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Brian Duff's Blog: Mike Richards contract will be critical moving forward

Mike Richards is averaging better than a point per game this season. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Mike Richards is averaging better than a point per game this season. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

When Mike Richards signed a 12-year contract extension worth $69 million dollars in December, an important standard was set.

While it wasn’t the first time we had seen a deal of this length, and though it has already been trumped by the Alex Ovechkin extension, the Richards pact could be the most significant “comparable” contract as the game moves forward.

The eyebrow-raising aspect of it at the time was Richards, the 24th overall pick in 2003, had posted just 66 pts in 138 games over his first two seasons. Yet two excellent months at a point-a-game clip netted the player a virtual lifetime deal with an annual salary cap hit to the team of $5.75 million.

No one ever questioned Richards’ makeup as a player. He possesses all the attributes one would envision for a future captain and those intangibles will never be accurately measured by statistics. And yet on stats alone it has clearly been a case of so far so good for both parties.

Agent Pat Morris deemed Richards’ deal unique and he didn’t feel it would trigger a trend for other players. He may be right, but there’s no harm in looking at players who could potentially – and in some cases surprisingly – win the long-term lottery at an early stage of their careers.

The following are under contract through the 2008-09 season and will likely be extended prior to reaching RFA status. To what extent? We shall see.
 
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh, second overall in 2004 (174 points in 147 games). Forget Richards money, Crosby-type dollars await.

Anze Kopitar
, Los Angeles, 11th overall in 2005 (127 points in 141 games). The face of the franchise moving forward? He has to be one of them, but will it come at the expense of Mike Cammalleri, who is often mentioned in trade rumors.

Paul Stastny, Colorado, 44th overall in 2005 (133 points in 135 games). The least talked about young star in this game. The numbers suggest he may be Colorado’s next franchise player.

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Phil Kessel, Boston, fifth overall in 2006 (61 points in 137 games). The energy level in his game is much higher right now and the potential for him to be a game-breaker in years to come seems far more apparent.

Alexander Radulov, Nashville, 15th overall in 2004 (89 points in 131 games). Already a top-line player, the six-year/$27-million dollar extension for David Legwand will probably pale in comparison to Radulov’s next deal.

Drew Stafford, Buffalo, 13th overall in 2004 (56 points in 92 games). A variety of injuries have slowed his progression, but a hot streak and consistent first-line employment could quickly change his status.

Jiri Hudler, Detroit, 58th overall in 2002 (66 points in 159 games). Will he ever be a go-to guy for the Wings? Still hard to gauge given he plays less than 13 minutes per night.

Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh, second overall in 2006 (65 points in 150 games). So young and yet so highly regarded. Will the Penguins have the money to keep him and everybody else happy?

David Booth, Florida, 53rd overall in 2004 (44 points in 109 games). Watch any Panthers game and he will be the player you notice. Over, and over, and over again.
 
Brandon Dubinsky, Rangers, 60th overall in 2004 (32 points in 68 games). Still a rookie, but in the second year of his entry level contract. The ability to play with Jagr, and seemingly make him happy again, has put this kid on the map.

Travis Zajac, New Jersey, 20th overall in 2004 (74 points in 147 games). One wonders if a breakout is around the corner for a player who’s on a team that could use an offensive boost. We know this, though; the Devils don’t do Richards type deals.

Brian Duff is a host of the NHL Network’s ‘On the Fly’ and host of Leafs Lunch on AM 640 Toronto Radio.

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