On Brad Richards and the quest for a #1 centre



You can skip ahead, as long as you notify me when Brad Richards officially retires. Chances are, we won’t see him all that much when he’s kicking around the New York Rangers as a 40-year old, cane in one hand, fruitlessly pushing the puck ahead with his stick with the other.

Not many centres have averaged over a point-per-game since the lockout that were over the age of 31. Most of them are Hall of Famers: Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin, Rod Brind’Amour, Pavel Datsyuk and Peter Forsberg. The other two are Marc Savard and Michael Nylander. The New York Rangers should not expect the world from Brad Richards, who has never cracked 30 goals or 100 points, yet every player who played 40-or-over since the lockout for more than 60 games has accomplished either of those.

This contract, right now, makes little sense for the New York Rangers, and it showed a momentary lapse of judgment from Glen Sather, one that got his Rangers into such trouble before the lockout. It showed a distinct lack of creativity and was at its core, the safe signing to prove to the New York media that he was working to improve the Rangers’ scoring fortune. Brian Burke stayed out of the free agency mess of the first week of July, and whether that was by design or because hockey players were insulted that he chose to visit the troops rather than knock on their doors to offer them lucrative contracts, the Leafs are without a folly of long contracts. No Leaf is signed beyond 2014.

Knowing Burke’s strict code of honour (he is outspoken against signing restricted free agents to offer-sheets) the long-term deal isn’t something that appeals to him, and it makes little sense when signing an unrestricted free agent. While a front-loaded contract is supposed to reduce the cap hit, somebody should have told Glen Sather to perhaps tack on a few extra ‘retirement years’ to the Richards deal, since $6.67M is still quite a bit of dough to risk on a player who might score 30 goals at some point as he ages.

Connolly was actually the second most expensive unrestricted free agent centre signed this year, but the two year contract limits most of the risk. It became very clear to Brian Burke as we head into the free agent market that the Leafs would not find their #1 centre for the future through the frenzy. Burke still has, realistically, one more year to find a centre for Phil Kessel, and some options appear to be Paul Stastny (if Colorado does not wish to pay his large salary for another three seasons after this one) or Derick Brassard (who may be moveable thanks to the trade for Jeff Carter).

There are only a limited number of centres out there who are playing in the years before their primes who lack anchor deals. Stastny and Brassard are two, and Brian Burke has already showed a willingness to be flexible (think Matthew Lombardi) with his bosses wallets to accomodate target players. Avoiding more bad cap hits (think Mike Komisarek) means that the Leafs have some room for dead weight on the roster. By keeping salary length limited, Burke is not hampered by a potential change in the salary cap structure when it comes time to re-nogotiate the collective bargaining agreement. The three number one centres he acquired in Vancouver came by way of trade (Brendan Morrison) or the draft (Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler) and took place over a period of four years. Rebuilds evidently take a long time, and the Leafs certainly have more assets now than they did at the start of the Burke regime.

  • The Flames have been chasing the mythical #1 center for years as well, to no avail. Frankly I think the Leafs stumbled upon their guy last year in Grabovski, assuming he can sustain his gains or take another step forward.