Some call it a free-agent frenzy. For others, it's free-agent foolishness. July 1 is the day NHL general managers toss fiscal responsibility aside and start writing cheques that would make their accountant blush.
Sanity is not the order of the day when NHL free agency opens up. More often than not, big-ticket free agents sign bloated contracts then fail to live up to the hype and leave their new team twisting in the financial wind. Here are my 10 biggest free-agent busts in NHL history.
10. Jeff Finger
Cliff Fletcher, the architect behind one of the best trades in Maple Leafs history -- stealing Doug Gilmour from Calgary in 1992 -- found a way to give Toronto the Finger. As Leafs GM in 2008, Fletcher signed the virtually unknown defenceman to a four-year, $14-million contract. After a season and a half, the Leafs cut their losses and sent Finger to the minors, making him one of the highest-paid players in the AHL.
9. Chris Drury
The New York Rangers bought out Drury's contract Wednesday, closing the books on one of the worst free-agent signings in team history (but not THE worst). Drury, coming off a 37-goal season with the Buffalo Sabres, was awarded a five-year, $35.5-million deal by the Rangers in the summer of 2007. He had two decent years, combining for 47 goals, then completely fell off the map, scoring 14 times in 2009-10 and just once last season.
8. Sean Avery
The Dallas Stars, at co-GM Brett Hull's insistence, threw $15.5 million over four years at the yappy winger to lure (yes, that's sarcasm) him away from the Rangers in 2008. Considering Avery was a 15-goal, 250-PIM guy better known for unleashing verbal shots, not shooting the puck, it was a serious overpayment. Early in his first season with Dallas, Avery popped off about Dion Phaneuf's girlfriend and was eventually waived.
7. Cristobal Huet
Touted as the answer to their goaltending troubles when then signed Huet to a four-year, $22.4-million contract in 2008, the Chicago Blackhawks soon found out he was actually more of a question mark. After two seasons of making Nikolai Khabibulin look good, Huet was run out of town. No other NHL team wanted him so Chicago paid the Frenchman more than five million bucks to stop pucks for a team in Switzerland last season.
6. Alex Kovalev
NHL know-it-alls go on, ad nauseum, about Kovalev's legendary skill-set, but in 2009 the Ottawa Senators quickly found out his talent took nights off after they signed him to a two-year deal for $5 million annually. Despite making first-line money, the enigmatic Russian played more like a third-liner for the Sens -- he had 32 goals in 131 games -- before Ottawa shipped him on to the Penguins for a seventh-round pick last winter.
5. Scott Gomez
In his first two seasons with the Rangers after signing a seven-year, $51.5-million deal in 2007, Gomez had 32 goals combined. Not bad if you're pulling in $2 million a year. But at nearly $7.5 million a pop? Maybe not so much. Of course, nobody realized those were the good years for Gomez. The Rangers had had enough of the centre's underachieving ways and traded him to Montreal in 2009. Incredibly, his production dropped off to 19 goals in 158 games as a Hab.
4. Bobby Holik
At one point Holik's five-year, $45-million contract with the Rangers in 2002 was considered the gold standard for dumb deals. After nearly a decade with the New Jersey Devils, where he topped out at 29 goals and 65 points, Holik got to pad his retirement fund when he signed with the Rangers. Over the next five years, only two of which were spent in the Big Apple, Holik had 82 goals, an average of just over 16 per season. Pedestrian numbers, indeed.
3. Brian Campbell
Somehow the Blackhawks found a way to dump Campbell -- he was dealt to Florida during the NHL draft -- and his nearly untradable contract, finally getting out from under the eight-year, $56.8-million mistake they made in 2008. But that doesn't change the fact Chicago GM Dale Tallon somehow believed Campbell, who had a career year in 2007-08 (eight goals, 54 assists) with the Sabres and Sharks, was worth roughly the same money as, oh, Nicklas Lidstrom.
2. Sheldon Souray
The Edmonton Oilers thought they'd found their power-play quarterback when they signed Souray to a five-year, $27-million contract in 2007. He turned out to be hockey's Ryan Leaf. Sure, injuries slowed Souray down but, for the most part, the Oilers weren't getting what they paid for. He didn't help matters when he asked to be traded in 2010, a demand the Oilers responded to by putting him on waivers. When he went unclaimed, the Oilers took the cap hit and sent him to the minors. They bought him out Thursday.
1. Wade Redden
Redden, through no fault of his own, has become the poster-boy for free-agent foolishness. (Hey, when somebody offers you a stupid amount of money, are you going to turn it down?) Rangers GM Glen Sather must have thought Redden's declining play in Ottawa was a result of circumstances, not ability. Whatever the case, two years after signing a six-year, $39-million pact with the Rangers in 2008, Redden found himself riding the buses in the minors.