Off The Draw
Cap space and the financial wherewithal to use it are the rarest assets in today’s NHL. But while they may be scarce, they can have transformative power all the same.
Islanders GM Garth Snow proved that earlier this season by using his cap space to take advantage of a pair of teams trapped in salary-cap hell, acquiring defensemen Johnny Boychuk from the Bruins and Nick Leddy from the Blackhawks. Snow’s willingness to act boldly keyed a turnaround that now has his team holding down the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Now there’s blood in the water again. The Kings are paying Mike Richards $7 million to play in the AHL, and are on the hook for more than $20 million more over the next five years. It’s a deal that they’d love to get out from under.
Is there a GM out there who is willing and able to take advantage of that opportunity? Maybe.
It’s just a rumor at this point, but it makes a lot of sense. Diminished skill set or not, Richards would bring experience to a callow group—Calgary’s centers have an average age of 23. And if a change of scenery were to lead to a rejuvenation for Richards, so much the better.
But the real hook to any arrangement here would be in the sweetener.
No team is taking on Richards and his massive financial burden in a hockey deal. This would be all about leveraging cap space. And for that to make sense, a team would have to expect to be very well compensated.
In exchange for taking on Richards, the Flames would likely demand a young, NHL-ready player, someone like Tyler Toffoli or Tanner Pearson. Hard to believe the Kings would part with Toffoli, arguably their best player so far this season, but Pearson? There might be room to talk there.
Los Angeles would likely push a package built around a first-round pick or a younger prospect such as Adrian Kempe. Kempe, the Kings’ first choice in the 2014 draft, made a strong impression with his speed and physicality at World Juniors and looks like a safe bet to play a top-six role in the NHL down the road.
A package of Richards and Kempe would not be quite as appealing to a Calgary team that has a chance to crack the top eight this season, but it’s the more likely deal. L.A. doesn’t want to immediately enrich a team that they’re trying to get past in the playoff race. And while the Flames might be in the mix this year, their competitive window won’t fully open for a few more seasons. It makes sense to keep an eye on the long term.
There’s no guarantee that anything happens here, but this is a unique situation. There’s no doubt that Kings GM Dean Lombardi would like to see Richards get another chance in the NHL, so an intra-division trade isn’t out of the question. And Calgary GM Brad Treliving has the tools at his disposal to give Lombardi what he needs.
Crazier things have happened. Just ask the first-place Islanders.
What to watch tonight
Blackhawks at Kings (10:30 p.m. EST; NBCSN, SN, SN1, CSN-CH)
As if a rematch of last spring’s seven-game Western Conference finals isn’t enough reason to tune in, this game is loaded with emotional subtext that makes it a must-watch.
Sure, this one matters to Chicago, a team that is looking to make up ground on the Predators in the battle for top spot in the Central Division. But this game means everything to L.A., which has lost four straight games, and seven of its last eight, to fall out of a playoff spot in the West. Every guy who will be sitting in that dressing room on Wednesday night knows that the team’s struggles contributed to the decision to waive and then demote veteran center Mike Richards. And they know that if they don’t get things turned around soon, that might not be the last change to the roster of the defending Stanley Cup champs.
The first step to getting their game back on track is a better effort from Jonathan Quick. Stumbling through an 0-3-3 stretch during which he’s allowed nearly four goals per game, the all-world goalie is in a serious slump. His struggles against the Blackhawks are even more pronounced: In his previous five starts against Chicago, he’s 1-4-0 with a 4.06 goals-against average.
The Kings can at least count on a boost up front. Forward Tyler Toffoli, who hasn’t played since Jan. 8 due to a battle with mononucleosis, is expected to return for the game.
What you may have missed
• The great Martin Brodeur has announced that he will retire this week. In his honor, a classic SI story from 2009, by Hockey Hall of Fame writer Michael Farber.
• Is the NHL ready for a reality series about the wives and girlfriends of its players?
The numbers game
• Twenty of the Eastern Conference-leading Islanders’ final 35 regular season games will be played at Nassau Coliseum, where they have won 17 of 21 games, equaling a franchise record set in 1978–79.
• Mike Babcock has seen the impact of mental illness on friends. Now, the Detroit coach is speaking out to try to help others.
• Donna Spencer has the latest on Gordie Howe’s remarkable recovery and his plans for the future.