Someone is going to pay dearly.
They don’t call the beginning of free agency on July 1st a “frenzy” for nothin’. Teams desperate to gain an advantage over their competition have resorted to extraordinary leaps of faith on aging players, offering staggering amounts of money and long-term deals to the hottest available names. (See: Chris Drury.)
This year’s big name on the UFA market is the Dallas Stars’ Brad Richards, but is he worth an inflated investment? Here’s a look at his stats over the years:
The stats (aside from the dodgy plus/minus ratio) are very impressive, but is he really worth the $7-8 million/season that he will likely be offered at the frenzy? How would he fit into Pegula’s 3 year Stanley Cup plan?
Well, hold those thoughts right there. According to some in the media, there won’t be a sweepstakes on this guy. This year, maybe money isn’t enough to snag the best UFA’s: it looks as if the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs could trade for the rights to negotiate with Richards before July 1st, giving up first assets and then cap space to earn his cap hit.
From Larry Brooks, of the New York Post:
It’s important for the Rangers to acquire Richards, as estimable a pro as there is in the league and a player who makes his teammates better, but it is equally important for the team not to make a mistake on the contract.
It’s equally important the Rangers know all there is to know about Richards’ health in the aftermath of the concussion he sustained on Feb. 13 that sidelined him for nearly a month before the center returned for the final 16 games of the season.
We’d suggest Sather offer Nieuwendyk the 57th-overall selection for the rights to Richards, for the right to get a head start on 2011-12, for the right to avoid the rush-hour frenzy of July 1. For the right reason.
A 2nd round pick is a lot to give up just to gain the rights to negotiate with a guy and examine his head, but crazier things have happened this time of the year.
Damien Cox of The Toronto Star wrote on the Maple Leafs’ odds to land Richards, pre-frenzy:
…the real challenge for the Leafs is that Richards may not get to July 1st. Before the March trade deadline, Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk was asking prospects and picks in exchange for Richards and the right to talk about a new contract with the veteran centre.
In theory, the Leafs could get in on trying to buy the rights to negotiate with Richards, but not if it costs them a top prospect like Nazem Kadri. They just don’t have enough in the cupboard to start giving those up, particularly without a deal in place for Richards. That’s not even considering getting team doctors to have a look at him, something clubs may want to do because of the serious concussion Richards had this season.
Clearly, Burke’s preference would be to wait until July 1st. But he knows Philly landed Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timmonen a couple of years ago from Nashville in this way and benefitted from that aggressive move, and he also knows the market for No. 1 centres via trade or free agency looks mighty slim this summer.
Both writers cite the Los Angeles Kings as the other club legitimately in the running to land Richards. Musings over the Sabres as a possible destination are nowhere to be found, save on Buffalo Sabres message boards and hopeful fan tweets.
There is no doubt that the Sabres would love to add a legitimate #1 center to the roster – but giving up a 2nd round pick or any other assets to do so is insane. That is not how to move a franchise forward, it’s how you set it back.
The Sabres have said that one of their main priorities right now is developing their defense, and creating a true shutdown pair again. If they’re smart, they’ll stick with that plan – there are plenty of top defensive names on the market after all.
Let’s not forget that Buffalo is already dealing with the contract of Drew Stafford, who is due a hefty raise after this year’s breakout performance – and Stafford is just one name on that big ol’ list of RFA’s that Regier and Co. is working on fitting under the cap. Next year, Buffalo will need the room to resign Tyler Myers and Tyler Ennis as their contracts expire and put them in the RFA market.
It’s one thing to sacrifice an asset or two just to land the rights for Richards – it’s another thing to pay for an inflated contract that could cost you the leverage to sign the new stars on your team. Like I said, Richards impact on a new team could be one that actually sets it back.
If the Leafs or Rangers are willing to do that, well then, let ’em go for it. After all, a weaker team in Toronto or New York only helps the Sabres over the next 3 seasons.
Fans should try to remember all of this as the frenzy approaches. Don’t be disappointed if Richards isn’t in Blue and Gold next season, folks – don’t trumpet your horns that Regier can’t land the big names.
The big names are already on the team, and we need to keep it that way.
See also: “Target: Brent Burns“