Sunday, March 09, 2008

Tampa Fritters Away Brad Richards

One trade that happened on trade deadline day that I have not discussed in any detail was the Tampa Bay Lightning trading Brad Richards and Johan Holmqvist to the Dallas Stars for Mike Smith, Jussi Jokinen, Jeff Halpern and a 2009 fourth found draft pick. What was unique about this trade is that unlike most trade deadline deals, Brad Richards is not a rental. Richards is signed through the end of the 2010/11 season at a relatively high $7.8 million per year salary. This makes the trade a more conventional one where the rule of thumb that the team obtaining the best player probably wins the deal. The Dallas Stars obtained the best player in Richards, so likely they won the deal.

Tampa had an interesting salary structure where their "big three" players in Vincent LeCavalier, Martin St Louis and Brad Richards made up a large portion of their expenditures (more than $20 million of the cap). They found that they were not winning in that situation. Tampa is last in the East Conference with a 26-42 record (with eight regulation ties). Therefore, many pundits concluded this system didn't work. I think that's an incorrect conclusion. The correct conclusion is that you need goaltending to compete in the NHL and Tampa doesn't have any good goalies. They had struggled this season with Johan Holmqvist, Karri Ramo and Marc Denis providing some very poor goaltending. The solution was clearly to acquire a good goaltender.

Mike Smith, who they acquired in the trade, is a goaltender. He has never proven himself to be an NHL starter and for a goalie who is soon to be 26, this is a sign that he likely isn't an elite goalie. His numbers had been pretty good in Dallas (a team that allows better than average shot quality). Since coming to Tampa, Mike Smith looks like he might be another failed Tampa goalie who isn't good enough to make a difference. He has a .894 saves percentage in his five games in Dallas, which pulls him down to a .903 saves percentage on the season. I don't think Tampa Bay solved their goaltending issues. They definitely don't have a strength in goal and they gave up Brad Richards to do it.

They also have not significantly changed their salary structure. They signed defenceman Dan Boyle to a six year contract at $6.67 million per year. They still have a big three players who make up a large percentage of their salary expenditures, except they downgraded from Richards to Boyle.

Brad Richards is a good player. He is 27 years old and has already won the Lady Byng and Conn Smythe Trophies. He is an all star level talent. He is having a poor season given his earlier track record, but remains one of the NHL's better forwards. This is possibly explained by the fact he is playing through a case of mononucleosis this season. Tampa Bay moved him and did not bring back a star player. They did not turn their goaltending into a strength. In short they made a mistake.

When you trade players who are signed for a few years, you want to get back the best player in the deal. If you do not, you will likely have made a poor trade. Tampa Bay traded a player who is a proven all star and is still in the prime years of his career. They didn't bring back anyone of his calibre. That is a mistake. It takes Tampa Bay further from being a competing team than they were before the trade.

...a relatively high $7.8 million per year salary

Being a Richards fan doesn't excuse this strange choice of qualifiers.

He is having a poor season given his earlier track record, but remains one of the NHL's better forwards.

There's little if anything you can point to to back up the bolded part of that statement. I'll say it again: if his first name was Pavel or Magnus or Alexei, he'd presently be viewed as the biggest bust in the league.
I would have to agree that Brad Richards gets more leeway from the media for being a Canadian boy and if he was European he would be getting some very bad press for the season he is having.

I think he will have good seasons in the future. I think this season is best explained as a year of overuse under Tortorella while he was fighting mononucleosis.

I think Tampa made a mistake getting rid of him without bringing any stars on board to take his place.
1) It was a pure salary dump. That they got a goalie was a bonus as far as TB was concerned.
2) Of course some teams never learn as they are in the same predicament after the Boyle extension so don't look for the Bolts to be any better next season.
..some teams never learn as they are in the same predicament after the Boyle extension so don't look for the Bolts to be any better next season.

Not so much. You can find 10 or 50 forwards with the same numbers (and same excuses) as Brad Richards; for what he is providing, he is massively overpaid. On the other hand, it's tough to find many comps on D (in terms of minutes, PP production, and more) who are much cheaper, particularly amongst guys who are signed past this season or next.

They'll be better next year (though that isn't a very risky prediction considering where they stand right now).

Also, Al Strachan claims that The Cavalier is not interested in signing a long-term extension in TB come July. I wouldn't dismiss this at all; if they get a decent trade return from someone who wants to acquire and extend Vinny, they might actually be much, much better.
It is true that Richards is overpaid, but as far as Tampa is concerned that shouldnt matter. They are unlikely to find anyone they can acquire who is goinjg to provide as much as Richards likely will next year no matter how much money they have to throw at them.

Dan Boyle is likely not as good as Richards. If they are forced to trade LeCavalier that makes htings worse. I find it hard to imagine a LeCavalier trade where Tampa wins the deal. Who could they realisitcally acquire that is of his calibre?

That said, Tampa is bad right now. There is not much room for them to get worse. For that reason alone its a good bet they might get a few more points next year, but they won't be a good team. They will likely be further from Stanley Cup contension because their main strength at the top of their forward unit will be gone.
I disagree with Faux when he says that Mike Smith was just icing on the cake for this deal. The fact that Mike Smith is a budding #1 goalie was the MAIN reason this deal was done. Dallas was in a fairly unique situation in being able to provide one.

Would they have done a deal at all for Richards if only Chicago or Vancouver were bidding for his services? Maybe, but they give up a LOT more forwards and picks.

The Lightning were after a goalie who is ready to try his hand at being a legit #1. Smith is a rare find in that respect.
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