Brad Richards to Bruins? Not So Fast.

Over the last week, there have been rumors bubbling about Brad Richards heading to Boston.  The Globe's Kevin Paul Dupont started the rumor-rama first with a February 8 story about why the Bruins should get Richards.  Then, he followed with a February 10 story noting that Peter Chiarelli stated a willingness to trade Toronto's first round pick, which currently sits fifth in the draft, and stands a good chance to stay there, and postulating that Brad Richards might be available, given his pending UFA status, and the uncertain ownership situation in Dallas.  Throw in the fact that Boston's putative #1 center is done for the season, and the fact that Boston is one of the teams that could meet a high price for Richards, and Dallas' recent 3-6-1 skid that has them just 3 points above the playoff cut line, and it's a reasonable exercise in dot connecting.

So why am I not buying this?

For one thing, it's unclear whether there's any smoke at all, let alone fire.  Dupont turned up the temperature on the "Richards to Boston" meme with an article yesterday, stating that there were only two players on the market worth giving up that Leafs pick to obtain: Richards and Zach Bogosian.  ESPN Rumor Central, in their usual (ahem) uber-accurate reporting, has taken Dupont's analysis and tweeted:

Notice the massive jump to a conclusion there?  Dupont's articles on this seem pretty clearly to be an exercise in "this is what I think makes sense", and not "here's what Peter Chiarelli thinks makes sense", yet ESPN Rumor Central takes it as gospel.  Heck, you can practically see Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside debating whether Marc Savard should give up #91 to accommodate his new Bruin teammate.  So, whether or not you think a Richards to Boston trade is logical for all concerned, there is very little to connect the two at this point unless ESPN has some additional sourcing on this that they aren't sharing.  It's not like Tomas Kaberle, who we know for a fact Boston has been in on for two solid years.  Kaberle was a Brian Burke brain fart from becoming a Bruin at the 2009 draft.  (A non-trade for which Burke surely has kicked himself more than once.)

But let's put that aside for a moment.  Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that there is some truth to this.  Brad Richards, in a vacuum, would be a great addition for the Bruins.  He would provide the first-line creativity that they lost with Savard's injury, and goal scoring punch as well.  He would add firepower to an oft-struggling power play, and would instantly become Boston's best skater.  Yes, Richards would be a very, very strong addition for the Bruins.

The Bruins have the first round pick from Toronto, and that is looking like a very valuable piece of real estate.  The Leafs sit right now as the NHL's fifth-worst team, without a great chance of moving up much higher in the standings; they're the fifth worst team, with the fifth-worst goal differential: it's not like they're victims of rotten luck.  In a draft where there are five or six guys who could go first overall, that pick has greater value than it might otherwise.  And the Bruins have ample young talent to add to that to make a tempting offer.  They also have the cap space generated by putting Savard on long term injured reserve; CapGeek reports that as of today, the Bruins could add a cap hit of about $3.8 million.  Richards has a cap hit of $7.8 million.  So, if they put together a bit over $4 million in salary going the other way, it works.  Blake Wheeler, Mark Stuart, Jordan Caron, and both first round picks?  That works with the cap, and has to be an offer the Stars would seriously consider.

So, back to my original question: why am I not buying this?

For one thing, I am skeptical that the Stars will be in any great hurry to deal Richards.  The Stars sit atop the Pacific Division at present, and even though they are just 3 points above the cut line, that's more a function of the Western Conference being strong than the Stars being a weak team that's well situated.  If they take a nosedive, maybe it becomes an option. 

But more importantly, I am unconvinced that Richards fits into Boston's long-term planning.  If they trade for him, we have to assume they will want to sign him long-term.  There's no way they would give up a package along the lines of what I described above for 20-something games of Brad Richards, plus playoffs.  So assume they want to sign Richards.  Let's even assume they can agree on some numbers: 7 years, $50 million is probably a reasonable estimate, with the money slightly front-loaded.  Now, the Bruins are looking at $56.74 million in salary committed for 2011-12, with 18 players signed. 

The salary cap sits at $59.4 million right now.  Boston would have absolutely no cap flexibility.  Even if the cap goes up, the best the Bruins could hope for is to fill out their roster with minimum-salary players.  Oh, and there's also a little thing called bonus penalties.  If the Bruins pay bonuses over the salary cap, that cuts into cap room for the following year.  If they trade for Richards, a bonus penalty for 2011-12 is a near-certainty.  That means Brad Marchand, a restricted free agent, would be playing elsewhere next year.  Wheeler too, if he wasn't part of a deal.  Bye bye, Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi

The news would get even worse the next season.  In 2012-13, the Bruins would have $47.41 million in salary committed to 12 players.  In a best case scenario, that would leave the Bruins about $20 million to fill out half their roster...with David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, Johnny Boychuk, Shawn Thornton and Adam McQuaid all hitting free agency.

The elephant in the room is Marc Savard.  Savard won't play this year, which creates the short-term cap room, and perhaps the need, for a player like Richards.  But what about the long term?  In 2011-12, the Bruins are looking at six centers for four lines if Savard comes back, with only Tyler Seguin a truly viable option for the wing, and they want him at center in the long term.  And then there's the cap situation.  Savard's signing looked at the time like a great move.  But now, that $4 million through 2016-17 looks like an anchor around the salary cap.  They couldn't possibly trade him, not unless they were taking back an equally radioactive contract.  If Savard retired, that would solve the problem of too many centers, and greatly alleviate the salary cap pressure.  But the Bruins cannot make that assumption, nor should they; Savard has earned the right to take time to evaluate his future, and if he wants, try and come back on his own terms.

Peter Chiarelli does not strike me as an impulsive man.  He's done a lot of work to stockpile prospects and draft picks, and while I haven't been thrilled with all the contracts he's signed, his long-term cap management has generally been sound.  Given that, it just doesn't seem like a trade for Brad Richards would fit what he's trying to do. 

I believe the Bruins will make a big move by the trading deadline.  But I would be very surprised if it's for Brad Richards.

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