CALGARY - The suitors were lining up outside the door to meet with Brad Richards and his representatives at Newport Sports Management’s offices in Mississauga on the first day of the free-agency sweepstakes.
All the expected players, too, such as the Los Angeles Kings, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning were there, so you can imagine the “take-a-number” machine was put to use heavier than in a Manhattan deli.
The Flames made their pitch, too, although GM Jay Feaster wouldn’t admit going after the Dallas Stars centre who is unquestionably the crown jewel of the free-agent market after a 28-goal, 77-point season in 72 games for the Dallas Stars, reportedly via conference call.
“I don’t think that’s in our best interest to do that,” he said. “Nothing should be inferred by my inability to confirm or deny.”
But the media gathered at the Saddledome tried to pull it out of Feaster.
After all, with their history together — winning the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, the need for a No.-1 centre for Jarome Iginla and coming off two straight seasons without playoffs — Feaster has to try seeing whether Richards would come to the Stampede City, reportedly with an offer of US$64 million over nine years.
If he hadn’t tried to sign Richards, Feaster’s job as GM would be called into question, which he was told.
“That’s a good way to approach that. I like that,” he said with a smile. “I truly can’t talk about who we may or not have gone after.”
You’d have to guess Iginla, who is also a Newport Sports client and celebrated his 34th birthday Friday, also tried to sell Richards on coming to Calgary.
Richards’ agent, Pat Morris, confirmed via text message the Flames did make a pitch for the Prince Edward Island native.
The most Feaster would admit was he and Richards are friends.
“Brad’s a great guy,” he said. “We had a special relationship from our time in Tampa. You don’t win a Stanley Cup and not have a special relationship.”
Considering the suitors chasing Richards — the Rangers, Kings, Leafs — there was even some derision among the Twitterverse the Flames would even dare.
“Shock and awe, huh?” Feaster replied. “We’ve talked about what we want to accomplish, and we’ve worked hard with our pro guys and John Weisbrod as a new AGM, and put together a plan to go into today. What we set about trying to do is work our plan.
“It’s what we’ll continue to do.”
With all that transpired on the opening day of free agency, the Flames were likely best served by going after the big fish and not spending too much time putting deep hooks for the others.
With Calgary’s salary-cap situation, shelling out the kind of money for second/third-line wingers and fourth/fifth defencemen received amidst the craziness would have put them back in the jail.
Consider that Adam Pardy, a sixth/seventh blueliner here last season, inked a two-year, $4-million contract in Dallas.
The Flames made offers, but were rebuffed.
“When I saw the deal he got, I understood why he did what he did,” Feaster said.
The Flames still have an obvious hole on the blueline, and Anton Babchuk remains an option, even though he went to the market looking for a deal bigger than the Flames offered.
“We’ll certainly stay in touch because he’s a guy we like,” Feaster said.
No matter what happens, expect the Flames GM to continue trying to add depth, most likely through the trade route.
“I think some teams will start looking to shed salary now. There will be some players made available. I still believe there will be deals here,” he said. “I can’t put a specific time frame on when things will be finished. I hope by August 1 because I want to go on a little vacation then.”
If he signs Richards, Feaster will be among those trying to shed contracts.
No matter what happens with Richards, Feaster does deserve credit for inking his key free-agents prior to Friday’s madness.
“To be able to have Alex Tanguay locked up, to have Curtis Glencross signed, to have Brett Carson under contract, have Hank Karlsson signed, as we stand here today, those are good things,” he said.