Can Brad Richards sign with the Kings? (cap issues, pt1)

Over at LAKi (and I assume elsewhere) there's been a lot of talk about the possibility of signing Brad Richards. Dean Lombardi revealed to Rich Hammond that he has been told the cap is likely rise to $62.5-63MM. I covered a lot of this ground already in a post two weeks ago (Kings cap situation rhymes with pucks) but let's go back over it with Richards (and Lombardi's new cap number) in mind.

The bare bones roster

including all players already under contract for next season, plus the obvious must-signs at (in the name of being super optimistic) absolute bargain-basement prices. They are Doughty ($5MM), Simmonds ($1.5MM), Martinez ($1MM), Moller, Lewis and Richardson (each at $950K).

This roster does not include UFAs Handzus or Ponikarovsky, nor does it include prospects like Brayden Schenn, Thomas Hickey, Viatcheslav Voynov, Andrei Loktionov or Jake Muzzin. The last three of those prospects are easier to fit under this year's cap than the first two (Schenn and Hickey) because, as this will be the last year under the current CBA, there will be no bonus cushion, so all of Schenn's and Hickey's (and everyone else's) bonuses will count in full against the cap, with no allowance (cushion) for going over.

This roster also doesn't include Richards, yet (though it does include his son). Here it is:

Penner ($4.25MM) / Kopitar ($6.8MM) / Williams ($3.65MM)
Smyth ($6.25MM) / Stoll ($3.6MM) / Brown ($3.175MM)
Clifford ($870K) / Lewis ($950K) / Simmonds ($1.5MM)
Parse ($900K) / Richardson ($950K) / Moller ($950K)
Westgarth ($525K)

Mitchell ($3.5MM) / Doughty ($5MM)
Scuderi ($3.4MM) / Johnson ($4.357MM)
Martinez ($1MM) / Greene ($2.95MM)
Drewiske ($616K)

Quick ($1.8MM) / Bernier ($1.25MM)
  • Assuming the highest figure for Lombardi's estimated cap ceiling ($63MM), and the lowest imaginable cap hits for Doughty, Simmonds (et al), this roster is $4.8MM under the cap.
  • As I mentioned, this roster does not include Handzus, Poni or Schenn. Or Richards.

How much do we expect Brad Richards to get paid this time around?

I remind myself that Glen Sather is also likely to be involved in this bidding war. Richards has been getting $7.8MM for the last several years. He's old now (30), and has a concussion history. But how much of a discount is he going to take for that? I'm going to pick a number which I think is optimistic (from the Kings point of view): $5.5MM. I do not think this is going to happen. But I'm being excessively optimistic.

And this is the roster you get:

The Pipe Dream Brad Richards Roster

Penner ($4.250m) / Kopitar ($6.800m) / Williams ($3.650m)
Smyth ($6.250m) / Richards ($5.500m) / Brown ($3.175m)
Clifford ($0.870m) / Stoll ($3.600m) / Simmonds ($1.500m)
Parse ($0.900m) / Richardson ($0.950m) / Lewis ($0.950m)
Moller ($0.950m) / Westgarth ($0.525m)

Mitchell ($3.500m) / Doughty ($5.000m)
Scuderi ($3.400m) / Johnson ($4.357m)
Martinez ($1.000m) / Greene ($2.950m)
Drewiske ($0.616m)

Quick ($1.800m) / Bernier ($1.250m)
  • This roster is over the cap by $750K.
  • Assuming the highest ceiling.
  • Assuming the lowest figure for Richards, Doughty and Simmonds.
  • Without even addressing the issue of other signings (Handzus, Poni) or other prospects (Schenn, Loktionov, Muzzin, Hickey, Voynov), at least one salary would have to be dumped to make room for a big UFA like Richards.
  • What are the odds of Richards and Doughty both signing at the lowest imaginable figure, and the cap going up the highest imaginable amount? I would say, zero. So I'm going to add another $1MM to the overage, bringing it to $1.75MM.
  • In order to clear that amount, this would likely mean salary-dumping a contract with a minimum cap hit of $2.5MM, and replacing that player with someone making peanuts.
  • It also means burying Brayden Schenn in the minors and not being able to recall him if you wanted to. But let's stick to the issue of who gets dumped. The candidates:
  1. Kopitar
  2. Smyth
  3. Penner
  4. Stoll
  5. Brown
  6. Williams
  7. Scuderi
  8. Mitchell
  9. Johnson
  10. Greene

Dustin Penner

Based on Lombardi's comments to Rich Hammond, I think DL believes Penner will have a bounce-back season. He's going to hit the gym. And it's a contract year, so he's got a lot to prove. I think that's what DL thinks, but I know it's what I think. So I'm crossing Penner off the list.

Jarret Stoll

Kopitar/Richards/Stoll down the middle is a pretty expensive set of centers, but would Lombardi sign Richards and then entrust the shut-down center job to Lewis, Richardson or Schenn? That could work in a pinch, but it seems like a risky thing to take on as Plan A.

A safer option would be (in the world in which Stoll is dumped and Richards is signed) re-signing Handzus for a steeeeeep discount at something like $1MM. Would Handzus do that? I guess he might. It's a long drop from $4MM, but he's old. Would he do better elsewhere? Probably, and my guess is, if Lombardi waits like he did with Alex Frolov, Handzus will end up signing with any one of a dozen teams needing a 3rd/4th line center/Obi-Wan, and that will be the end of the Zus era.

Even at that price, would it be worth it keep Handzus at C3? Or would it be better to go with team speed and faceoff proess, in the form of Stoll?

