The Leafs and Brad Richards
The Maple Leafs want to be in on the free agent bidding for Brad Richards.
If there is any.
This, obviously, could be a situation similar to that in 2009 when Brian Burke quietly journeyed to Sweden on the final day of June hoping to be able to present the Sedin twins with contract offers the next day. Vancouver GM Mike Gillis, however, beat Burke to the punch, and Daniel and Henrik stayed out west.
This time around, Burke would like to at least have a chance to negotiate with Richards, and it's been suggested he might be willing to, if not break the bank, do some things contractually that he hasn't be willing to do before in Toronto.
Like go beyond five years. Not anything crazy along the lines of those 10, 12-year contracts, but perhaps seven or eight.
And Dion Phaneuf's $6.5 million annual cap hit would not be any kind of artificial individual cap for the Leafs. It's understood that Richards will go north of $7 mlllion, and possibly $8 million, in his new deal.
Now whether the Rangers or Kings would be willing to do more, well, we'll see.
But the real challenge for the Leafs is that Richards may not get to July 1st. Before the March trade deadline, Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk was asking prospects and picks in exchange for Richards and the right to talk about a new contract with the veteran centre.
That could well happen again before July 1st. The Stars are in a team in iimbo, with Vancouver businessman Tom Gaglardi expected to buy the club from Tom Hicks (remember the days when American businessmen like John McCaw and George Gillette were buying Canadian NHL teams??) but not before the club is run through some kind of "organized" bankruptcy proceeding to clear it of creditors. Dallas reports have suggested that may not happen until late June, and even then, would give Gaglardi very little time to decide on whether he wants to try and negotiate a new contract with Richards or whether Nieuwendyk should be authorized to trade exclusive negotiating rights with the centre to get a package in return.
The Stars are also looking for a head coach to replace Marc Crawford. Obviously, to have any chance of retaining Richards, they'd want to hire a coach he might prefer. So that's a further complication.
So the timing here could get very, very delicate.
In theory, the Leafs could get in on trying to buy the rights to negotiate with Richards, but not if it costs them a top prospect like Nazem Kadri. They just don't have enough in the cupboard to start giving those up, particularly without a deal in place for Richards. That's not even considering getting team doctors to have a look at him, something clubs may want to do because of the serious concussion Richards had this season.
Clearly, Burke's preference would be to wait until July 1st. But he knows Philly landed Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timmonen a couple of years ago from Nashville in this way and benefitted from that aggressive move, and he also knows the market for No. 1 centres via trade or free agency looks mighty slim this summer. He also knows he could have made a trade for Marc Savard last summer and been the one holding the bag when Savard was lost to another concussion.
This could be the biggest call of Burke's career in Toronto. If he even gets a chance to make one.