Center Brad Richards(notes), the whale of the 2011 unrestricted free-agent class, told TSN that he plans to announce his new hockey home on Saturday — the derby for his services having been narrowed to four lucky teams with a chance to pay him a ridiculous sum of money for nearly a decade.
Eliminated from the derby? The Tampa Bay Lightning, the team with whom he won a Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe in 2004. Richards told GM Steve Yzerman that he wouldn't be signing with the Bolts, and Yzerman acknowledged their offer wasn't in the same financial stratosphere as others.
Still in the derby? Four of the teams that presented their pitches to Richards on July 1.
The goings-on at the Newport offices were almost surreal, to say the least. There was the Leafs contingent, led by senior VP Dave Nonis and advisor Cliff Fletcher. Their meeting with Richards and his agent, Pat Morris, lasted about an hour.
The Kings, meanwhile, were well represented by an eight-man group led by Tim Leiweke, chief executive of the Kings' parent company, AEG. That 90-minute presentation was said to include recruitment messages from Lakers star Kobe Bryant and Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer, a video showing Richards how he would fit in as part of the Kings' Stanley Cup aspirations, and even suggestions on where he might live in La-La-Land.
Also in that Kings' pitch: Wayne Gretzky, selling him on Los Angeles (and telling him the Rangers are great when it's time to retire, we assume).
Here's Richards on the day that was, via Sportsnet:
So who are the finalists? Who do you think lands Richards?
Scott Burnside of ESPN reports the final four are the Rangers, Kings, Flames and Maple Leafs. Are the Flyers still in the mix? They've been positioning themselves for a run at him, and made their pitch today.
Bob McKenzie of TSN believes the New York Rangers, and Richards' former coach John Tortorella, are the frontrunners: "Offer may be for 9 years, maybe around $63 to $65 million. Obviously front-loaded."
The NY Post reported that the Rangers had a chance to match the highest-priced contract in a "final bid" scenario.
The intriguing late-arriving guest to this party? The Calgary Flames, whom McKenzie believes offered a 9-year, $64-million deal. GM Jay Feaster and Richards have a friendship dating back to the Lightning days, and several reports had Jarome Iginla(notes) making a personal pitch over the phone to Richards.
Who wins the derby? Richards echoed what his agent Pat Morris said earlier this week about desiring a team with strong ownership and a chance to win the Cup. Add that to a [expletive] load of money, and you'll have your derby winner on Saturday. (We agree with McKenzie — Rangers probably have the edge, but Flames and Kings reportedly made impressive pitches.)