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A Question For Leafs Nation

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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These opinions are the product of the little voice in my head and do not reflect those of MLSE or my Mom.

Let’s cut to the chase. Do you want the Leafs to sign Brad Richards? These 10 points should help you decide. Or maybe not.

1. Is Richards obtainable? Hell yes. With $20 million to spend, the Leafs could outbid the New York Rangers for Richards’ services. They have more actual cap room than the Canadiens, who have $4 million available but five more players to sign. They have twice as much available money as the Los Angeles Kings.

2. How much would Richards command? That depends on the competition. As the only premium free agent centre, Richards could demand between $8 million and $9 million a season for five years and that is some tall cotton. If there is no bidding war, you should get him for $6 million.

3. Why he is worth it: Richards is an 80-point player who would make Phil Kessel feel like he had fallen into a goal trough. He can win faceoffs and run the power play. He is a Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner. He is everything the Leafs need. You know that moment where the tires of your airplane leave the runway? Brad Richards. He shoots left and would usually pass to Phil Kessel on his forehand.

4. Why he is not: Richards will be 32 at the beginning of the season and will want to be paid until he is 37. He was concussed this year and while there was no significant statistical drop once he came back, he admits he was affected by the injury. "Coming back and trying to get into the intensity of the battle was tough, because in the back of your mind if you're hit again and you have another one, then you have two in one year” he told the Dallas Morning News last month. “I think the next month or so will probably be good for everything in my head.”

5. Richards has said his first choice is to return to Dallas:
How likely is that? Tough to say. Perhaps re-invigorated by the prospect of landing a new owner in Canadian Tom Gaglardi, the Stars might make a run to keep him if Gaglardi’s bid to own the team is successful. But even with Richards, the Stars’ attendance fell by an average of 2,000 fans a game last season. The Stars are rebuilding and need long rather than short term help.

6. The Leafs are not Stanley Cup contenders: Why not invest in a free agent later? Free agents such as Richards are a disappearing commodity. The concept of one free agent turning around the fortunes of one team was obliterated with Ilya Kovulchuk’s move to New Jersey.  Alexander Semin, John-Michael Liles, Patrick Sharp and Mikhail Grabovski are young and skilled enough to sit atop the top of the class in 2012. There is no guarantee, of course, they will not be re-signed and while they are nice players, they would bring less of an impact than would Richards.

7.  Well, it’s only money: The Leafs make it by the barrel. The problem is the amount they can spend is no bigger than anyone else’s barrel. If you have no cap room, you have no ability to sign your own long-term deals.  The Leafs have Dion Phaneuf, Phil  Kessel and Mike Komisarek for three more years. In the ever-inflationary world of the NHL, that’s a good thing but their young players are in for steep raises. Luke Schenn, Carl Gunnarsson and James Reimer must be signed this season and the ability to sign them to multi-year deals would be influenced by a long term deal extended to Richards.

8. But isn’t Richards a sure thing? Anyone familiar with Marc Savard’s story knows the pre-existence of concussions is a concern. Plus, free agency is terrifying. What do Jason Blake, Sheldon Souray, Cristobal Huet, Wade Redden and Scott Gomez have in common? I think you know.

9. What about signing restricted free agents?
In a funny way, forking over five first rounders to land a young star might be a safer bet. You get a far younger player and your forfeited draft picks would theoretically come late in the draft. Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? Problem is, that kind of signing is considered bad form in the NHL and most owners would match the offer sheet. The signing would have to be highly strategic. The Tampa Bay Lightning would giggle at the notion of someone signing away Steve Stamkos. On the other hand, four-time 30-goal scorer Zach Parise is returning from a knee injury. The New Jersey Devils, burdened by Kovalchuk’s contract and mindful of the ill-feeling that could result from a club-triggered arbitration might opt to cut their losses and take the draft choices. Stamkos and defencemen Shea Weber and Drew Doughty are the biggest names.

10. So that just leaves the trade option to land a number one centre: What are the options?  Does the ascension of Matt Duchene and Colorado’s two first round picks (second and 11th) mean Paul Stastny can be pried out of Denver? If the Flyers finally act on their obvious need for a goalie, could a coveted forward such as Jeff Carter be obtained for picks, players and prospects? If the Sharks tank, would Joe Thornton come free?  It would probably cost one of the first rounders from this year’s draft, a prominent player off the roster - Nikolai Kulemin, Grabovski to mind - as well as one or more of the organization’s top prospects:  Joe Colborne, Jake Gardiner, Matt Frattin and Nazem Kadri.

So, you tell me. Do you want to sign Brad Richards?
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