|Is it Possible for Toronto Maple Leafs to |
get a Better Centre Than Brad Richards?
The original Brad Richards post on Leafschatter sparked a debate with one of the MSM (Main Stream Media) covering Toronto Maple Leafs. He said getting Brad Richards is a bad move because he thought Richards is soft, a minus player for years, and doesn't address Toronto's issues. He also felt Richards, 30-year old, 6' 190 lbs, wasn't an elite player because he was too old; too small; and weak defensively.
Whom should Toronto have at first line centre if we are to believe this assessment of Brad Richards? Who should be Phil Kessel's playmaking centre?
Assists are handy for gauging a player's playmaking ability. We can consider anyone in the top-5 category for his position to be an elite player and anyone in the top-16 category for his position to be the minimum performance required for making the playoffs. In the past five seasons, a centre has to score a minimum of 59 to 65 assists to make the top-5 playmaking centre list; and a minimum of 43 to 51 assists to make the top-16 list.
You can consider Brad Richards with his 67 assists last season to be among the elite playmaking centres. This was fourth best in the NHL and for NHL centres. He has been amongst the top-5 playmaking centre four of the nine NHL seasons played. His other five seasons have been top-16 quality.
|Brad Richards NHL Career Statistics|
|2000-01||20||Tampa Bay Lightning||82||21||41||62||-10||14||7||0||3||179||11.7|
|2001-02||21||Tampa Bay Lightning||82||20||42||62||-18||13||5||0||0||251||8.0|
|2002-03||22||Tampa Bay Lightning||80||17||57||74||3||24||4||0||2||277||6.1|
|2003-04||23||Tampa Bay Lightning||82||26||53||79||13||12||5||1||6||244||10.7|
|2005-06||25||Tampa Bay Lightning||82||23||68||91||0||32||7||4||0||282||8.2|
|2006-07||26||Tampa Bay Lightning||82||25||45||70||-19||23||12||1||3||272||9.2|
|2007-08||27||Tampa Bay Lightning||62||18||33||51||-25||15||9||1||4||228||7.9|
You must always be mindful of possible decline in scoring production when a player is in his 30s. However, the risk is minimal when it involves a player who delivered exceptional scoring before reaching his peak scoring years between the ages 24 to 26. In the case of Brad Richards, he led his team in scoring in his first two seasons at the age of 20 and 21 in addition to last season at the age of 29 plus in 2005-06 at the age of 25. Declining scoring production should be a minimal concern for him.
The other elite playmaking centres are Joe Thornton (age 31), Henrik Sedin (age 30), Niklas Backstrom (age 22), and Sydney Crosby (age 23). Ryan Getzlaf (age 25) and Evgeny Malkin (age 24) are pressing their way into the elite list. Marc Savard (age 33) and Pavel Datsyuk (age 32) dropped off the top-5 list but remain first line centre calibre for a playoff team.
|Top NHL Playmaking Centres 2009-10 Season Ranked by Assists|
So, whom should Toronto target for first line centre if not Brad Richards?
Presently Washington Capitals Brooks Laich (age 27) and Buffalo Sabres Tim Connolly (age 29) are the best playmaking UFAs due to be available this summer. Both are second line centres with their current team. The often-injured Tim Connolly ($4.5 mil cap salary) had a career year last season with 48 assists. But, he is struggling this season with 8 assists in 22 games. The consistent Brooks Laich also had a career year last season with 25 goals and 34 assists. He maintains his production this season with 5 goals and 10 assists in 21 games played.
Steven Stamkos (age 20) remains unsigned by Tampa. The longer Tampa waits, the more it will cost them to sign Stamkos. Tampa makes itself vulnerable to an offer sheet if they allow this carry through to the off-season. Toronto does have the four first-round draft picks required to give Stamkos a serious offer sheet. The Leafs also have significant cap space to offer Stamkos anywhere from $9 mil up to $11.84 mil "max cap" money. But, will it be too costly and risky to invest this much money and this many first-round draft picks for one player? It will make the Phil Kessel deal with Boston look like a marginal trade.
You can wait to see if Nazem Kadri (age 20) develops into a first line centre over the course of the season. It is very possible for a high first round draft pick to step into this role at age 20. Brad Richards did it. Tyler Bozak (age 24) is having a trying season as Toronto's first line centre. There is a forlorn hope he will "play" he is way out of his problems. It is doubtful Brian Burke will wait idly for this to happen. He already has admittedly rushed Nazem Kadri to the NHL.
Various players have been mentioned in trade rumours: Mike Ribeiro (age 30), Travis Zajac (age 26), and Marc Savard are some of the prominent names. Trading Mike Ribeiro ($5 mil cap salary) gives Dallas room in their $45 mil budget to resign Brad Richards. He fits nicely within the $5-$6 mil "cap salary" range Brian Burke professes to favour for first line players.
Wait another year
In 2012, David Krecji, John Tavares, Matt Duchene, and Sam Gagner are due to be RFA (Restricted Free Agent) free agents. Boston is especially crowded at centre with Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron, and Marc Savard.
Ultimately, it is up to other NHL Managers to decide who is available to Brian Burke to be Toronto's first line centre. Without a doubt, teams at their cap salary or budget limits will be the ones who reluctantly make such a player available. Brian Burke may not have the luxury of being fussy or choosy when it happens. Yet, he reportedly declined an offer to take Marc Savard from Boston during the off-season. Burke most likely declined the trade because of a combination of Savard's contract, age, and concussion history.
Fortunately, he has everything in place (players, prospects, draft picks, cap space, and budget) to acquire anyone made available. If it happens to be Brad Richards, you should expect him to become a Toronto Maple Leaf. Who is it, if not Brad Richards? Steven Stamkos?