|Mike Richards will be wearing black and orange through the 2019-20 season.
Richards and the Flyers have agreed on a 12-year, $68.4 million contract extension, meaning Richards will be wearing black and orange through the 2019-20 season. Beginning in 2008-09, Richards will count $5.7 million against the Flyers’ salary cap. He is making $942,400 this season, the last on his three-year entry contract.
“We consider Mike one of our core players in terms of his play and his leadership, and we believe there’s more growth in his game in terms of production and also in terms of leadership,” general manager Paul Holmgren said during a news conference prior to the Flyers’ against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night.
“I think Mike Richards brings a lot of intangibles to our team,” continued Holmgren. “Some are seen on the ice and some are unseen in terms of what he does in the locker room, his presence, the way he carries himself. Wearing a letter (alternate captain) this year at a young age, 22, speaks volumes to how the coaches and the organization feel about him as a young leader. He had the ‘A’ on last year a few times. Not only is he a good young player, he’s a good young leader.”
The deal is the richest signed since the lockout, topping the $67.5 million New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro will make during the 15-year deal he signed in September 2006. At 12 years, it trails only DiPietro’s contract for the longest in League history.
Said Richards, “I am very happy to be a part of the organization for hopefully the rest of my career. It's just exciting to be a part of something that has such a great tradition and history as the Philadelphia Flyers.”
The 24th overall pick in the 2003 Entry Draft, Richards would have been a restricted free agent this summer. After seeing gigantic offer sheets handed out last summer to restricted free agents Thomas Vanek and Dustin Penner, Holmgren didn’t want to take any chances of losing his young center.
“I think the threat is real,” Holmgren said of the chance that a rival team could make an offer to Richards. “When you have young players that are going into a period of restricted free agency, it’s there. We didn’t want to get Mike into that situation.
“Having Mike done — he was one of our priorities. With the way he’s playing, it expedited the process. He’s a guy that was a priority.”
The 22-year-old native of Kenora, Ontario, had a miserable, injury-plagued 2006-07, finishing with just 10 goals and a minus-12 rating in 59 games, but he’s rebounded with the best start of his career. After scoring a total of 21 goals in his first two NHL seasons, Richards entered Thursday’s game leading the Flyers with 14 goals, 20 assists and 34 points in 28 games. He’s a plus-10 and leads all Flyers forwards in ice time at 21:06 per game. He also is tied for the League lead with three shorthanded goals, and is the only active player with two career 3-on-5 short-handed goals. He scored his first one as a rookie, on Oct. 22, 2005 in Toronto, and his second came this season, on Oct. 10 in Vancouver.
While the enormity of the deal is striking, Holmgren believes it will help long-term in allowing the club to re-sign young core players like forwards Jeff Carter and R.J. Umberger and defenseman Randy Jones – all of whom will be restricted free agents this summer – as well as team captain Jason Smith, who will be an unrestricted free agent.
“We talked about a lot of different scenarios, even longer than (12 years),” said Holmgren. “Talking with Peter (Luukko, team president) and Mr. (Ed) Snider (team chairman), we feel comfortable with 12 years. It was an opportunity to keep our cap number lower over those years, and it’s going to allow us hopefully to keep our group together here.”
Richards’ contract comes less than a month after Anaheim signed Ryan Getzlaf, taken five spots before Richards in the 2003 Draft, to a five-year, $26.625 million extension. Getzlaf has 52 career goals compared to Richards’ 35, and he also has a Stanley Cup. Holmgren said he had no pause in giving Richards a far richer deal.
“We need to do what’s right for the organization,” said Holmgren, “and we did that in signing Mike to this deal.”
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