While Brayden Schenn could be a strong player in the future, Wayne Simmonds is a solid checking winger right now and a second round pick might yield some nice results of the Philadelphia Flyers, the Mike Richards trade is a resounding victory for the Los Angeles Kings.
The Kings scratched and clawed their way to two consecutive playoff berths without many high-end offensive options beyond Anze Kopitar (unless you count the offensive gifts of blueliners Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson) but now they have a one-two punch at center that can compete with the best duos in the league. Richards is a premier two-way center who ranks as one of the most dangerous shorthanded threats in the NHL and comes in at a very manageable $5.75 million annual salary cap hit.
That cap hit could be even easier to digest if the Kings find a way to unload expensive, aging winger Ryan Smyth on the Calgary Flames, as many rumors suggest. The latest buzz is that the two sides are very close to a deal, although TSN’s Gord Miller reports that Flames ownership needs to approve it first.
It is unclear what the Kings would get back if the trade goes through, but there aren’t many Flames players who cost more than Smyth’s bloated $6.25 million cap hit (to be fair, his 2011-12 salary is significantly lower at $4.5 million). Smyth remains a likeable leader with a nose for the net, but his production – 47 points in 10-11, no more than 59 points since he signed that five-year, $31.25 million deal in 2007 – simply cannot justify his paychecks.
The Flames seem intent on making changes this off-season, although it might be grimly accurate to say that they are making the same mistakes that got them into this mess. Reports indicate that the Flames want to unload Robyn Regehr’s $4.02 million salary cap hit to the Buffalo Sabres if Regehr will waive his no-movement clause. That seems like a semi-reasonable idea in a vacuum, but possibly adding Smyth makes the Flames’ moves look downright foolish in context.
On the other hand, pulling off that trade makes Kings GM Dean Lombardi look like a genius. There was a sense that Lombardi’s cautious rebuild of the Kings franchise might stall out during this off-season, but adding Richards for prospects and getting rid of Smyth’s problematic cap hit could cast Los Angeles as serious Stanley Cup contenders. Honestly, it’s quite possible that Lombardi’s Kings won the off-season before we learn the name of the first pick of 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Then again, from the looks of things, we could see plenty of other jaw-dropping decisions before Friday night ends.