Saturday, July 2, 2011
Plan B for teams that lost on Brad Richards
By Scott Burnside
For the three other teams Brad Richards was considering heading into decision day on Saturday, it's time now to figure out what comes next.
Sources told ESPN.com that Richards was especially impressed with GM Jay Feaster's bid to lure the skilled center to Calgary. It was the one offer that came out of the blue and gave Richards pause. That the Flames didn't land Richards suggests that Feaster's attentions may shift from "win now" to trying to correct some of the long-term problems he inherited from former GM Darryl Sutter. This includes onerous contracts given to existing players and a farm system that isn't exactly overflowing with young talent. Having re-signed Alex Tanguay to a long-term deal, he already has a solid forward corps in place. The question now becomes whether he will shop netminder Miikka Kiprusoff as the season goes on.
A year ago, the Kings were denied in their bid to land top free agent Ilya Kovalchuk. That probably turned out to be a blessing in disguise given the problems the New Jersey Devils and Kovalchuk had last season. This summer, though, the failure to land Richards stings less because GM Dean Lombardi has already added a front-line center in the form of former Philadelphia captain Mike Richards. Brad Richards would have made the Kings an instant favorite to climb to the top in the Western Conference. But his absence doesn't preclude the Kings from getting there. The top priority for Lombardi will be trying to replace the grit and productivity on the wings he lost in dealing Wayne Simmonds to Philadelphia and Ryan Smyth to Edmonton. Simon Gagne, anyone?
In some ways, it was a surprise the Leafs hung around the Richards sweepstakes as long as they did given that they aren't particularly close to being a playoff contender, let alone a Cup contender. That's the lure of GM Brian Burke and one of the biggest hockey markets in the world -- even if they haven't been to the playoffs since the lockout. Not landing Richards might make Burke's job of rebuilding the Leafs a little easier. With Richards in the fold, the expectations for the coming season would have been wildly out of whack given the rest of the personnel the Leafs have. The fact the Leafs were silent on a frenzied first day of free agency on Friday was a little mystifying, but Burke still has lots of money to spend and has never been short on creativity when it comes to adding assets. Although the free-agent crop is pretty picked over just one day in, look for Burke to get busy with the best of the rest.