Rumor Roundup: What’s wrong with Mike Richards?

Mike Richards

Prior to the Los Angeles Kings overcoming a 3-0 series deficit to upset the San Jose Sharks in seven games, the performance of Kings center Mike Richards came under scrutiny. Entering the post-season, Richards went 22 games without an assist and nine games without a goal. Against the Sharks, the 29-year-old tallied only one assist and was among his team’s worst at minus-3.

The Score’s Justin Bourne speculates Richards’ physical two-way style may be taking its toll. The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson wonders if Kings’ GM Dean Lombardi might use one of his compliance buyouts to shed the remainder of the center’s six-year, $26 million contract.

The Kings currently have a projected $13 million in cap space for 2014-15. They must re-sign or replace pending free agents Marian Gaborik, Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene and Dwight King. Of these, Gaborik is the standout. Acquired at the trade deadline, he’s meshed well with first-line center Anze Kopitar, netting 16 points in 19 games down the stretch and eight points in as many playoff games.

During the regular season the Kings were 26th in goals-per-game with an average of 2.42. With Gaborik in the fold, they enter this week tied for second in post-season goals-per-game (3.62). The oft-injured 32-year-old right winger is coming off a five-year deal worth $7.5 million annually. He won’t get a long-term deal from the Kings, but his recent performance could encourage them to offer up a short-term deal equivalent to Richard’s $5.75 million annual cap hit.

If the salary cap is lower than projected (NHL commissioner Gary Bettman thinks it could be around $69-$70 million), the Kings will have that much less space to re-sign/replace those key players and still leave room for other additions. If the years of wear-and-tear are catching up to Richards it would be wise to jettison his contract via compliance buyout, rather than pay so much for a depreciating asset.

Gaborik’s injury history makes him a risky signing, but if it’s a reasonably priced short-term deal it would be more affordable than retaining Richards. The other option, of course, is a trade, but if the word around the league is Richards is past his prime, his contract would be more difficult to move.

SHOULD/WILL THE PANTHERS TRADE THE NO. 1 OVERALL PICK?
Teams interested in moving up in the first round of this year’s draft should give the Florida Panthers a call. Last Thursday, GM Dale Tallon told Sportsnet The Fan 590 he planned to shop his first round pick, which is first overall in this year’s draft.

Edmonton Journal columnist David Staples notes the Panthers have huge needs at defense and forward. He wonders if Tallon would be interested in the Oilers first round pick (third overall) plus an attacking forward such as Sam Gagner.

Tallon may prefer Nail Yakupov over Gagner. The 2012 first overall pick struggled this season under first-year coach Dallas Eakins. Yakupov could regain his groove in a city where the spotlight isn’t as harsh.

The last time the first overall pick was traded was at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Coincidentally, it was the Panthers who dealt it, packaging the top pick with the 73rd overall pick to Pittsburgh for the third overall and 55th overall picks, plus Mikael Samuelsson. The Penguins selected goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury first overall, while the Panthers selected Nathan Horton third overall.

ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, THE LEAFS WILL PART WITH JAMES REIMER
It’s assumed the Toronto Maple Leafs will trade goaltender James Reimer this summer. A restricted free agent, the Leafs must also qualify his rights by June 30 or he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

The Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons cites that an NHL executive suggested the Leafs not bother qualifying Reimer’s rights. The executive believes Reimer’s trade value is low and by qualifying him they risk being stuck with his contract. CapGeek calculates it would cost the Leafs $1.6 million to qualify the 26-year-old goalie.

Reimer’s trade value may be lower than it was a year ago, but he could still fetch something via trade. He could also be packaged with another player to land a larger return. That’s certainly more preferable than losing a tradable asset for nothing.

Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).

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