The Kings tried to wow premier free-agent forward Brad Richards on Friday with a pitch that included videotaped appeals from Wayne Gretzky and Kobe Bryant and a front-loaded offer worth nearly $60 million over nine years, but Richards decided to sleep on his decision and announce his choice Saturday.
Richards told Canada’s Sportsnet late Friday that he had narrowed the field to four teams, believed to be the Kings, New York Rangers, Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Rangers can offer money and familiarity: their coach, John Tortorella, guided Richards to the Stanley Cup when both were with Tampa Bay in 2004 and they have a good relationship. The Flames also have a friendly face: their general manager, Jay Feaster, was Tampa Bay’s boss during that championship season. Toronto offers an opportunity for Richards to become a hero to fans who have hungered for the Stanley Cup since 1967.
The Kings set a smoke screen by saying they had made their big deal last week by acquiring Mike Richards from Philadelphia but were waiting outside the door of Brad Richards’ agent, Pat Morris, in suburban Toronto when the free-agency period began Friday.
Tim Leiweke, chief executive of the Kings’ parent company, AEG, led their eight-man delegation. Coach Terry Murray, assistants Jamie Kompon and John Stevens and the club’s vice president of communications, Mike Altieri, took part in a detailed presentation that emphasized the club’s future and the advantages of Southern California living.
“It wasn’t selling. It was facts,” General Manager Dean Lombardi said. “It was the proudest I’ve been of the organization in my six years here.”
Leiweke said he lingered for a one-on-one chat with Richards. “He’s a very good guy. I liked him a lot,” Leiweke said. “We gave it our best shot. We agreed we weren’t going to get into extended negotiations. The package we put on the table was very good.”
The Kings have more than $16 million in salary cap space next season. However, a significant chunk is earmarked for restricted free-agent defenseman Drew Doughty, whose agent, Don Meehan, works alongside Morris at Newport Sports. Richards asked about Doughty’s status during the 90-minute session but Lombardi, enmeshed in the presentation to Richards and post-presentation discussions, didn’t talk to Meehan on Friday.
The Kings are willing to alter their previous offer to Doughty and link deals for the duo if that will persuade Richards to sign.
The Kings lost two unrestricted free agents when defensive center Michal Handzus signed a two-year, $5-million contract with the San Jose Sharks. With their new depth up the middle, the Kings felt he would play only limited minutes. Also, winger Alexei Ponikarovsky signed a one-year, $1.5-million deal with the Carolina Hurricanes. Ponikarovsky, signed last summer after Ilya Kovalchuk spurned the Kings, had a disappointing five goals and 15 points in 61 games.
The Ducks didn’t sign the third- and fourth-line help they sought but made a trade, sending defenseman Andy Sutton to Edmonton for defenseman Kurtis Foster. They gain youth — Foster is 29, Sutton is 36 — cap space — Foster has one year at $1.8 million, about $300,000 less than Sutton — and variety on the power play. Foster had five power-play goals last season among his eight goals and 22 points and was second on the Oilers with 182 shots.
General Manager Bob Murray said he looked at several free agents but the long-term deals being offered “kind of scared me away.” The day’s spending frenzy caught him off guard.
“I’m always surprised, but I shouldn’t be,” Murray said. “Every year it’s the same thing. Some of us just can’t compete in that market.”