Why the Maple Leafs should consider Mike Richards


With Mike Richards heading to free agency, should the Toronto Maple Leafs sign him up? (Nathan Denette/CP)

Mike Richards’ value has reached its nadir, and the Toronto Maple Leafs should take advantage.

On Monday, Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi terminated the contract of a declining, expensive player who has won two Stanley Cups, a Memorial Cup, a Calder Cup, a world junior championship, and an Olympic gold medal.

But just because Richards’ production and speed is on the downswing, just because he was demoted 2014-15 to the American Hockey League, doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve or won’t receive a second NHL act.

Toronto could be the perfect setting for Act 2 to open curtain.

Assuming the term (one year) and money are reasonable — which they should be — throwing a Maple Leafs sweater over Richards’ head could be the smartest move for both parties.

Just note the two golden rules of real estate: Buy low, sell high and Location, location, location. 

Flash back to July 2014.

  • Nashville signed 34-year-old buyout Mike Ribeiro to a one-year, $1.05-million deal. Leading the team in assists, Ribeiro was integral to boosting the Predators back into the playoffs.
  • Chicago signed 34-year-old buyout Brad Richards to a one-year, $2-million deal. Richards filled the role of No. 2 centre well on a championship team, scoring 14 points in the playoffs and setting up both Blackhawks goals in the Cup-clinching Game 6.
  • Philadelphia signed offensive defenceman Michael Del Zotto after he had been discarded by two teams in five months for cheap (one-year, $1.3 million). Ditto Arizona with goaltender Devan Dubnyk (one year, $800,000). Both players rebounded lovely with clean slates.

Sure, not every buyout bounces back (see: Havlat, Martin), but when a player’s stock is this low, he’s a risk worth taking.

And in recent history, Toronto — for all its flubs — has done an excellent job of snatching mediocre free-agent forwards and turning them into decent role players (Mason Raymond in 2013-14). Or, even better, futures (Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli in 2014-15).

The rebuilding Maple Leafs don’t need to be bidding for Antoine Vermettes and Matt Beleskeys this week.

“We’ll be active, but we might have a different set of targets than other teams,” Toronto president Brendan Shanahan told reporters on draft weekend. “I don’t know if we’ll be the headline-stealers.”

No other NHL market can bless Mike Richards — an Ontario boy, hey! — with the combination of ice time and media attention necessary to spike his value, restore his confidence and turn him into a 2016 trade deadline rental.

What contending club wouldn’t want to add a proven winner, a checking centre with 124 games of playoff experience, at a cap-friendly prorated salary of, say (pulls number out of hat), $1.6 million?

Were it not for his exorbitant salary, Richards would still be a King. The guy is only 30 years old. And under the embarrassment of plying his trade on the farm team this winter, he didn’t throw in the towel. Richards scored 14 points in 16 games with the Manchester Monarchs.

So what if he’s not good enough for the Kings’ top six?

He’s too good for the AHL, and just right for the young, depleted Leafs — a team that could benefit from a winning veteran presence, some defensive responsibility, and a centre who can teach the not-ready-for-prime-time players (William Nylander, Mitch Marner) a few tricks.

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