Will Burke Go For Richards? Do We Want Him To?

Source: yardbarker.com

On the heels of today’s announcement per TSN, the Brad Richards speculation will undoubtedly continue to grow, now that the Stars are apparently officially out of the running for his services. Given that the Leafs will have one of the largest cap margins with which to play come free agency, and the fact that they are desperately in need of a true top-line center, it would seem a near certainty that Burke would make a play for the only true number one center on the market this summer.

That said, consider a few things. First of all, Richards is 31 years old right now, and has had injury problems in the past. There’s no reason to assume that such injuries wouldn’t happen in the future, especially as he continues to age. A fact of life, especially in today’s NHL which continues to get younger and faster every year, is that players slow down, become more susceptible to injury and generally less productive as they age (unless of course, you’re Teemu Selanne).

Second, consider what the price for Richards will be. With the Rangers and Richards’ former head coach John Tortorella probably considered the front runners for his services, the potential contract offers that Richards has to choose from will almost certainly top out above the $7.5-8 million per year range. The fact that he’s the only true star on the market this summer will only serve to drive the price up even further, and his age will most likely dictate that the team that offers him the best combination of money and long term stability (meaning a 4-5 year deal, at least) will close the deal. He will probably never have as good of an opportunity to basically choose where and for how much he wants to finish his career, and there’s no reason for him to sign any sort of short term deal.

Next, let’s look at how Richards earned his current 5 year deal worth $7.8 million in the 2005-06 season, when he put up a career high 91 points in the only season in which he played all 82 games, at the age of 25. With $8 million looking to be the very least he’ll get this summer, consider the fact that there are only 10 other players in the league making more than $8 million a season. Aside from Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Duncan Keith, Evgeni Malkin, Roberto Luongo and maybe Jason Spezza, you can just about guarantee that the teams which own the other five contracts on this list all wish they could get a mulligan on the deal.

You’d never get the Blackhawks to admit that they’d redo the Marian Hossa deal ($7.9 million), since they won Cup in 2010, but if Hossa wasn’t costing them so much money, they might not have had to dismantle the team that won that Cup. Tampa Bay’s massive deal with Vincent Lecavalier is going to make it tremendously difficult for them to sign Steve Stamkos while still keeping a roster with any sort of depth on it. Chris Drury’s cap hit drops to five million this season, but for a player that scored just 37 points in the last two years, that’s still quite a premium. Dany Heatley was the benefit of a unique situation that enabled him to get exactly what he wanted out of San Jose, while the Montreal Canadiens absolutely regret signing Scott Gomez to his mega deal trading for Gomez and his massive contract.

Even more interestingly, all of the above players have signed these contracts at points much earlier in their careers than Richards currently is. There’s no question Richards is a very talented player, and would absolutely make the Leafs a better team, but would he be the piece that makes them a Cup contender this season? I don’t think so. The prospect of him being the highest paid player on the team for the next 5-6 years doesn’t exactly put me at ease.

All told, Richards is completely in the driver’s seat when it comes to this summer’s free agent negotiations. If more than one or two teams get involved, which is inevitable, the price will be driven so high that, in the end, the team that does end up getting him will have either overpaid or locked themselves into a long-term deal that they will be unable to shed in the future. If I had my say, that team would not be the Leafs.

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Tags: Alexander Ovechkin Brad Richards Brian Burke Chris Drury Dallas Stars Dany Heatley Duncan Keith Evgeni Malkin Jason Spezza Marian Hossa New York Rangers Roberto Luongo Scott Gomez Sidney Crosby Steven Stamkos Teemu Selanne Toronto Maple Leafs Vincent Lecavalier

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