Being a Leaf fan is a lot like being a drug addict I would imagine. You are addicted to the "stuff" and you always feel like crap the next day after indulging. It also plays some weird tricks with your mind, which is why I have had a change of heart about a recent article that I wrote suggesting the Leafs sign Zach Parise to an offer sheet.
The more I thought about it, the less and less sense it made to give up three or four first round picks to acquire Parise, even though he's a potential franchise player and game changer. The reason for my 180 degree turn is that there is a very good alternative to Parise that could potentially be available to the Leafs at the trade deadline. He wouldn't cost them multiple first round picks. He's a proven uber-talented goal scorer and would give the Leafs another first line scorer to complement Phil Kessel. That player is Alexander Semin, and rumour has it that the pending unrestricted free agent could be dealt by the Washington Capitals, who are in win-now mode and could use both an experienced goaltender and a defenceman to bolster their playoff bound team.
Some would argue that the Leafs should simply load up for the future by trading all or some of Kaberle, Beauchemin and Giguere for picks and/or prospects. This would allow them to recover some of what they lost in the Phil Kessel trade. The problem is that this could take four or five more years to achieve. At that point the Leafs will have gone 12 years without being a contender with no guarantee that a majority or even any of these picks will become the bonafide NHL star that the Leafs covet. So why not try and win now and at the same time maintain a very young squad that can grow into a legitimate cup contender within a year or two? And that brings me back to Semin and why he would be a crucial cog in achieving that goal.
For starters, as I mentioned above, he would immediately inject a much-needed stud into the Leafs lineup. However, more importantly is the affect that his presence would have on a potential stud centre having a desire to sign in Toronto. I think we all know who that centre is that I am alluding to. Yes, that man would be Brad Richards.
Brad Richards will be the most sought after free agent on the market this summer and there will be a number of teams in the mix to secure his services. In my mind there are four favourites right now in the quest to land Richards. One of those would have to be his current team, the Dallas Stars, with whom Richards has stated he would like to stay with. However it is a well known fact that the Stars are having ownership issues and thus are on an internal budget, one in which Richards realistically does not fit into. Also joining the list of favourites would be the Tampa Bay Lightning. The problem with them is that I'm not sure how they would afford him with St. Louis and Lecavalier on the books, not to mention Ryan Malone's $4.5 million contract as well as pending restricted free agent Steven Stamkos, who is sure to cash in big time with a contract that should be upwards of $8 million per season. The New York Rangers, who also desperately need a centre to play with Marian Gaborik and also have a head coach that won a Stanley Cup with Richards in John Tortorella, are probably the front runners to land Richards. And that leads us to the Toronto Maple Leafs, if for no other reasons than they need him more than anyone (maybe with the exception of the Rangers), and they have the cap space to be able to offer him more than anyone else.
The Leafs best shot to land Richards is to be able to offer him at least $7 million per season, and the chance to centre a line of Kessel and Semin. The Rangers may also be able to offer him the same salary and the chance to play with Marian Gaborik. This is why it is crucial for the Leafs to make a pitch for Alex Semin NOW and not wait until he becomes a UFA in July. Of course, there is one condition that would have to be met in order for the Leafs to complete this trade, and that is Alex Semin agreeing to an extension with Toronto. Otherwise, this deal makes absolutely no sense for Toronto.
What would it take to get Semin from the Capitals? I would guess that it would take something along the lines of either Kaberle or Beauchemin, plus probably one or two reasonably high draft picks (second and/or third round picks), plus probably Giguere and a "good" prospect such as Jerry D'amigo for example. This trade would help the Capitals in that they are quite deep upfront and at the same time, are in dire need of a veteran defencemen to help them avoid another early playoff exit. Adding Giguere into the deal would give them a veteran goalie to provide some calm between the pipes should Varlamov and Neuvirth falter. Throwing in a second and/or third round pick would provide them justification to fans and media alike that they are also getting futures in the deal, as would including a B/C level prospect such as D'amigo.
For the Leafs, they would be acquiring a stud forward that they desperately need while not giving up any first round picks or any young core roster players. At the same time, they would still have a couple million dollars in cap space to work with in the offseason.
One thing that has been made painfully clear the past few years is that since Mats Sundin left the organization, a gaping hole has been left smack-dab in the centre of the Leafs roster. That hole would be filled perfectly by Brad Richards. If I'm Brad Richards the only way I choose the Leafs is if the money is there and the opportunity is there along with it. Semin and Richards would take tremendous pressure of the back of Kessel, and rid the Leafs of their scoring woes that have seen them shutout seven times in 45 games this season. It makes a ton of sense to me.
Let's go Burkie. GET TO WORK!