Part 1 can be found here.
In the Hunt
Montreal Canadiens (10%)
What a dagger in the heart of Leafs Nation it would be if Brad Richards decided to sign with the slightly off-the-board selection Montreal Canadiens. When the Habs were eliminated from the playoffs this year, there was rumors and discussion about the possibility of the team buying out the contract Scott Gomez. His underwhelming play has dragged on for two seasons now, and while he had some heartfelt things to say about wanting to get back to a high standard on the ice, management may have already lost their patience. Whether Gomez is on the roster or not though, the Habs have the cap space to chase a big name like Brad Richards. They have among the fewest players in the league signed for next season, and some have speculated that it is because of the design of GM Pierre Gauthier. On the surface, the Habs appear closer to a championship than some of the other options out there. That said, the thought of Richards wearing the bleu, blanc et rouge is too painful to think about. Suffice to say there is a decent chance he lands there.
Los Angeles Kings (10%)
As long as there has been talk about Brad Richards heading towards free agency, there has been speculation the Kings would want to pick him up. After all, they’ve been looking for a one-two punch to help Kopitar handle the offensive load. They’ve been looking to land a star in free agency for years. It only makes sense they would also be in on Richards. They have a lot to offer him, too. They have a very solid young team that plays a physical brand of hockey and could open up lots of space for Brad’s play-making style of game. They have a solid ownership group, and a patient (maybe too patient) general manager. They have a solid prospect pool – ranked the best the league by Hockey’s Future. There is clearly an argument to be made for the Kings, and we can probably rest assured that Dean Lombardi will at least submit an offer to the unrestriced free agent.
The real question though, is why should we believe this pursuit of Richards will prove any more fruitful than Lombardi’s pursuit of Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik, or Ilya Kovalchuk? For three straight years Lombardi has been unwilling or unable to go the extra mile to land the big prize on July 1st. That same inadequaecy will likely haunt this offseason as well. Lombardi is far more likely to want Richards at a discounted rate than he is to get into a bidding war with teams like the Maple Leafs and the Rangers. Not only that, but Lombardi also still has to get star defender Drew Doughty under contract, which could prove to be a major undertaking.
It would take a really solid sales pitch to convince Richards that Los Angeles is worth that kind of discount given that this will likely be his last contract. Based on Lombardi’s history with past free agents, the upcoming talent at center in Brayden Schenn and Andrei Loktionov, as well as the King’s internal agenda with impending restricted free agents, it is hard to give the team any more than a 10% chance at landing their guy. Once again, Lombardi will likely decide to promote from within, and steer clear of the free agent market.
Dark Horse Teams
Boston Bruins (5%)
Although the Boston ownership is notoriously tight-fisted, they have shown a willingness to spend on big free agents. In fact, their recent success owes a lot of credit to the massive signings of Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard in the same offseason a few summers back. It sounds like Savard could be done for good with the NHL, and that means there could be some money available for a big star like Richards. They could definitely use that game breaker center while Seguin develops. Many nights Krejci has a hard time carrying the offensive load by himself.
Of course, that might be part of the reason Richards steers clear of Boston. Even though the money and ownership are in place, and the team is of a championship caliber, Richards would still immediately become the best forward on the roster, and the go-to guy for everything. In the defence first system that Claude Julien runs, you have to wonder how comfortable Brad Richards would be with that kind of pressure. After seeing the way the Boston media destroyed Tomas Kaberle, despite scoring more than Zdeno Chara, Boston doesn’t seem like the kind of city where you want to be put in a position where success may be difficult.
Still, teams are often even more alluring in the wake of winning the Stanley Cup. It may come down to how free agents view Peter Chiarelli. Is he the GM who tries to bury underperforming or injured players like Tim Thomas and Marc Savard? Is he the GM who stands idly by while the press rips his new acquisition and places all the blame for the team squarely on his shoulders? Or is he the brilliant architect the media will paint him as over the coming years? The players will know the real story, and that may ultimately decide the question of Richards in black and gold.
Detroit Red Wings (5%)
The Red Wings have almost everything that Brad Richards is looking for. They have the sturdy ownership that can afford to put a competitive, cap-ceiling product on the ice every season. They have the anonymity that doesn’t exist in Canadian markets, or even some of the bigger American markets. They have a championship caliber roster, and probably will for a long time. They can give him the money he wants. They can surround him with elite talent right now. So why does no one talk about the Red Wings as an option for Brad Richards?
Well, the strength of the Red Wings system starts on their back end. Niklas Lidstrom has long been the straw that stirs the drink. With his potential retirement about to be announced the team may need to focus all their attention on getting some serious help on the blue line. The loss of both Rafalski and Lidstrom in a single summer could be the end of Detroit’s dominance if they can’t find reasonable replacements. Even if Lidstrom decides to stay on for one more year, his career is not infinite. It is possible the Red Wings go nuts on July 1st and hand out massive contracts all over the place, but it is more likely they focus on a defender or two they’ve selected and work on that acquisition. Unless Richards comes to the Red Wings, as Hossa did a few years back, expect the Wings to continue on their own path. Their offense just doesn’t need the help right now.
If the Red Wings did decide they need to add to the forward group, it looks like they may have set their eyes on a former league all-star, Jaromir Jagr. At the very least, rumors are starting to swirl that Jagr would like to don the winged wheel.
Everyone Else (~5%)
When talking about all the other teams in the league, we’re really only talking about a select few. More than half the league is either too pressed to the cap (ie. San Jose, Philadelphia, Vancouver, Calgary), or lacks the financial stability (ie. Columbus, Colorado, Florida, Dallas) to jump into the Richards sweepstakes. However, there are a hand full of teams who could come out of no where and surprize. Teams like Anaheim, Buffalo, and even Winnipeg could submit big offers. These are not likely to be winning attempts at landing Richards, but these would be the teams who cannot be completely discounted.
The story of Brad Richards has kept the hockey world on the edge of their seats for nearly a year now. It is finally drawing to a close. Take comfort in knowing that we will soon have a solution. July 1st, is only 15 days away. The offseason has officially begun…
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