Given the offense is one of the Kings' putative concerns, and given that Handzus seemed to lose a step between last season and this one, I think Lombardi will stick with Stoll (in the Richards scenario). So I'm crossing Stoll off the list, too.

Ryan Smyth

No, I don't think anyone's going to take on that cap hit in trade. Smyth has a NTC and I doubt he would be willing to be traded to a team that is so lousy it needs to add salary to get to the floor. There are some convoluted and wacky scenarios in which a Smyth trade might be possible and might be attractive, but I am saving that for a future post.

But you could buy him out.

This would save us $3MM in cap space right off the bat. The problem is:

  • It's mean. Smyth waived his NTC to come here.
  • It would create a hole at LW2. Maybe Parse jumps up into the LW2 position (like he was supposed to this year). Is Parse/Richards/Brown-Williams better than Smyth/Stoll/Brown-Williams? Probably.
  • But then again, Smyth/Stoll/Williams was one of the best lines in the league for awhile this season. So maybe expecting Parse/Richards/Brown-Williams to improve on that would just be setting ourselves up for disappointment.
  • And I keep coming back to the cruelty of buying out the venerable Smyth. I think that would be hard to do.

Matt Greene

Yeah, he's a leader and he's a character. But he's sloooooow and he takes those fabulous penalties. (maybe I'm still too close to the playoffs to be rational about this; factor that in.)  And Muzzin, for example, is cheaper and also physical. Is Muzzin ready for prime time?

Or, if not, would Lombardi consider signing a cheaper (Sean O'Donnell-esque) veteran? I can see that.

Another solution would be to give Voynov (or Hickey, but really...Voynov) his shot, and go for the super-mobile offensive d-corps. That certainly would be one way to address the lack of offense this season; though it would come at a significant price in terms of team size and toughness.

For me -- and what do I know? -- trading Greene for a pick is the best of these options. In a world in which I am locked into signing Brad Richards, and have to make room, my preference would be (1) trade Greene, (2) buy out Smyth, (3) trade Stoll.

But that begs the question:

Is it even worth it to sign Richards under these circumstances?

It only makes sense to sign Richards if it makes sense to tie up the top two center positions for the next five years. Richards is going to want a long contract, I think; it would be harder for him to get a good deal when he's 32-33, so it's in his interest to get a four or five year deal. That's especially going to be the case if he's signing at a lower figure (like our supposed $5.5MM -- which, again, ain't happening).

Two things:

1) How many goals do we think Brad Richards is going to score? He's scored 21, 20, 17, 26, 23, 25, 18, 2, 16, 24, 28. Last year was his best year, goal-wise. That makes it likely whoever gets him is going to overpay (or am I wrong about this? I don't think I am). We know that, on average, scorers -- for example, former 50 goal scorers -- peak at age 27. So it would probably be a good idea to expect the low end of Richard's output (a few 20 goal seasons), rather than faking ourselves into thinking we're getting a 30 goal scorer (when he's never scored 30 before).

2) Does Dean Lombardi think that neither Schenn nor Loktionov is going to be ready for top six minutes before 2016? Signing Brad Richards to a long-term deal would be a signal that our GM doesn't think our two top prospects are going to crack the line-up, basically, ever. At least not in a top six role. Schenn, I guess, could settle in as a 3rd line center, though that would be disappointing. Loktionov is top-six or bust.

For that reason alone, I seriously doubt that Lombardi would make a long-term Richards deal. To me, this means the only way he's signing Richards is to do a short-term (two year) deal. For which Richards would want more money. $7MM, I'm thinking. Which would mean giving up two of Greene, Penner, Stoll or Smyth, not just one of them.

I ran those numbers and noticed something interesting. If you buy out Smyth and salary-dump Greene, you're left with enough cap space that you can have Schenn if you want him. That's an excellent bonus.

What would that look like:

Penner ($4.250m) / Kopitar ($6.800m) / Williams ($3.650m)
Parse ($0.900m) / Richards ($7.000m) / Brown ($3.175m)
Clifford ($0.870m) / Stoll ($3.600m) / Simmonds ($1.500m)
Richardson ($0.950m) / Schenn ($3.140m) / Lewis ($0.950m)
(Ryan Smyth Buy Out ($3.250m)) / Westgarth ($0.525m)

Mitchell ($3.500m) / Doughty ($5.000m)
Johnson ($4.357m) / Scuderi ($3.400m)
Martinez ($1.000m) / Muzzin ($0.900m)
Drewiske ($0.616m)

Quick ($1.800m) / Bernier ($1.250m)
  • Signing Richards, promoting Schenn, buying out Smyth and trading Greene, this line up is $616K under the $63MM cap. If that's the cap.
  • If Doughty signs for $5MM.
  • This is a faster, younger team, with more offense.
  • But less size.
  • And it would take a certain amount of cap finesse -- and luck -- to make it work. You would have to hope that the cap is closer to $63MM than $62.5MM, hope Doughty signs for less, hope Simmonds signs for less, hope Richards will take a short-term deal. And you have to buy-out Smyth. Which makes you a bad person. Or makes me one for suggesting it.
  • There are a lot of ifs there.
  • Bottom line, saying "why doesn't he just go out and sign Brad Richards?" is also saying, "which of our expensive players are we going to ship off for picks, to make room?" Not as easy a question. Even with UFAs, you have to give up to get.
  • If I had to wager, I think Lombardi will test the waters, Richards will go elsewhere, fans will complain that Lombardi is wishy-washy, Lombardi will quietly double-down on his prospects, and I will be happy.
In the next post, we'll look at some other scenarios, what might happen with Handzus and Ponikarovsky, and we'll explore the (if you ask me) far-more-likely trade route to top-six scorer promised land.