This post will be the first of two posts regarding Brad Richards. This post will focus on who the realistic suitors are for Richards. This afternoon’s post will focus on the Rangers negotiation tactics, and a potential trap that must be avoided.
With the draft over, it is time to switch our attention to July 1, and the opening of free agency. Almost every journalist, blogger, and hockey “insider” in America and Canada has linked the Rangers to Brad Richards, and for good reason. The Rangers need a true #1 center, and Richards is the only available guy on the market. Where everyone seems to disagree is who the actual competition for the Rangers is in their pursuit of Richards. There are a lot of teams that could use Brad Richards, and a lot of teams that can afford Brad Richards. However, the number of teams that can use him, afford him, and would be a likely destination for him is a very, very small list.
Let’s go through each team rumored to be linked to Richards, and if they are actually a viable option.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs are rumored to be the second place team in the race for Richards. They have $18.75 million in cap space with 17 players signed, which gives them ample room to sign Richards and get RFAs Clarke MacArthur, Tyler Bozak, Luke Schenn, Luca Caputi, and others under contract. The Leafs need skill and veteran leadership for all their young players, and Richards would fit that mold. However, and I mean this in the nicest way possible Toronto, the Leafs are currently one of the most poorly run franchises. In fact, the current regime reminds me a lot of the Rangers from 1997-2004, a team with no real direction. That will definitely be a factor in Richards decision.
Competition level for the Rangers: The Leafs are a legitimate destination for Richards.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning are rumored to be a candidate for Ricahrds services because of his history with the team and his close friendship with Vincent Lecavalier. However, with just 13 players (and no goalies) signed for next year and $23 million in cap space to work with, it doesn’t appear that the Lightning will have the resources to land Richards. They need to get Steven Stamkos locked up, which will tie up about 25% of that remaining cap space. With Stamkos and Lecavlier, the Bolts are set for a long time at the center position. Paying upwards of $7 million per season for Richards as a second or third line center (assuming Stamkos gets the top role) is wasted money.
Competition level for the Rangers: The Bolts are not a likely destination due to cap restraints and current roster make up.
The Flyers got tossed into the discussion recently when they traded both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in a shorter time span than the average Paris Hilton “video”. However, this is one of those baseless “they cleared cap space so they can go after Richards” rumors. They don’t have the cap space, period. With just $7.5 million in cap space available, and a need to get Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, and Ville Leino under contract, every remaining dime of cap space will be spent. Now, if Kris Versteeg and Matt Carle get traded, then the conversation takes a whole other turn.
Competition level for the Rangers: The Flyers are not in the running for Brad Richards, barring future trades.
Los Angeles Kings
This one I just don’t get. The Kings have Anze Kopitar, and just traded their best prospect (Brayden Schenn) for Mike Richards. Sure, they have some cap space, but their biggest priority is to get Drew Doughty under contract. This one is just plain ludicrous.
Competition level for the Rangers: None.
There are a few dark horses in the running for Richards (the ‘Yotes come to mind if they ever figure out their location issues; as do the Preds, if they raise their internal cap ceiling). But the way I see it, the Rangers are the only real suitor for Richards. They need have a need, the cap space, and the roster make up for everything to fit together for a deal. The hidden factor here is the relationship between Richards and John Tortorella, which is seen as a positive. The relationship between Richards and Sean Avery is a factor, but not a big one as Avery will be gone for the 2012-2013 season. When looking at it logically, the Rangers and the Leafs are the only two suitors, and the Leafs are more likely, in my opinion, to pursue Brooks Laich than Brad Richards.