Brad Richards was already the top free-agent target when the season ended. Now, with more than a few eligible players off the market before free agency begins, Richards is even more in demand.
And, from where I sit, the Rangers are the favorites for several reasons.
1. Not many bidders. The Kings landed another guy called Richards in a trade last week, filling their void at center. In dealing Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, the Flyers seemingly opened up a hole at their top-6 center spots, but chairman Ed Snider said his team was done with big-game hunting.
So it seems the Rangers, who still have a glaring need and desire for Brad Richards, are now competing against the Leafs and... The Sabres, as TSN's Bob McKenzie suggested today? The Lightning? The Panthers, who need to bid on everyone and everything to make the cap floor?
Richards has said he wants someplace where he has a chance to win and feel comfortable; that doesn't exactly scream Toronto, which is still shuffling the deck. He's got a comfort level with John Tortorella, too.
2. Front-loading. As seen in Christian Ehrhoff's 10-year, $40-million deal with the Sabres today -- one that includes $18-million paid out the first two years of the deal -- players are trying to get their dough before a new collective bargaining agreement is signed and the assumed salary rollbacks/amnesty buyouts come along with it.
The Rangers have plenty of cash to throw around, even if they're likely going to limit themselves on number of years and average annual value; the Leafs and Sabres could go to crazier term for Richards, but if the amount of money he's going to get up front is the same, what difference does it make to him?
Not much, I'd say.
3. Market. Buffalo may be able to entice Ehrhoff, but Richards likely won't be swayed to go north like that. Toronto has a rabid market, of course -- perhaps too rabid. Richards is low-key, much like Marian Gaborik, and New York, despite the reputation for toughness, isn't exactly a place where a hockey player steals all the headlines, in good times or bad.
OK, those are three reasons. Teams will make their pitches at noon tomorrow. We'll see where Richards goes.