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Is Brad Richards the right fit for the Leafs?

I understand that, when a team is struggling (read Leafs) and clearly needs an infusion of talent and there is a player out there that is the best in his “free agent” class and also has a Cup—and tons of skill—on his resume, it’s natural to want that player.

So as Leaf fans, we naturally would like to see Brad Richards sign with the Leafs on or just after July 1.  He can play center, and would no doubt make those around him (Kessel?  Lupul?) better right away and certainly more productive offensively.

Yes, it’s easy to like the idea of Richards playing in Toronto, if you're a Leaf fan.

But for me, here’s the thing.  Richards is chasing money, we’re told, big money.  He didn’t even want the distraction of accepting a trade before July 1 to see if a team could convince him to sign before he became a UFA.  He evidently wants to wait and receive as many offers as possible before deciding between amounts that will likely range between 6 and a half and 8 million dollars a season.  (We’re told he long ago turned down a huge offer from his current team, the Stars, who have since dropped out of the Richards sweepstakes.)

I guess that’s fine, that he wants big money.  Everyone does.  And no, he wouldn’t cost the Leafs anything other than money.  And they’ve got lots of that-and plenty of cap space.

So what’s my issue?

Well, like many guys, Richards is coming off a serious injury.  The way the game is played nowadays, you’re one hit away from a career-ending injury.  You can say that it’s always been this way, but I’ve been watching the game for more than fifty years and it’s never been quite like this.

I’m not suggesting he’s damaged goods.  But it’s a consideration.

My bigger issue is term.  If we’re talking three years, sure, the guy is probably worth huge money, in NHL terms, for three years.  Maybe even four.  But if unofficial reports from his camp are any indication, the guy wants six years or more. 

Do we have any idea what kind of player he is going to be in five years, much less ten?  Not everyone is Nik Lidstrom, aging gracefully and still the best at their position at the age of 40.

Come next spring’s playoffs, Richards will be 32.  He will have 800 or so games of NHL wear and tear (including playoffs) behind him. He played almost 22 minutes a game this past season.  That’s too much, in my view.  He was a plus player (not always an indicator, I realize), yes, this past season, but has struggled in terms of his overall plus-minus numbers in recent years (he was minus 27, for example, in 2007-’08.)

But would he make the Leafs better?  Absolutely.

He has never scored 30 goals in a season.  But he’s a playmaker who plays hard, smart and makes guys around him much better.

That said, for where the Leafs are right now, is he worth 7 or 8 million a year?  Is this team a serious Cup contender now?  Would it be with him?

If we were talking about Brad Richards five years ago, or even two or three years ago, then the Leaf interest in him would make absolute sense to me.

If you’ve happened to read a few recent columns here, you’ll have seen that I’ve mentioned any number of players who’ve come to Toronto over the years with “saviour” written all over them, and rarely, very rarely have they been anything close to that.  (The one guy who actually was a saviour, Doug Gilmour, the truth is Leaf fans really had no idea he was going to deliver what he did.  It was a wonderful surprise because expectations were modest.)

And make no mistake, if we sign Richards, he will be seen as just that—a saviour in Toronto.  And I just believe this team needs a lot more than Brad Richards to be a serious contender for the Cup.

Does that mean we shouldn’t sign him?  No, I suppose not.  I may be wrong.  Absolutely.  I’ll be happy if Richards signs with the Leafs. 

I would just suggest that we all temper our expectations if he does.



  1. It seems to me that the Leafs (and Blue Jays) often like to take a chance on a player who's been seriously injured. And the tendency of Leaf fans to look for the new "saviour" just makes it worse when it doesn't work out - which is most of the time. I don't get the frenzy for Richards... I'd rather see a deal for Stamkos creating the fuss!

  2. You got it wrong btw when you say he is looking only for money and that's why hey hasn't allow Dallas to trade his right thus far. He is a UFA and he wants to control who he plays for without the underlying feeling that he "owes it" to the team that traded for his rights. I think since he has a NTC that he evokes it to insure come July 1, he can pick and choose the team he wants to play for and not the team that will just show him the money.