Signing Brad Richards well worth the price.
There has been a lot of debate recently among the ranks of Sabres fans regarding star center Brad Richards. Richards is the prize free agent, there’s no questioning that. I feel there is no doubt Terry Pegula and Co. will put all their chips on the table come Friday. There are two looming questions as we approach the start of free agency:
1.) Do the Sabres really have a chance? – I think so. There will be plenty of suitors for Richards, teams like New York, Toronto, Florida, Tampa, Detroit and Philly have all been mentioned. But these teams don’t have Terry Pegula. Richards reportedly wants a strong owner. I don’t think there is an owner in hockey better than ours. Richards wants a cup contender. Who goes to Toronto? They haven’t made the playoffs since the lockout. He’d be lying if he
signed there. Same goes for Florida, they’re clawing and scratching just to get to the cap floor. I don’t see Detroit paying Richards what he’ll command from others, though he could very well take a pay cut to play there. He wouldn’t be the first.
So I think the main contenders for Richards come down to 4 teams. Buffalo, New York, Philly and Tampa Bay. The Rangers are the obvious favorites, with over 25 million in cap space, his former coach in John Tortorella, an original 6 team (which was reported he would only sign with around the trade deadline) and it’s New York. You can’t really top the Big Apple.
Richards signing in Philly would have to make them the cup favorite in 2012. He knows that, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him sign there. This would be the last team I want to see Richards go to. Tampa is also a logical choice, if he doesn’t hold any resentment towards the team that traded him away years ago. My guess on that is no.
Then there’s the dark horse: Buffalo. Buffalo has the cap space to sign Richards, albeit not much of a margin to do so. With the Nathan Gerbe contract extension from today included, the Sabres have just over $11,000,000 in cap space next year. Buffalo has an owner who has done nothing but show his commitment to winning. They will have one of the best locker room facilities in the NHL. Most people may throw Buffalo to the curb when describing the city, but I think Ted Black will paint a phenomenal picture of the city if someone else hasn’t done so already. It could be the perfect storm of reasons to get a superstar like Richards to live down the street from Lindy Ruff.
2.) Is he worth the money? – YES! Will this be an overpayment in regards to his abilities on the ice? Most likely. But this is a signing that will tell the hockey world the Buffalo is here, and are serious. It will drive home the fact that the Sabres will be a top organization for the duration of Terry Pegula and Ted Blacks tenure. It will show, especially to those who still say “Yea, well this is Buffalo, we never get anything.” This is a signing that turns the organization from talking the talk, to walking the walk. The Regehr trade was just the start.
A signing like Richards would pump so much energy into both the team and the entire city. We could finally be able to say “the best player chose us, over New York, over Detroit’s cult, over the glam of South Beach. He chose little old Buffalo, forgotten by the rest of the world. Well not anymore, we’ll be back on the map.” This signing would be a statement to the rest of the NHLPA that we are a possible destination, and not a place for people to go when no one else wants them.
A trade for a #1 center wouldn’t have the same result. On the ice it might, but in most cases, a player doesn’t have much say in where he’s headed. Look at the Jeff Carter fiasco in Columbus. He’s obviously upset, and really wants nothing to do with the Blue Jackets. Then Brian Campbell uses his NMC when he’s asked to move there. Columbus trading for Carter did nothing to change the perception of that hockey organization. A Sabres trade for someone like Jason Spezza could have the same effect. Whereas a big splash free agent signing would tell the world “we are a world class organization, you won’t be treated any better or have the success that awaits you in the Queen City.”
Friday will be a very nerve wracking day, but that’s a good thing. It is something this city has been waiting for for a long time. It’s been 4 years since we’ve sniffed greatness, and this could be the beginning of our return to the top.