Paying the Price for Brad Richards
Darren Dreger of TSN reported today that the Tampa Bay Lightning have alerted center Brad Richards they're trying to deal him. Richards has given management a list of teams for which he'd be willing to waive his NTC; GM Jay Feaster will take the offers he's received -- allegedly from Vancouver, Columbus and Dallas -- to ownership, and a former Conn Smythe winner making $7.8 million per season until 2011 could be gonzo by the trade deadline.
If you go by the hockey rumoristas, Richards has been on the block longer than a septuagenarian prostitute. But this time could be different, if Dreger's on point with this line from his TSN.ca piece: "Tampa Bay's incoming owner Oren Koules is said to be heavily involved." Koules has taken over a losing team with the gross national product of Guyana tied up into three players; snipping a valuable but under-performing Richards would, I imagine, be something he might be interested in.
There are several teams rumored to be in the hunt for Richards. But would he improve any of them in the short term or the long run?
Columbus Blue Jackets: The St. Petersberg Times has identified the Jackets as the leading candidate for Richards' services, which means they both have the cap room and the insatiable desperation to take on his salary. From a tactical standpoint, this would be a perfect situation for Richards: The Jackets could lose two players up the middle to free agency (or deadline deals) in Sergei Fedorov and Michael Peca, and the thought of Richards skating with Rick Nash is intriguing on a Hull & Oates level. If they can afford it economically and from a personnel standpoint -- kicking a young goalie Tampa's -- the Jackets should pull the trigger.
Vancouver Canucks: I know Canucks bloggers like Matt Lee respect Richards as a player but are scared poop-less about that contract. But the economics in Vancouver favor this trade, if Dave Nonis sees flipping UFA Markus Naslund into Brad Richards -- Naslund's salary this season is $1.8 million less than Richards's gargantuan deal. There's even more money to be saved if Vancouver lets Brendan Morrison ($3.2 million) walk as a free agent. He's a good fit for this team, too: Filling the second-line center spot and bringing championship experience to the top six forwards. If the Canucks can afford him -- and they can -- Richards could be valuable in a tough Western Conference playoff race, and for a team that's 22nd in the League in goals-for average.
Dallas Stars: The Lightning have been scouting Dallas for the better part of the season. If the cost is back-up goalie Mike Smith, so be it: Turco's inked through 2010 anyway. If you believe Mike Ribeiro's season isn't a one-and-done new contract bump, then he and Richards could be a formidable one-two punch for years up the middle. But I think Richards needs a prime offensive winger to activate him, and the Stars have been looking for one to do the same thing for Mike Modano all season. I'm not sure Richards is the right fit here.
Chicago Blackhawks: Staring down a $7.8 million a year contract would have prematurely sent Old Man Wirtz to the hereafter. But the new regime might be more amenable, and are rumored to be in the Richards mix. Brad Richards and Patrick Kane through 2011? Yes, please -- if the price is right, especially when it comes the 'Hawks young defensemen.
Philadelphia Flyers: Has this moment of injuries and desperation increased or decreased the chances of the Flyers pursuing Brad Richards? Better question: Do the Flyers really want over $21 million per season tied up in three offensive players? Ask the Lightning how well that worked out.
Phoenix Coyotes: Complete, total, unadulterated speculation, based solely on cap space and the rumored interest the Bolts had in dealing him to the desert last summer. If Phoenix is looking to take the next step into championship contention, you can do worse than Brad Richards as a top-line or second-line pivot. And the Coyotes have more blue chips than a poker table right now in their system. I don't believe for a moment this will happen, as there have been no whispers about it and there's no logic in Richards having this franchise on his short list. But tell me this wouldn't be a good fit for all involved.
All of this is assuming Richards will even be traded. Perhaps the salary is too much for a team to absorb -- Brian Burke would argue that the Bolts should be allowed to pay part of the contract under a revised CBA. But more likely, I can see the Bolts hanging onto Richards if they don't get what they consider fair value back.
Then again, what's fair value for a guy getting $152,941 per point this season?