Hot topics mailbag (cont.)
You can see how this sort of thing gets started -- and it's not simply because the Rangers seem intent on collecting every overpaid player in the league. Richards would fill an obvious need. The Rangers have added a few guys who are willing to pull the trigger: Marian Gaborik and Chris Higgins. But unless rookie Artem Anisimov slides seamlessly into the lineup, they have a paucity of players capable of loading the gun.
Even with his game in decline, Richards remains a gifted passer whose vision earns him recognition as one of the game's better power play quarterbacks. Of course, those are the same qualities that make him so valuable to the Stars. Would they be happier if he was less of a drain on the cap? Sure. Even at his best, back in his Lightning days, he was never the kind of producer who could justify a $7.8 million hit.
Still, Richards is important to the Stars. The chemistry he shares with Loui Eriksson played a sizable role in the winger's breakthrough 36-goal season, and Richards' presence allows the pasture-ready Mike Modano to ease into a less demanding depth role. And with two years left on his deal, Richards buys time for youngsters like Ondrej Roman and Perttu Lindgren to ready themselves for their eventual transition to the NHL.
Of course, you can never say never about a player with a contract like that. With owner Tom Hicks facing a cash crunch -- financial concerns even led the team to cancel its summer prospects camp -- the Stars have to be willing to listen. But at this point, it's a good bet that Richards will remain in Dallas.
So . . . Jonas Gustavsson. I've heard lots of talk, but what exactly are the Leafs getting here? There's been lots of talk, but it seems to me he's more likely to be the next Johan Holmqvist than Henrik Lundqvist. Is he worth the hype?
Tough to say at this point, Sam. No arguing that Gustavsson was lights-out last season in the Swedish Elite League, but that's a different type of game played on a different ice surface, which is why so many promising Euro-goalies struggle with the transition.
Still, Brian Burke's relentless pursuit of The Monster paid off with the ultimate low-risk, high-reward scenario.
Because of his age and European status, Gustavsson's contract was limited to just $810,000 by the CBA. That's a fair investment for a useful back-up and a steal for a starter, which is exactly what Gustavsson could become if the groin problems that sabotaged Vesa Toskala last season resurface. Plus, the Leafs are only on the hook for one year. If things work out well, he's a restricted free agent, which gives Toronto first shot at retaining his services. If not, they can simply shake hands and part company.
But remember, that's low risk, not no risk.
If Toskala goes down and Gustavsson isn't Lundqvist 2.0, then Toronto's options are limited. They may be forced to call on Justin Pogge, a player they weren't overly anxious to re-sign this summer despite his being anointed the franchise's future just 12 months ago. Or worse, they may need to dredge the free agent market for a veteran option. Hey, Eddie Belfour's been working out in Dallas. Probably still a few of his sweaters floating around the souvenir shop.
Burke has made some compelling moves to transform the Leafs into a more competitive squad next season. None will be watched more closely than this one.
Jacques Lemaire returns as coach of the Devils? Just when the team finally was steering away from the old stereotypes, Lou Lamoriello goes back to the same old well with a hiring that all but guarantees a season of safe, boring hockey. Johnny Mac wasn't good enough? Give me a break.
I know a lot of Devils fans would have liked to see good guy John MacLean get the gig, but Lamoriello played his cards smartly. MacLean, who also was passed over when previous coach Brent Sutter was hired, has been assigned to Lowell of the AHL to get some head coaching experience on his resume. When its time for Lemaire to be replaced -- and at 64, that might be just a couple years down the road -- MacLean should be as able as he is willing to tackle the responsibility.
As for Lemaire, well, I'm not sure why you'd be so down on him. After all, this is a man who was recently hired to be part of the Canadian coaching staff at the Olympics. That should say it all about the level of intelligence and ability he brings to the table.
Still not convinced? Alright, so maybe an old familiar face doesn't make for the sexiest hiring, but it's certainly a level-headed one. Lemaire's act may have grown tired in St. Paul, but it wasn't the same routine.
Despite Lemaire's reputation, these won't be the mid-90s Devils all over again. He's smart enough to coach to his talent. With more offensive weapons at his disposal than he had in the Minnesota, he won't force them to dump the puck and retreat at the enemy blueline. Lemaire is savvy enough to know where this group had success last season. That means he'll recognize the need to pressure the puck down low and have defensemen who can jump into the play when prudent (remember, he gave Brent Burns that freedom in Minnesota). In other words, expect a continuation of the better elements of Sutter's approach -- diligent puck pursuit -- combined with a greater emphasis on controlling the defensive angles.
Lamoriello certainly took his time with the hiring, but it says here he made the right one.
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