Apr 8, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Rangers forward Brad Richards (19) against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated New York 4-3. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Maple Leafs Miss Opportunity with Brad Richards

After blowing the 2013 free agency period, it was hoped the Toronto Maple Leafs would perform better this year.

The team desperately needs a veteran player who can provide some extra offence up front. Someone who can change the dynamics of the team without breaking the bank or costing the Leafs future assets. In other words, they can’t afford to add another David Clarkson or Dave Bolland: “big ticket” players who make it difficult for the Leafs to act around free agency or the trade deadline.

Ultimately, the Leafs focussed on bolstering their defence, which is understandable but overlooks the gaping hole at center that has existed on the team since the departure of Mats Sundin (!). It’s wrong to think the Leafs’ problems rest squarely on the defence’s shoulders. There’s room for improvement at every position on the team and I’m not convinced general manager Dave Nonis recognizes this.

I look forward to the return of Leo Komarov, who’ll help strengthen the team up front while adding extra speed, but I’ll reserve judgement on Petri Kontiola. We’ve seen the Leafs add “hidden gems” in the past who never really live up to expectations (do Jonas Gustavsson and Paul Ranger come to anyone’s mind?).

Beyond this, I think the Leafs missed an excellent opportunity in Brad Richards. The veteran centerman signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks worth $2 million. He’s no longer an elite player in the NHL and was recently bought out by the New York Rangers, but he provides everything the Leafs need up the middle.

He brings Stanley Cup experience, having both won and loss the Cup. He also has enough skill to solidify the second line. Toronto could’ve probably singed Richards to a multi-year deal without breaking the bank and I think this would’ve been ideal with Richards serving as a “transitional” player on the team.

(For the sake of argument, let’s assume Richards would sign in Toronto for the right price. I don’t pretend to know his expectations or demands in signing a new contract. There appears some truth to the Cup argument, but it doesn’t sound like he went out of his way to land in Chicago. They approached him and made a convincing pitch. This is something the Leafs could’ve done as well. In fact, Brian Burke tried this approach in 2011. However, New York made the better offer. It may be the case that Toronto could never match Chicago’s offer this season, but we’ll never know because no real effort was made by Nonis to sign Richards based on what we know.)

For the upcoming season, Richards could’ve been placed at second on the team’s depth chart for center, but as he continued to age and Nazem Kadri continued to mature, they would naturally swap places. This would’ve allowed the Leafs to get the maximum return from Richards while affording Kadri the opportunity to develop even further without high expectations placed on him.

Unfortunately, this isn’t how things unfolded and the Leafs’ don’t appear to operate with such foresight under Nonis. He opted to sign untested options at center like Kontiola and Mike Santorelli to one-year deals. This means we might find ourselves in the exact same situation next summer.

Richards maybe available again at this time, but he’ll be one year older and this might limit his value to the Leafs going forward. Both him and the Leafs have a small window of opportunity to exploit here.

Did Nonis close this window? We’ll see.

There’s only one thing for certain: the team will be looking for another bargain centerman next year thanks to Clarkson.

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Tags: Brad Richards Brian Burke Dave Bolland Dave Nonis David Clarkson Jonas Gustavsson Leo Komarov Mats Sundin Mike Santorelli Nazem Kadri Paul Ranger Petri Kontiola Toronto Maple Leafs

  • Alex

    Richards wanted another chance at the Cup. Not an option for Leafs.

    • http://www.tipofthetower.com William Wilson

      You mean the Leafs aren’t Cup favourites?!

  • Stan Smith

    I take a totally different view. I think signing a player like Richards might have hindered Kadri’s development. I leafs have been cautious with him since they drafted him. Now he is at the stage of his career where he needs the pressure and the tough minutes. If this was the trade deadline and the leafs thought they actually had a chance to go deep in the playoffs then picking up a player like Richards might make sense but my feeling is doing it now could actually have a detrimental effect.

    • http://www.tipofthetower.com William Wilson

      That’s a good/fair point.
      It really comes down to where Kadri currently stands in his development: does he need more time or is he ready for a larger role on the team? Maturity, not skill, is his real weakness right now.
      I had in mind his performance this past season when Bozak was hurt. He started off well, but lost steam over time. In fact, his season on the whole can be desribed this way. (I traded for him late in my hockey pool and soon regretted it.)
      I read this as meaning he’s not quite ready for more responsibility, but I could be wrong and he’ll be further along in his development when the new season starts.
      Ultimately, I think kadri has first line potential in him. At a minimum, he should be able to anchor the second line for many years.

  • R.”Mitch Mitchell.

    Your right about Sundin and, he was a great centre man (BUT) – THEY DIDN’T DO ANYTHING WITH MAT IN THE LINE-UP EITHER.
    Brad Richards is a very good hockey player – but would not do anything more than Mat for the Leafs,. the out come would be the same.
    Toronto Maple Leafs need a “LA King Team” – winning comes with attitude and chemistry, some thing that has not been in a Leaf dressing room for 50 years,. Sundin or no Sundin – Richards or no Richards.
    As long as there are sell outs at Air Canada Centre – why would you spend money on a Brad Richards.
    No the Leafs Brass did not miss out on “Brad Richards” – they chose to miss out.
    Check it out and see if you can get a ticket for the opening of 2014-2015 – nose bleed section maybe and, you will have to work for a week to pay for it.
    I have been a Leaf fan for 70 years, I am still waiting for changes,… What !!! changes you say!!! “NEVER”.

