Since a playmaking center is one of, if not the most glaring hole on the Blues roster, my next installment highlights another center who may be on the Blues radar this summer: Brad Richards.
Richards, 33, has failed to fully live up to expectations after signing a gigantic nine year $66 million deal with the New York Rangers in the summer of 2011.
A 90-point scorer twice in his career, Richards production has dropped off since moving to New York. After a good season in 2011-2012, where he netted 66 points, Richards had arguably the worst season of his career, posting 34 points in a lockout-shortened 2013 season. Over a full 82-game schedule, Richards was on pace to barely break the 60 point mark, a feat he has always accomplished during his career when he hasn’t missed a significant amount of time due to injury.
While 60 points is nothing to scoff at, it was not the type of production the Rangers expected when they gave Richards an average annual value of roughly $6.7 million. In fact, the Rangers became so frustrated in Richard’s play at the end of this season, that they made him a healthy scratch in the team’s final two games of the postseason, as they were ousted in 5 games by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Richards being scratched to end the season has lead many to believe that he has fallen out of favor in New York. Additionally, many believe that he is a prime candidate to have his hefty contract bought out this offseason, which is allowed under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
If Richards is bought out, expect several teams, including the Blues, to be bidding for his services.
Given this, there are two key factors that could play in the Blues favor should they decide to pursue him.
1.) the Blues have a ton of cap space:
This past season, the Blues had the second lowest payroll in the NHL at just over $52 million. With the cap set at $64.3 million next year, from an outsider’s perspective, the Blues have plenty of room to add salary.
However, as many fans already know, the Blues financial issues can only be described as iffy at best. With a heap of free agents to sign within the organization, several of which are due raises (Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart and Patrik Berglund to name a few), Blues fans are left to wonder how much additional salary the Blues can take on.
There will be opportunities for the Blue to shed some salary. For example, with three goalies finishing the season on the NHL roster, there is wide speculation that one of the three will be moved in the offseason.
Blues beat writer Jeremy Rutherford echoed this sentiment during a chat on STLToday.com last week.
Q: JR: Hello to you! Do you expect the Blues to make any trades and do you see them keeping three goalies?
A: I think there will be a trade at some point and no, I do not see any situation on this Earth why they would have three goalies on opening night.
Still, a common sentiment remains that, given the Blues financial situation, a trade will be Armstrong’s best course of action to improve the team.
While this may be the case, don’t rule out Doug Armstrong moving pieces around to make a run at a free agent he thinks will take his team to the next level.
2.) The salary cap will be lowered next year:
The NHL salary cap will take a significant hit next year, lowering to $64.3 million from $70.2 million. Given this, a lot of teams- the Philadelphia Flyers and the Vancouver Canucks to name a few- will have their work cut out for them just to become cap compliant next season.
With many teams worried about shedding salary rather than taking it on, this gives teams with plenty of cap space- like the Blues- a distinct advantage when it comes to signing free agents this offseason.
However, a valid case can be made that the Blues will not participate in free agency outside of re-signing their own players. Yet, regardless of the financial situation, General Manager Doug Armstrong will do his best to improve the team with the budget he is given.
Depending on the type of deal Richards is looking for, the Blues might be able to make a run at him.
After all, the Blues have a lot to offer to a player like Richards, if winning a Stanley Cup is his motivating factor in deciding where he will play next season. Armstrong can make a case to Richards that he is the missing piece to the puzzle that will bring the Blues its first Stanley Cup.
However, if Richards is looking to go to the top bidder this summer, the Blues may be out of luck.
Time will tell which scenario plays out, and if the Blues are even interested in Richards.
What do you think? Could Richards be a fit for the Blues? Let us know in the comments section below.