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Two Red Wings Make Worst Contracts List

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During the Olympics, Grantland hosted “Worst Contracts Week,” and unfortunately two Red Wings made the hockey list. Stephen Weiss (5) and Johan Franzen (10) were the unlucky players who managed to play their way onto Sean Mcindoe’s list. While neither name was much of a surprise, Mcindoe went into some interesting (and often depressing) detail about both players. On Weiss:

“For years, Weiss was one of those “fly under the radar” guys, toiling away for the Florida Panthers. You’d kind of forget he existed, and then every so often, you’d see his stat line and think Hmm, not bad at all.

He was awful in 2012-13, scoring just four points in 17 games. But he was hurt most of the year and had a solid track record. When he made it to free agency in a talent-thin market, you knew someone would pay up. What was he going to do, have another injury-plagued season in which he scored four points?

He wound up getting $24.5 million from the Red Wings, and they’ve been rewarded with … another injury-plagued season in which he’s scored four points. That’s all he’s managed so far, while struggling with a groin injury that has limited him to 26 games.

Lots of people loved the Weiss signing in the summer, when he seemed like one last piece of the puzzle for a Wings team expected to contend for the Cup. Now that they’re struggling just to make the playoffs, a five-year commitment to a banged-up center on the wrong side of 30 seems like a major misfire.”

So this might seem like a good time to panic. Take a deep breath, because I’m here to talk you off the ledge. There’s no need to panic, not yet, anyway.

In fact, this is a time for some optimism. Weiss is nearing a return from sports hernia surgery, an injury that has hampered him virtually all season, and one he was admittedly not entirely forthcoming about. We could soon potentially see a completely healthy Weiss for the first time in his brief stint as a Red Wing.

But being an optimist doesn’t mean I’m not also a realist, and there is a very real possibility that Ken Holland made one of the more significant gaffes of his illustrious tenure with the Red Wings in brokering this deal. The contract is not only ineligible for compliance buyout, it also has four years and $4.9 million in annual salary cap hit remaining. This is going to make it very difficult to use a traditional buyout on Weiss any time soon. The earliest I could see it being prudent both financially and cap-wise is in June of 2016. At that point the Red Wings would see significant salary cap relief in the remaining two years of the deal, while limiting future cap penalties to $1.66 million in the two years thereafter. As I stated previously, I don’t believe it’s time to give up on Weiss. It is, however, a situation worth monitoring very closely as he returns from injury.

Another player from the Red Wings rounded out the top ten on the list of worst NHL contracts. This is what Mcindoe had to say about Franzen:

“When Franzen signed his 11-year extension in April 2009, he was just finishing up his first 30-goal season. While it was unusual to see a team commit so many years to a 29-year-old, his cap hit was more than reasonable for a guy who scored in that range.

He hasn’t hit that 30-goal mark again since then, but he came close over the first few years of his deal. He missed most of 2009-10 to injury, but scored 28 goals in 2010-11 and 29 in 2011-12. In the lockout year, he managed 14 in 41 games. That was a drop in his goals-per-game rate, but not a major one.

But this year, his scoring rate is down once again, and has dipped below .30 per game for the first time since 2007. He’s 34 years old and has battled injuries. It’s fair to say that while the Wings may have received good value for their money over the past few years, they’re solidly into the “declining returns” phase of the deal.

And that’s bad news, because there’s an awful lot of years left. Franzen is signed through 2020, at which point he’ll be 40 years old. It’s hard to see him making it anywhere near that far without being bought out.”

Well, that was refreshing. The Franzen situation is more complicated due to the fact that it is a textbook cap circumvention contract. These are the kinds of deals the NHL set out to eliminate with the new CBA, while punishing teams for utilizing them in the process. Because there are more variables to this type of contract, such as the cap recapture penalty for the player retiring prior to the conclusion of the deal, I will be devoting a forthcoming post to the options regarding Franzen’s future and what I see as the best course of action. Until then, stay tuned and stay off the ledge.

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Tags: Detroit Red Wings Johan Franzen NHL Stephen Weiss

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