With hefty money comes great responsibility and Erik Karlsson of the Pittsburgh Penguins carries that badge more than anyone in the NHL.
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Top 5 Most Challenging NHL Contracts to Live Up To

Published April 11, 2024 at 10:49 PM

With the offseason for half the league approaching and
NHL contracts! Every season, teams make moves that either make or break their future. And today, we're looking at some of the worst contracts floating around the league.

#5. Darnell Nurse - Edmonton Oilers ($9.25 million):

On August 6, 2021, Ken Holland inked defenseman Darnell Nurse to a hefty eight-year contract worth $74 million, with an annual salary of $9.5 million.

Drafted in the first round of the 2013 Entry Draft, Nurse hit the ice in 2014 and has 192 points over 477 games, boasting a +38 rating in his first eight seasons.

As one of the Oilers' highest-paid players, Nurse often finds himself under the microscope, especially after a season where he tallied just 26 points in 2023-24, accompanied by a plus-3 rating—quite a drop from his 43 points and plus-26 rating the previous season.

Despite Holland's intentions, Nurse hasn't solidified his position as the team's top defenseman, and the no-movement clause in his contract means the Oilers are committed to him until the 2027-28 season, no matter what.

#4. Seth Jones - Chicago Blackhawks ($9.5 million):

Seth Jones made a surprising move to the Chicago Blackhawks in July 2021, leaving behind six years with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Switching from one rebuilding team to another, he joined a Blackhawks squad in the early stages of reconstruction after their glory days of three Stanley Cup victories from 2010 to 2015.

Expected to anchor the Blackhawks' defense, Jones faced some setbacks, including a stint on the sidelines due to injury earlier in the season. Despite his efforts, he's only managed to tally 30 points and holds a disappointing minus-13 rating. Since his arrival, he's accumulated a team-low minus-88 rating.

While Jones has contributed 118 points, ranking second during his tenure behind the departed Patrick Kane, his defensive play has left much to be desired.

#3. Johnny Gaudreau - Columbus Blue Jackets ($9.75 million):

Johnny Gaudreau let Calgary Flames management know he was eyeing free agency in the summer of 2021, aiming to be closer to family in New Jersey. Then, Gaudreau flipped the script by signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets, despite the distance from Jersey. His new deal rings in at a hefty $68.25 million over seven seasons, pocketing $9.75 million annually.

Since making the leap to the East Coast, Gaudreau's stats have been decent, racking up 133 points in 158 games—a .84 points-per-game pace. It's a step down from his 1.01 average over nine seasons with the Flames.

Although he's been on the ice consistently this season, Gaudreau's goal count is at its lowest point in his 11-year NHL career, barely scraping into double digits with just 11 goals and a few games left to play. While he's been setting up teammates with 48 assists, one glaring stat stands out: his minus-28 rating, sitting dead last on a last-place team. It comes after a career-low minus-33 rating in 2022-23.

#2. Jonathan Huberdeau - Calgary Flames ($10.5 million):

After facing a tough loss to the Edmonton Oilers in the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Flames underwent some major changes. They bid farewell to superstar players like Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, who left through free agency and trade, respectively. In their spots, the team brought in Nazem Kadri and orchestrated a trade to acquire Jonathan Huberdeau.

Huberdeau had a stellar 2021-22 season, leading the NHL in assists with 85, notching a career-high 115 points. However, the following year saw a significant drop, with only 40 assists and 55 points, marking one of the most notable point declines in NHL history.

Despite excuses like adjusting to a new coach and system, Huberdeau's performance has taken another hit in 2023-24. With just 11 goals and 38 assists in 76 games, he's struggling, compounded by a career-worst minus-28 rating.

As the Flames traded away key players and leaned into a rebuilding phase this season, Huberdeau's numbers have continued to dip. As one of the NHL's top 15 highest-paid players, earning $10.5 million annually, the Flames are still waiting to see the results, with seven seasons left on his contract to make it count.

#1. Erik Karlsson - Pittsburgh Penguins ($11.5 million):

In the 2022-23 season, Erik Karlsson made waves as a San Jose Shark, becoming the first defenseman since Brian Leetch in 1991-92 to notch over 100 points in a single season. It was no surprise that Karlsson clinched his third Norris Trophy as the NHL's top blueliner. However, despite his individual success, the Sharks were in the midst of a slow rebuild, ending the season as the fourth-worst team in the NHL. To increase their rebuilding efforts, Sharks' GM Mike Grier traded Karlsson and his hefty $11.5 million salary to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

When Kyle Dubas took the helm of the Penguins in the summer, he wasted no time in making a bold move by acquiring Karlsson. The hope was to give Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang another shot at hoisting the Stanley Cup, especially after Pittsburgh's 16-year playoff streak came to a crashing halt on the final day of the NHL season.

Now, almost nine months after Karlsson's switch back to the Eastern Conference, it's fair to say that his debut season with the Penguins has been underwhelming. After 78 games, he's only managed to tally 51 points—half of what he achieved last season when he was crowned the league's best defenseman.

Granted, Karlsson finds himself in a situation similar to Huberdeau's, adjusting to a new coach and system. And to his credit, he's getting hot at the right time, scoring the overtime winner tonight against the Detroit Red Wings, giving Sid his 1,000th assist.

The Penguins are banking on squeezing out every ounce of talent from Karlsson, especially with him locked in until the end of the 2026-27 NHL season.

There you go, the five worst contracts currently plaguing the NHL. Which one do you think takes the cake for the absolute worst? Let us know in the poll below!
April 11   |   144 answers
Top 5 Most Challenging NHL Contracts to Live Up To

Who has the worst contract in the NHL?

Erik Karlsson4128.5 %
Darnell Nurse4329.9 %
Jonathan Huberdeau4631.9 %
Darnell Nurse149.7 %
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