July 1st is finally here and regardless of a limited pool of exciting free agents, expectations in Leafs Nation are once again sky high. The big fish is obviously Brad Richards, a 31 year old skilled passing center, out of Murray Harbour, P.E.I., Canada.
Obviously, the biggest and most discussed need the Leafs have is at that top line center position and thatâ€™s exactly where the majority of fans and pundits keep putting Richards. His offensive acumen, imagination and playmaking ability would surely benefit Phil Kessel and his leadership already helped the development of players like Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson.
Brad Richards tallied 90+ points twice in the NHL (91 both times) and crossed the 70 point plateau four more times. He was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for his efforts during the 2003-04 Tampa Bay Stanley Cup run and was selected for the All Star game in 2010-11. Such a player would certainly help the Leafs gain instant playoff credibility around the league but would undoubtedly come with a long term price tag.
I donâ€™t mean to insult any player that will hit free agency at 12:00 ET, but Richards is the most elite player in this yearâ€™s free agency. If you factor in the positional need of several major NHL teams for a No1 centerman, it becomes pretty clear that Richards is likely to receive rich, long-term offers from teams such as the Maple Leafs, Rangers and Sabres.
For this writer, itâ€™s not even a question of do we want/need Brad Richards. We do. Heâ€™s a player that would fill the need for a top line passing centerman without making Brian Burke having to give up assets in return. His addition would probably mean an increase of our pretty low PP numbers. Upon establishing chemistry with Phil Kessel, he would give Kessel an elite passer he has been lacking since Marc Savard.
Price is relatively secondary as well. Itâ€™s evident that a player of his caliber wonâ€™t come cheap. Heâ€™ll probably be looking at a price tag north of $7,800,000, the money he was making in Dallas. Looking at this yearâ€™s C FA crop, heâ€™ll likely command a considerably higher amount, possibly something in the range of 8.5 million dollars. Do we want him at that price? Well, thatâ€™s the same as asking do we want him, because he will get exactly that, if not from the Leafs, than from somebody else.
No, the contract part Iâ€™m most interested in is term. Rumor has it Richards wants a contract length of eight years. That to me is too much for a 31year old player. Sure, the contract can be well constructed, front loaded etc. but that still doesnâ€™t change the fact that at 31, his decline is on the horizon. I donâ€™t believe Brad Richards makes us a Cup contender. Not yet. So the question basically becomes, would he still be a vital piece of our Cup contention in 2 or maybe 3 years? Because at that particular price and term, this is exactly what the Leafs will be paying for.