    • http://www.tipofthetower.com William Wilson

      Love it!
      Sundin is my favourite Leaf of all time and you’re absolutely right: they wasted his prime years.
      Sadly, I don’t see the Leafs replicating the success of the Kings anytime soon. The management alone on that time are miles ahead of our guys.

      • jimithy

        Sundin wasted a good sweater with a bad number and broke everyone’s heart every year with his limited skills. Propping that guy up to appear like a good hockey player ruined hockey in Toronto for eons. The same thing is happening now with Kessel. Good hockey players but not team players.

        • Bill Kniess

          Sundin had limitless skills he had limited heart. Kessel has at least showed up for a play-off round..and he’s not your captain or even your outright go to guy.

    • Stan Smith

      That “why spend the money stuff” doesn’t fly. There is a salary cap. Last season the leafs were right up against it all season and it handicapped them severely when dealing with injuries etc. Plus you can’t tell me that everyone from Leiweke right down to the guys that sweep the locker room don’t care whether the team wins or loses. You think the present owners Bell & Rogers don’t see the financial plus that a long run in the playoffs would for profits?

      • R.”Mitch Mitchell.

        Stan, you have valid points and opinion – you are also asking and answering your own questions.
        My question to you – what happened before the Salary Cap,. dose that fly?
        Cheers Mate and, keep up the good Blogs and enjoy 2014/205 season.

  • jimithy

    Rule #1. Don’t pick players that don’t want to play for you.

  • flintonrice

    Such a strange article. There is no way that Richards was going to come to the Leafs. He already said no to them when signing to the Rangers. He took a deep discount to go with the Hawks.

    He went from a big time center to a buy out. He needs to recharge his career and that was not going to happen with the Leafs. While a bunch of players crap on the Leafs, the truth is that a lot of players don’t want to play in Canada. There’s too much attention and too much taxes.

    But if you’re going to slam Nonis for not getting Richards then at least slam him for not getting a better player like Crosby. It is probably equally probable.

  • D.WAdair

    What is this all about, Richard wanted to go to a contender. Leafs are not a contender at the moment. Wilson must be an other brain dead reporter who think he knows how to run a team.

  • A13276

    All this article is worthy of is this – ugh!!!!!

  • Optimus_1

    I am going to throw this out there because I think the article touches on a bigger problem, the leafs have not had a number one center since Sundin moved on. It is the biggest hole that the team has had over that span, (I will argue that the defense right now is better constituted than it has been since the leaf teams in Pat Quinn era, particularly with Riley). Richards by all accounts is not a number once center. There was a great fit with Dallas, he was better than a ppg over three plus seasons. In New York he was not a .8 ppg player. So if he would not add offense to the team because he would take away ice-time from Kadri or Bozak why sign him? Our hopes over the next two to three years lie with Nylander. The leafs have no one else (I am leery of Connor Brown receiving this hype because he was an overager) that can fill this role. They have not hit a home run in free agency, they have not hit a home run in the draft. Brad Richards would not add very much or anything to this current leaf team. They are going to have to do this on there own; with internal development.

    • Bill Kniess

      Yup. The writer disses the signing of a guy who might provide something for a few yrs. Kontiola based on 1 yr of Rangers return to the NHL and a goalie who is in the NHL. Maybe he should have mentioned another name Anton Stralman. There’s a guy we let slip past us. What if this guy Kontiala can be a decent #3 or even a #2..for 4 or 5 yrs.? Richards going to be? What if Richards came in and had one marvelous yr. Leafs finished, as a result, like they did when they managed a short season…. hot enough to get a 20th selection…instead of maybe one more yr. out and grabbing another at least top ten pick. So as Nylander has made the line-up and maybe a Gauthier … Reilly and one or 2 young D have started to hit their stride ..you add a big winger to go with Nylander and you have 2 lines that look good for scoring..filled out a decent 3rd and 4th with young guys that aren’t costing you much. Why distort what this team is ..by adding a guy that might help get you where?

      • Optimus_1

        Agree with everything you said. As a fan of this team my hopes are with Riley and Nylander. The leafs have a very strong compliment of wingers, Kessel, JVR and Lupul as a package are absolutely up there with any Eastern conference team. I would have loved to see Brian Boyle here and they tried, which is all Nonis can do. The only signing that I wasn’t happy with was Robidas, but they didn’t blow their brains out, Komarov was probably a little too expensive, but once again a 3 year deal. Overall, I was happy with the offseason.
        I really like your last line to get where? Richards does not put this team over the top. Don’t slow down Kadri’s growth let him play. Trust that one or two of the guys you have signed will make this team better. Trust in Riley to become even better. You miss the playoffs again that’s fine. Its called development.

        • Bill Kniess

          thx. But you get a little carried away… No Richards..but yes to Boyle ( I’m taking it you mean Dan )? Though I could see that because he could help develop the young D. I did think you needed some more veteran presence on the D so without Boyle I’m o.k. with Robidas. Komarov is o.k. You need to keep the cheap stuff away from Kessel etc. while team is building. I we can draft high enough in the upcoming draft we may get a guy that can start right away. Not spending big again means that then we can look at the key extra free-agent.

          • Optimus_1

            Different Boyle. I am talking about the forward. Sorry I didn’t specify.