With NHL free agency rapidly descending upon us July 1st, I have examined the list of the unrestricted players available.
Considering which players to some degree "fit" with the Toronta Maple Leafs youth movement and who would significantly improve the present line up of the Leafs.
The No. 1 player is of course is Brad Richards, but with Brian Burke never before having signed a contract over five years—to sign Richards—Burke will have to go where Burke has never gone before. Even with Brad Richards' recent concussion history we can expect a minimum winning bid on Richards to be in the area of seven years at $7 million and might very well move into the territory of eight years at $8 million or beyond.
If recent events -in particular the Philadelphia Flyers trading Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, have proven anything it's that premium players may be moved no matter how absurd the amount and length of a contract may be. Brian Campbell is another example of a player who was signed to an outrageous contract which effectively played a major role in the forced demolition of the Black Hawks after they won the Stanley cup two years ago.
So a decent strategy would be to sign Richards regardless of cost and before his no trade contract kicks in trade him to a team like Florida who Richards would never sign with- and needs to take on salary to hit the Cap minimum. Now this Burke will never do, but arch rivals Flyers have employed such tactics and have successfully acquired Brayden Schenn, perhaps the best prospect in the NHL today, as a result of such a tactic. The question must be raised, why would any player trust to sign any contract with the Philadelphia Flyers ever again?
Did the Flyers try to circumvent any players contract?
Carter was verbally given the word of the Flyers organization by way of a gentleman's agreement that he would not be moved prior to the no trade clause in his contract coming into effect. And in reality Carter's no-trade clause in effect caused him to be traded to a team he most likely would never agree to sign with.
It seems the owners in the NHL will employ any means to bypass the existing contract between themselves and the players association. Of course one could argue this circumvention is in effect good for hockey in that smaller market teams may acquire top players that previously they would never be able to sign, but it allows the richer teams the ability to sign players to unrealistic contracts that they never have any intention to honour—and in effect the contracts being offered players are contrived to deceive players. As well such tactics drives up salaries that significantly benefit the richer NHL franchises.
I can see this being a major issue at the next NHL contract negotiations-the result of which no doubt will ultimately change the Equity between rich and weaker market NHL clubs for the foreseeable future.