Even though Mike Richards has already cleared waivers,there are persistent rumours that the Calgary Flames are still in talks with the LA Kings to acquire the former Flyer captain and two-time Cup winner.
The hypothetical trade, of course, is complicated one because it’s a salary dump rather than a pure hockey deal. Richards’ contract is expensive and goes on forever. He’s also 29 and has seen his play deteriorate rapidly over the last few seasons. Though he’s still a functional (if grossly overpaid) NHLer, the Flames aren’t calling the Kings because they want Mike Richards. They’re calling them because they can make Mike Richards go away.
For a price.
Why the Kings are Desperate
Salary dumps are rare because NHL clubs are loathe to part with quality assets in order to make a problem go away. Usually they pursue other means like a buy-out or demotion to assuage the problem.
But the Kings are in a uniquely vulnerable position with Richards.
Beyond the fact that he’s incredibly poor value for $5.75M per season and that his contract extends to 2020 (!!), Los Angeles is facing an epic cap crunch as early as next summer. They currently have 4 players signed for more than $5M per season not counting Richards – Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter and (fellow salary dump candidate) Dustin Brown. Together, they account for $25M in cap space.
Justin Williams (UFA), Jarrett Stoll (UFA), Tyler Toffolli (RFA), Tanner Pearson (RFA) and Kyle Clifford (RFA) are all in line for raises in the off-season, while new contracts for Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez ($4M/year a piece) go live next year. Robyn Regehr will also have to be re-signed or replaced. Collectively, that’s likely another $25M (or more) in cap space.
Not included in these calculations? Jonathan Quick ($7M), Marian Gaborik ($4.875M), Slava Voynov ($3M – whose status is up in the air) and, of course Mike Richards ($5.75M). That’s another $20.63M or $70M+ altogether. And that’s still not the entire roster.
On top of all that is the fact that the weak Canadian dollar all but guarantees there’ll be no significant raise in the cap next year. Not to mention the fact that Anze Kopitar will be looking for a new contract (and another raise) in 2016.
Why The Other Options Suck
But what about buy-out or demotion? They are problematic.
A buy-out would cost Los Angeles $14.67M and incur a cap penalty of $1.467M per year for the next 10 seasons. That saves the Kings about $4M in cap space per year until 2020, but it’s a very pricey option for something that doesn’t make the problem go away completely (and, in fact, extends the pain until 2025).
As for demotion, the new CBA only allows the Kings to save a mere $900k in cap space by sending Richards to the minors per season. And, of course, they’d have to continue to pay him the full $5.75M to ride buses.
So a demotion barely makes a dent and a buy-out is costly and carries an unpleasant cap penalty with it.
Why the Flames Are Interested
Calgary has the cheapest roster in the NHL and some well heeled owners. They have the cap budget and financial wherewithal to absorb the Richards contract. Brad Treliving can do Dean Lombardi a big favour. But it’s going to cost the Kings GM.
Tyler Toffolli or Tanner Pearson are the presumed price tag. A high quality prospect and a first round pick in 2015 have also been bandied about. Frankly, discussions would have to start with a first round pick given the size of commitment and risk a team would be taking on by acquiring Richards.
The other supposed option is a swap of problematic contracts, but frankly the Flames don’t have any deals that are bad enough to qualify. While Brandon Bollig, Deryk Engelland, Dennis Wideman, Ladislav Smid and Matt Stajan might be overpaid relative to their contributions, their deals aren’t bad enough to warrant a “problem swap” with the Kings. Besides, Calgary has no pressing cap concerns.
LA obviously has other salary dump avenues (the Sabres, for instance), but they likely aren’t going to find a partner who will do this deal for a middling prospect or mid-round draft pick. It’s going to be expensive no matter who is on the other end of the phone.
The Flames were unable to leverage their enviable cap situation last off-season to grab some assets, but they are in a good position to land a Tyler Toffoli or collection of high-end futures from the Kings given LA’s precarious cap situation. It will just come down to what Lombardi is willing to part with to make his issues disappear vs what Treliving is willing to accept to take on that burden.