BUFFALO – Incredibly, tonight in the New York, with the Rangers down 3-0 to Boston, coach John Tortorella will make alleged star Brad Richards and his $60 million contract a healthy scratch.
Richards, a former Conn Smythe winner with Tampa Bay in 2004, had already been relegated to the fourth line in the Eastern Conference semifinal, a series he has scored zero points.
Believe it or not, less than two years ago, the center was a coveted free agent. Teams lined up at his agent’s office outside Toronto on July 1, 2011 to meet with him.
Not surprisingly, the Sabres, then at the height of their spending frenzy, wanted Richards. The brain trust planned to go up and meet with Richards as free agency opened.
But their chances of landing Richards appeared slimmed. They had to make a quick decision on Ville Leino.
So the Sabres canceled their visit and signed Leino to a six-year, $27 million contract.
We all know how that has turned out.
Now, it’s very likely both players will be bought out this offseason.
Here’s an excerpt from my July 2, 2011 article on Leino’s signing and the Sabres’ interest in Richards:
Following the season, the Sabres, with only one top scoring center under contract, quickly moved the 27-year-old free agent to the top of their want list. When the market opened Friday, they had a long conversation with Leino. It turns out he played center until he was about 24 years old.
With their chances of landing Brad Richards, the only elite center on a thin market, iffy, the Sabres rolled the dice with Leino, signing him to a huge six-year, $27 million contract, an annual $4.5 million salary cap hit.
Right now, the Sabres plan to use the 6-foot, 182-pound Leino at center.
“I talked to him about all three positions, and he’s comfortable at all three,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said late Friday afternoon inside HSBC Arena. “But his position that he likes the most is playing center, which is really a bonus, an ideal fit for us. We feel like, initially, that’s exactly where we want to utilize him.”
Many expected the Sabres, who have been wildly aggressive this offseason, to chase Richards, and they contacted his agent and planned to visit the 31-year-old in Mississauga, Ont., about a 90-minute drive from Buffalo. But as the day progressed, general manager Darcy Regier said, time became a factor. Several clubs still wanted to speak with Richards. If they wanted Leino, they had to act.
“We felt very strongly about Ville, and we felt it was important to make sure we didn’t allow a quality player to slip by us,” Regier said.