Here's another entry in our rolling newsletter. Because we don't have the normal newsletter during the off-season, I'll try to answer your questions on the blog.
Q: Do you think the Nicklas Backstrom contract at 10 years and $67 million does much to help Dallas in negotiations with Brad Richards? Washington buys out a few years of free agency for a 100-pt player who is only 22. It seems like a data point that the Richards camp would not be happy with, but I'm not sure. I know the Stars would like to backload the deal, which probably leads to a lower overall annual cap hit. I just really have no feel for how those negotiations will play out or what's realistic to expect _ 6-year deal? 8-year deal? Shorter term, higher dollar? Seems like it could go any which way.
Todd in Colorado Springs
HEIKA: Hey Todd, I think every contract in the NHL has some impact, but Backstrom getting $6.7 million probably doesn't help the Stars or Richards that much. The cap hit is low when you consider Backstrom is coming off a 101 point season and is only 22, but it's also a 10-year deal and he is just 22 years old, so this is probably apples and oranges.
If you want to say this is a more realistic deal than ones signed by Jason Spezza (seven-year, $49 million _ average of $7.0 million), Scott Gomez (seven-year, $51.5 million _ average of $7.36 million) or Daniel Briere (eight-year, $52 million _ average of $6.5 million), you are right there. But, bottom line, they all seem in the same ballpark. To get to the $7 million level or below, you have to offer term (it seems).
To be honest, I think the Backstrom deal has the chance to impact James Neal more than Richards. Backstrom is 22 and will be making an average of $6.7 million. Tomas Vanek was 23 when he started making an average of $7.1 million (on an RFA offer sheet). Anze Kopitar is 22 and making an average of $6.8 million. The price for RFAs is going way up. That said, there is a big difference between being a ``very good'' player and a ``transcendent'' player, and the line is getting blurred for both younger and older players. Obviously, Rick Nash is an all-star and the leader of the Columbus Blue Jackets, but is he worth $7.8 million over eight years? He had 67 points to rank 37th in the league last season.
That's what the Stars have to deal with right now. They have to decide how important these players are, how good these players can be and whether or not it might be worth it to move these players and then spend the same amount of money on other players who either might be more worthy or would require less pay. If you look at a list of the top-paid players in the league, there is a real tendency to think that some teams would be willing to trade their big dollar guys now that they have gotten big contracts.
Bill Guerin was always great for discussions like this. When he signed his five-year, $45 million deal with the Stars, he said that he would give all that he had and would try to be the very best player he could be, but he added that paying him more money was not going to make him a better player. It just doesn't happen that way.
So figuring out what Brad Richards (who is entering the final year of his contract at $7.8 million) should make will be tricky. He is coming off a 91-point season and ranked top 10 in the league in scoring _ and he seems to be finding a home in Dallas and looks like he could be ready for a real consistent run of very good hockey. However, he will be 31 when his next contract starts, so there's a very good chance he will be on the backside of his prime scoring years. That said, Mike Modano mixed in three years of 77 points or more from ages 31-36 and missed one season because of the lockout, so a five-year deal doesn't seem like a horrible risk at this age.
But can the Stars go longer than five years?
Term might be the first question for the Stars in this deal. Are they only willing to go five years? Do they have to spread out the years and take on a few extra to keep the cap hit low? Then, I think they will attack average salary on what they think they can afford and what they think Richards is worth. Is it $7 million. Should it be lower? Then, they will decide on structure of the deal. I'm with a couple of you who have suggested it might be best to front load this deal instead of backload it. If new ownership can spend money and the Stars are not spending that much right now, it would be good for Dallas to open the door for later spending. Then again, if new ownership can handle it, I guess it doesn't matter when they pay Richards as long as they are keeping the cap hit down.
All of this is a very long way of saying I don't think Backstrom's deal will impact Richards much. Yes, the Stars can point to a lower average deal for a skilled center, but there are so many other high contract that the agent can use to push the price up. What's more, Richards and the Stars simply have to come to an agreement here that involves both sides trusting each other and betting on the future of each other. It will take a little bit of risk on both sides.
I kind of think the Stars need a new owner before talks get really serious. After all, the Stars have until the trade deadline next year or even July 1, 2011 if they feel they are on the same page with Richards. Like I said, there is going to have to be some trust here on the part of both sides.