Toronto Maple Leaf GM Brian Burke has been clear about this summers mandate. Acquire a number one center. Plenty of names have been rumored as targets from Jeff Carter, Stephen Weiss, Paul Stastny and to the most popular Brad Richards. Richards is a UFA and would be the perfect fit. However, because he is a free agent he has to choose to sign with the Leafs and the common belief is that he has no desire to play in Toronto. That leaves Burke looking to trade. Philadelphia Flyers traded for the negotiation rights of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov which has sparked Carter trade talks to clear the required cap space. Carter is a star player and a worthy number one center but not a very good fit on the Leafs. The player Burke would rather acquire to fill his needs is Richards, Mike Richards that is.
From a Philadelphia perspective. First thought is no way. He is the captain, heart and soul of the team, fans love him, he does it all. This is true. But upon further consideration there are three reasons why they might actually want to do this.
First, there have been rumors out of Philadelphia that they are unhappy with him. Perhaps his off-ice habits have been questioned. Whatever the reason, they seem disenchanted with him. Last season there was a clear locker room division that seemed to be split between Richards and Chris Pronger. If owner Ed Sneider and GM Paul Holmgren have decided that the leader of this team is Pronger and not Richards then Richards has to go.
Second, with the need for cap space to sign goalie Bryzgalov, trading Richards would achieve that without disrupting the majority of the roster.
Third, the return they would acquire in a deal would provide quality prospects. Philadelphia's prospect cupboard is bare and they have no first round pick in this years draft. Obviously, they would not want big ticket roster players in return, as that would be counter productive to the cap relief. There will be a need for some young, cheap and effective depth wingers to fill out the roster. A first round pick or two would have significant value to Philadelphia and quality prospects to replenish the future forward and defense ranks.
From a Toronto Perspective. Richards is just the kind of player Burke would love. Leader, offensive, defensive, and physical. He would compliment winger Phil Kessel very well as he can make plays, finish plays and bring some defensive responsibility to the top line. Burke has said he believes his team is one or two players away. Richards would fill one of the holes. No question Burke would want him, and want him more than Carter. Richards is under contract until 2020 but for a 26 year old star that is not a problem and his cap hit is only $5.75. The only concern from a Toronto perspective is what would it cost?
What would it cost? Depth players, top prospects, and draft picks. Burke can offer all of these things. Depth players available are Carl Gunnarsson, Keith Aulie, Tyler Bozak, Mike Brown, and maybe Clarke MacArthur. Top prospects available could be Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne, Jake Gardiner or Brad Ross. The Leafs have two first round picks and a early second round pick.
Is it possible the Flyers would be willing to trade Richards? Yes, but improbable. It would make more sense to get the cap space they need by moving Matt Carle and Kris Versteeg. However if they want to make Pronger the captain it becomes probable.
Can the Leafs offer enough to acquire him? Yes, but other teams will also make offers for a player of Richards caliber and of the twenty eight other teams someone will likely trump Burke's best offer.
Toronto is shopping for a number one center this summer and while everyone is talking "Richards" the player who might just end up playing for the Leafs is the other "Richards", Mike Richards.
Richards was indeed moved yesterday, just not to the Leafs. Holmgren was asking Burke for kadri and Kulemin. Burke said he needed to think about it. Before they had a follow up conversation Richards was traded to LA for Schenn and Simmonds. Holmgren got the best return he could and apparently was shopping both Carter and Richards hard.
Well done Mr. Holmgren.
Perhaps Burke missed his best opportunity. All the Leafs attention should now be focused back on Brad Richards.
Pete Harling is and always has been passionate about hockey. He loves to watch it, play it but what he loves the most is fantasy hockey. Email Coach Harling at [email protected].