Brad Richards will have options

Whether it was Paul Holmgren’s intention or not, he has effectively altered the free agent landscape by shipping out two superstar salaries in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. We don’t know for certain if the Flyers plan to pursue Brad Richards when he becomes a free agent on July 1, but yesterday’s clearing out of 18 years and over $100 million in salary commitments leads one to believe that they’ll be in on the Brad Richards bidding war. The two most mentioned suitors for Richards, up until yesterday afternoon, were the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs. With the Flyers presumably entering the fold, Richards can sit back and watch the offers increase as he mulls his decision.

With news coming down that Richards has refused to waive his no-trade clause for the purposes of the Dallas Stars trading his rights, we know that he’ll be looking to go where he feels is the best fit for himself. Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk was understandably upset with Richards nixing any plans of moving his rights, but it’s the player’s right to veto any such transaction.

So where will Brad Richards end up signing?

The Rangers have been whispered as the most logical destination for the 31-year old impending UFA, based mostly on his past experience playing under John Tortorella in Tampa and the Rangers desperately seeking some help down the middle. A reunion with Tortorella sounds about as enticing as a reunion with an emotionally abusive ex-lover, but there is the whole ‘Richards won a Conn Smythe under Tortorella’ angle. The uncertainty of Chris Drury’s status could potentially throw a wrench into the team’s plans to land Richards, but Glen Sather has managed to shake himself free of a few of the cumbersome contracts he’s piled up in recent years.

We all figured the Philadelphia Flyers would be clearing some cap space in an effort to sign Ilya Bryzgalov, we just didn’t expect it would be done in such puzzling fashion. With Mike Richards off to L.A., we can safely eliminate the Kings from the Brad Richards race. The Bryzgalov deal quickly supplanted some of the cap space cleared by trading Richards and Carter, but the Flyers are left with a plethora of wingers. They should have enough room to seriously negotiate with Brad Richards’ camp.

Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs also figure to be in on the bidding war, even if they ultimately end up assuming a role of driving up Richards’ asking price. Burke covets a top tier centre, but one has to wonder if the foundation in Toronto and the lack of recent success will be a deterrent in Richards’ interest there. The advantage that Burke will have is cap space, whether or not he’ll break the bank for Richards remains to be seen. Dave “The Hammer” Shoalts of the Globe and Mail doesn’t think Burke will reach up to Richards’ rumoured asking price:

While it is thought Brad Richards, 31, will want a multiyear deal for somewhere around $8-million a year, those who know Burke well say he is not interested in paying that much. A number between $6-million and $7-million is more to his taste –and it appears the New York Rangers feel the same way, which should make for an interesting auction.

The Flyers’ flurry of moves means that Brad Richards and Tomas Vokoun will have their pick of the litter in terms of who to sign with. If I had to rank the aforementioned potential destinations in order of most likely to land Richards, I’d go Rangers, Flyers, and Leafs. There’s still lots of time for other teams to position themselves in this race, though.

Where do you think Richards lands?