecavalier.
Damning quote: “We liked Fil better as a wing. Now we’ve got (Stephen) Weiss, we think he’s a great fit. We think with our group, and the leadership we have, that he can be a real good player for us.” – Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, on upgrading from Filppula to Weiss in free agency.
C: BRAD RICHARDS, RANGERS
Total contract: $60 million over nine years.
Annual cap hit: $6.67 million until 2019-20.
Why he got paid: He delivered 91-point seasons for Tampa Bay and Dallas earlier in his career.
Reality check: Then-coach John Tortorella scratched him from the lineup as the Rangers fought for their play playoff lives.
Damning quote: “Brad Richards is a hell of a hockey player. He has had struggles here. It continues. Me putting him in that (fourth-line) role does not help him. So I’d rather have him out and identify how we’re going to run our fourth line. So none of ya’s, don’t put words in my mouth, it’s not blaming Brad Richards. I’ve already heard enough of that crap already, as far as this is concerned. He’s a hell of a hockey player that’s having a hell of a time. So I need to make decisions for what I feel is right for this team.” –Tortorella, after banishing Richards from the lineup.
D: JAMES WISNIEWSKI, BLUE JACKETS
Total contract: $33 million over six years.
Annual cap hit: $5.5 million in 2016-17.
Why he got paid: He scored 51 points while splitting the 2010-11 season between the Canadiens and Islanders.
Reality check: Injuries and a suspension limited him to 78 games during his first two seasons in Columbus. He scored 41 points in those games, but with a minus-14 rating. He fell to the third paring last season.
Damning quote: “Wiz and Jack have great offensive ability, but sometimes you need that guy — that calm guy — on the back end who can let his partner go out and do different things.” –Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards, after taking Wisniewski off the top defensive pairing with Jack Johnson.
D/W: BRENT BURNS, SHARKS
Total contract: $28.8 million over five years.
Annual cap hit: $5.76 million until 2016-17.
Why he got paid: He was a big defenseman with a big shot in Minnesota. He once scored 17 goals for the Wild.
Reality check: Sharks coach Todd McLellan moved him to the wing last season to keep him in the lineup.
Damning quote: “How we want to play up front -- go after people and make them defend, Burnzie just fits perfect. He still will be able to play the point on the power play and we can utilize his big shot, but I think we saw how good he could be and how he could impact games at a forward.” – Sharks GM Doug Wilson, explaining why Burns will come to came as a right wing.