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Brad Richards’ criteria? ‘Hockey market, opportunity to win’

This is quickly becoming The Summer of Fragile Psyches for the NHL.

Mike Richards(notes) and Jeff Carter(notes) feel bitter and betrayed (respectively) about being traded from the Philadelphia Flyers. Troy Brouwer(notes) is making noise about the Chicago Blackhawks being upset about the dismantling of their Stanley Cup team for a second summer.

Brad Richards(notes), the premiere unrestricted free agent on the market beginning Friday, is carrying his own psychological baggage.

He's played for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars, and had to leave both cities due to the implosion of their ownership situations. He's also had to witness a growing percentage of empty seats in both arenas as fans turned apathetic to teams that were no longer close to a Stanley Cup championship.

So what is Brad Richards looking for in a new home?

"A hockey market with the opportunity to win would be the top two criteria," said his agent Pat Morris.

Morris appeared on the Howard Simon Show on WGR 550 this morning. Indications seem to be that Richards won't make a decision on Friday, but that the field of suitors will be pared down considerably.

Morris got the expected grilling about the Buffalo Sabres' place in the derby but also revealed a few insights about Richards' approach to free agency.

"First and foremost, when you've won a Stanley Cup, you want to win another one. When he choose to go to Dallas, it was a pretty strong franchise at the time until ownership faltered. That didn't help their team when they were spending $45 million last year and the year before. So it's been a work in progress — downward in Dallas," said Morris.

"He wants to have an opportunity to be with a team that has good younger players coming in to fill, in a market where hockey matters game in and game out. He endured what happened in Dallas and in the down-step of Tampa at the time."

According to Pat Morris, there could be 29 teams calling him for Brad Richards. The Vancouver Canucks, he figures, are pretty set up the middle with Ryan Kesler(notes) and Henrik Sedin(notes).

(It would be 28 teams, but Morris thinks Henrik Zetterberg(notes) will play with Pavel Datsyuk(notes) this season, creating room for a No. 2 center with the Detroit Red Wings.)

"If five teams call, I'd be shocked by the limited number. If 25 teams called, I wouldn't be shocked."

The teams most commonly mentioned for Richards: The Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Sabres and the Lightning. Could the salary slashing Chicago Blackhawk be in the mix? The Washington Capitals have 19 players under contract and about $9 million to spend; could they make a pitch?

Morris was asked about that big market/small market question that's been posed about Richards during this process. Does it matter?

"Brad, until April, had a home in Tampa, and that's where he spends his summer. I wouldn't call Tampa Bay the largest city in North America, so that would give you an indication that that doesn't matter. It's coaching, it's linemates, it's an economy of scale," he said.

As for the Sabres and billionaire owners Terry Pegula, whom Morris has yet to meet?

"We know Buffalo hockey well. It's a real good community to live in and a team on the rise," said Morris. "They're a very strong team. If they call, we'll certainly receive them with open arms and listen."

We said it at the time and will say it again: Pegula's courtship and sell job on Robyn Regehr(notes), a career Calgary Flame who waived his no-trade clause for Buffalo, impressed plenty of agents and players around hockey. It showed a level of commitment and engagement that a free agent wants to see from his owner … especially a free agent who has been twice bitten by an ownership collapse.

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