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Did we witness the death of the ‘untradeable contract’ this weekend?

Jun 26, 2011, 3:34 PM EDT

Brian Campbell AP

There are times when NHL general managers justify their existences by finding talent that no one else knows about or trusting players to grow when others lose patience. On the other hand, there are moments when you wonder how exactly they found their way into that position in the first place.

It’s bad enough when a player receives a laughably huge contract that towers above his true skill. You could also hear the guffaws from around the league when the New York Rangers signed Scott Gomez to a seven-year, $51.5 million contract and when the Chicago Blackhawks massively overpaid for Brian Campbell with an eight-year, $57.14 million deal.

To some extent, you could give GMs a half-pass for getting caught up in the frenzy of free agency, though. What is really surprising is that lightning can strike twice when another GM agrees to take on albatross deals via trades.

Dale Tallon makes the same Soupy mistake twice

The once-unthinkable notion of the Blackhawks somehow getting out of Campbell’s contract actually became a reality. It’s important to note that Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon was the genius who gave “Soupy” that contract in the first place and his team is far below the $48.3 million salary cap floor right now, though. That being said, Campbell’s hysterical $7.14 million annual salary cap won’t evaporate until after the 2015-16 season. (That sound you heard is the countless cackles of Chicago fans.)

Campbell’s deal wasn’t the only mammoth one to move since the day before the 2011 NHL Entry Draft; it was just the ugliest.

Two risky Flyers who could end up being bargains

Moving past the fact that it’s a mind-numbing risk to give players long-term deals in such a violent sport, both Jeff Carter (11-year, $58 million; expires in 21-22) and Mike Richards‘ (12-year, $69 million; expires in 19-20) deals aren’t too awful from a salary cap standpoint. It might be true that Carter is a one-dimensional goal scorer, but it’s one heck of a dimension; it wouldn’t be crazy to think that the Columbus Blue Jackets basically traded for 250-300 goals over the remainder of that contract.

Richards could be an even better fit for the Kings, though. It’s stunning to realize how much people underrate the two-way center’s abilities. Perhaps it is because Richards’ regular season point production has been a bit underwhelming lately (60 points in 2009-10 and 66 last season), but he has an 80 and 75-point season under his belt. Richards also came through big-time in Philly’s run to the 2010 Stanley Cup finals by scoring 23 points in 23 games. Combine that scoring ability with his (sometimes over the line) physicality and heady defensive play and you realize the Kings added a player who could be just as good as their other star center Anze Kopitar for less money per year. (Richards’ cap hit is $5.75 million; Kopitar’s deal registers a $6.8 million annual hit.)

A surprising market for Ryan Smyth

Don’t get me wrong, Smyth seems like a likeable guy with a savvy offensive game. Much has been made about how he admirably fills the net without much discernible physical skill. Those positive qualities don’t overcome the fact that he’s simply not worth $6.2 million a year, though.

Much like the Panthers with Campbell, the salary cap floor context makes the Smyth addition a bit more sensible for the Oilers (especially since his contact expires after next season, a luxury Florida will wish they had with “Soupy”). The Calgary Flames’ reported interest in Smyth ends up being the most surprising element. You would hope that new GM Jay Feaster would like to curtail the team’s tradition of wildly overpaying good-but-not-great players but his rumored interest in Smyth, excessive contract extension to ex-bargain Alex Tanguay and surprising hastiness to move Robyn Regehr’s reasonable deal really makes you wonder.

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It also makes you wonder if there is such thing as an “untradeable contact” anymore. As crazy as it might sound to rational folks out there, it seems like there will always be a GM desperate enough to think that another team’s salary cap trash could be their on-ice treasure. Those moments must be big blows to savvy fans in that market, but if nothing else, they give us interesting off-season fodder and justify the fun practice of concocting theoretical trades during a long, hockey-free summer.

  1. whatagreatfootballmind - Jun 27, 2011 at 10:21 AM

    Here are 3 untradeable contracts…

    Nicklas Backstrom, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and Cam Barker

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