On the surface, it doesn't look like the worst of contracts.
The Boston Bruins extended defenseman Kevan Miller a four-year, $10 million contract extension earlier this week, after their 28 year-old defenseman put up career highs in goals (5) and assists (13) last year.
So what's wrong with that? Put simply, Miller's production, while decent for a third liner, is replaced relatively easily, and for relatively cheap. Consider that the Arizona Coyotes got .23 points per game from Kevin Connauton off the waiver wire. Kevan Miller put up .25 points per game in the best season he's had thus far.
If bottom pairing production is what you're after as an NHL GM, it's not hard to come by. The New York Islanders got almost as many points in 20 fewer games from Marek Zidlicky on a one-year deal worth $1.5 million this year. Christian Ehrhoff averaged .25 points per game with Los Angeles this year for the same amount of money. And perhaps most illustrative of all, former-Coyote David Schlemko recorded 19 points for the New Jersey Devils in 67 games for just $625,000.
Yet Boston has now committed $9.25 million per season through 2017-18 to Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, and Dennis Seidenberg, all of whom combined for 39 points. Oliver Ekman-Larsson by himself had 55 points last year.
Arizona doesn't have the same cap issues that Boston does, but their lower salary ceiling makes it even more important that the Coyotes avoid locking up players to long-term deals when they can find comparable production for far less on the open market.
The Coyotes thus far have done a decent job staying away from long contracts. But with players like Michael Stone and Tobias Rieder closing in on unrestricted free agency, the Coyotes will not have that luxury for long.
The less money Arizona has locked up in their bottom six and bottom pairing, the better. The Coyotes need to save salary and roster space for the players that are going to log the most minutes and produce the most points. If the Coyotes can spend the extra million they save on replaceable players to sign Rieder long-term, and if they the Coyotes can give the extra year or two of term they don't use to a defensive prospect like Olli Juolevi or Mikhail Sergachyov, then they will be using their resources more efficiently and effectively.
Kevan Miller's contract is not in and of itself a deal-breaker. But saddling the roster with replacement-level players that are on untradeable contracts is a recipe for disaster. The Coyotes need to make sure that the signings they make this summer are either for quality players in significant roles, or short-term deals that are cheap and movable.