The Leafs desperately need a center for Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul capable of being more than a boat anchor. That’s not a sleight on Tyler Bozak per se, it’s hardly an insult to not be one of the 15 best players at your position in the world.
The Leafs don’t have a ton to offer teams in trade so ignore crackpots suggesting that the Flyers would send Jeff Carter for a Burkie Dog and Jonas Gustavsson (surely the solution to their perceived problem of having crummy goalies) or that the Avalanche will deal Paul Stastny because they have Matt Duchene and couldn’t possibly have two good centers at once.
The "easiest" way for the Leafs to acquire a center is on July 1st with a big check. The problem is the lack of talent available on the UFA market. Not anticipating the lack of UFA talent is why JFJ’s tenure with the Leafs was a disaster and one hopes Brian Burke isn’t going down the same road.
Using Capgeek.com’s UFA Finder we can pull out a list of UFA centers this year and narrow it down to the following two guys: Brad Richards and Brooks Laich.
Brooks Laich represents a 16 point per season upgrade over Tyler Bozak, nearly a point every five games!, excuse me while I yawn. Who’s left? Brad Richards. (Bet you didn’t think I could spend five paragraphs getting to the obvious UFA center mentioned in the headline but I fooled everyone. Sorry about that pun by the way.).
Brad Richards’ past two seasons, aged 29 and 30 are likely his prime. He played a combined 152 games scoring 52 goals with 116 assists for 168pts (1.10ppg).
This isn’t poor production, Brad Richards has cracked the point per game mark three times in his past six seasons but there are some reasonable concerns with him.
First and foremost he’s 30 years old. If the Leafs sign him he’ll be 31 next year and being old is generally not synonymous with "scores a lot", Martin St. Louis and Teemu Selanne notwithstanding. If Brad Richards signs a six year $7.5M contract it won’t be long before he’s a 55 or 60 point player and fans are calling for his head. He probably knows this which is a good reason why this quote exists:
@ChrisBottaNHL told Brad Richards’ first choice is not to sign where hockey’s life and there are a lot of reporters.
Is that a good sign for the Leafs? Toronto is very clearly a market where hockey is life and there are a mountain of reporters. This isn’t a city where Brad Richards can cash a fat paycheck as his career smolders without being the subject of constant salary dump, buyout and AHL demotion rumors. If Brad Richards doesn’t want to play in Toronto he’s going to cost even more money which only amplifies the problem.
Finally, is Brad Richards the right fit for this Leafs squad? They’re young and they’re not very good but Richards seems like a bandaid fix. He’s unlikely to be the one piece that brings the Stanley Cup back to Toronto and in two or three years he could very well be a 55 point $7.5M boat anchor. In the meantime we’ll have hurt our draft position and maybe made the playoffs as an eight seed.
This Leafs squad has a long way to go and despite wanting to see Richards in blue and white next year feeding Kessel I don’t think it’s the right move long term. Let him go to the Rangers so that Sather can amass the Over 30 Over Seven Mil Club and keep looking for the right center.