It’s natural for Maple Leaf fans to look for solutions to a sometimes skill-challenged roster, especially when the goals are often so hard to come by.
We’d all like to see some upgrades—throughout the line-up. And the idea of acquiring a proven player who can be a difference-maker is kind of tantalizing.
One name that is often bandied about is that of Brad Richards, who may be available either before the trade deadline or as a pending free agent next summer.
While that sounds appealing, it just doesn’t work for me. Why? Well, it’s not just what the Leafs would have to give up in a trade, or the big cap price that Richards would no doubt command in free agency.
No, the bigger issue is, the Leafs would, yet again, be getting somebody past their ‘best before’ date.
I’ve posted here in the past about a number of players I would, as a Maple Leaf fan over many decades, loved for the team to have had—only much earlier in their career.
It’s a long list, and certain names come to mind as I write—Dickie Moore, Norm Ullman, Pierre Pilote, Gary Sabourin, Bill "Cowboy" Flett, Dan Maloney, Brad Maxwell, Al Second, Kirk Muller, Owen Nolan, Ron Francis, Ed Belfour, Brian Leetch.
I’m sure I’m forgetting some names, but you get the idea.
Each of those guys were good or even great players—in their prime. Some were Hall-of-Famers. All contributed, to varying degrees, to the Leafs in the time they were with the blue and white. Some even did well after they left
(e.g. Murphy). Toronto
And I'm not saying the Leafs made a mistake in acquiring all of them, though in some cases (an aging Pilote for a young, emerging star in Jim Pappin) it was.
But in each and every case, we ideally would have had those players in our line up a while before they actually got here.
Hey, there are times when a veteran “star” is exactly what a team needs to help put them over the top. Absolutely. Or a really good role-player who can come in and be that last piece of the puzzle. But there are also times when a team acquires or signs a guy, and the fact is, what they want is what that player was—five years ago.
Brad Richards is a wonderful player. He probably will be for a few more years. I’m just not sure that getting him now would make a huge difference.
Five years ago, absolutely. He was a guy making his name and fighting to become one of the better forwards in the league.
Now, he is a good, veteran player, looking for one last big pay day. And the Leafs are not just one piece away from being a true contender.
The Leafs have tried this before. Let’s not try it again.