TORONTO - If you are one of those passionate zealots who view the world through blue-and-white glasses, you likely are already fitting Brad Richards for his spiffy new Maple Leafs jersey.
Not so fast.
While the local fishwraps, talk shows and world wide web are saturated with speculation concerning how far the Leafs will go in their expected pursuit of the soon-to-be ex-Dallas Star, there is a strong buzz in a number of other markets involving potential destinations for Richards.
Indeed, if you believe the various reports coming out of New York the past few days, Richards will be wearing blue come July 1, all right.
A headline in Monday’s New York Post trumpeted: “RICHARDS ON THE WAY, IF RANGERS PAY,” with the accompanying story suggesting the pending unrestricted free agent will be looking for an eight-year deal worth between $50 million-$55 million. Meanwhile, a recent yarn in the Big Apple’s other splashy tab, the New York Daily News, quoted a source saying the Rangers, whose coach, John Tortorella, was Richards’ bench boss in Tampa, lead the Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning in the Richards sweepstakes.
In Philly, reports continue to surface that the Flyers could be looking to replace one Richards — the recently traded Mike — with the aforementioned Brad, easily the gem of the upcoming free agent frenzy. Kris Versteeg and his $3-million-plus US salary might be a logical candidate to be moved if more cap space is needed.
Next we go to Tampa, where Richards won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP during the Lightning’s Stanley Cup run of 2004.
With veterans Vincent Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis already carrying hefty contracts and Steven Stamkos close to one as well, GM Steve Yzerman would have to do some creative accounting in order to squeeze Richards under the cap. If Stevie Y can somehow do it, Richards said he would be all ears.
“If the Lightning is going to talk to me, I’m going to listen, for sure,” Richards told the St. Petersburg Times. “I’m not going to waste their time, but if they want to talk to me and be serious, it’s going to be a team that catches my attention.”
Even if it means taking one of those “home team discounts?”
“I know what’s going on around the league; it’s not just the Lightning. You look at any team, the salary cap, there are different structures with different teams. So, as a player you’d be stupid not to be open-minded and flexible because you want to see what all your options are.”
Moving forward, Richards did make two points very clear:
a) After witnessing messy situations in both Dallas and Tampa Bay (during the Oren Koules/Len Barrie era), stability in ownership is a must.
b) The goal is a long-term pact in order to gain security and end up in a location that he picks, not anyone else.
As for the Leafs, the sale of controlling interests of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. by the Teachers’ Pension Fund should not be construed as the type of ownership instability Richards wants to avoid. Whovever scoops up those shares, the financial well-being of this franchise is not an issue.
Back in the fall, at a time when the Brad Richards-to-the-Leafs trade rumours were rumbling during a visit to the Air Canada Centre by his Dallas Stars, Richards was asked for his opinion of the Leafs as being a realistic landing spot one day.
“When the time comes, if that’s an option, Toronto’s always a No. 1 hockey destination,” Richards said.
Toronto. New York. Philly. Tampa. And that doesn’t take into account a handful of other teams that might jump into the mix when the auctioning officially starts.
What’s it all mean?
For Richards and his agent, Pat Morris, it must be sweet music to their ears.
Richards easily is the stud of this free-agent class. He’s a No. 1 centre, perhaps the rarest and most coveted commodity in the league. On the power play, he can play down low or move to the point. He ranked in the Top 10 in NHL scoring last season. He can provide much-need offence or smothering defence, whatever is needed.
On the other hand, Richards’ concussion-filled season of 2010-11 might be a point of concern for some teams, along with handing out a long-term deal to a man of 31.
No matter. NHL owners have shown in the past they can’t help themselves. So expect Richards to get his term. And his money.
Wherever that might be.
Need to know
Name: Brad Richards
Born: May 2, 1980, Murray Harbour, PEI
Weight: 198 lb.
Career NHL stats: 772 GP; 220-496-716 points.
The Lowdown: 1999-2000 CHL Player of The Year ... 2000-01 NHL All-rookie team ... 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy Winner ... 2004 Lady Byng Trophy Winner ... Won Stanley Cup with Lightning in 2004 ... Won gold medal with Team Canada at 2004 World Cup of Hockey.