Richards's New Deal
The Lightning inked centre Brad Richards to a $39-million US, five-year contract extension, making him the second-highest paid player in the NHL. The 26-year-old made $3.4 million this season, and could have taken the team to salary arbitration in the off-season.
Another 'wow' of a contract.
Richards now eats up $7.8-million a year for the next five years, while Tampa Bay's two next-highest paid players, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, are in for $6.875-million and $5.25-million.
Even if you buy the argument that these are the Lightning's three best players (which they weren't this season), that's $19.925-million gone from what is reported to be a $46-million salary cap for 2006-07.
More than 43 per cent of your team's payroll on three primarily offensive players? Even at face value, that doesn't seem like a recipe for success.
Looking at the four teams remaining in the postseason, here's what the salaries of their top three scoring forwards from the regular season look like:
Selanne ($1-mil) + McDonald ($627,000) + Lupul ($901,000) = $2.528-mil (5.5% of $46-mil)
Buffalo: Afinogenov ($1.086-mil) + Drury ($2.926-mil) + Kotalik ($837,000) = $4.849-mil (10.5% of $46-mil)
Carolina: Staal ($942,000) + Stillman ($1.75-mil) + Williams ($1.225-mil) = $3.917-mil (8.5% of $46-mil)
Edmonton: Hemsky ($902,000) + Horcoff ($1-mil) + Stoll ($502,000) = $2.404-mil (5.2% of $46-mil)
Notice a pattern?
Of course, the problem with an assessment like this is that almost all of the above players, save for Drury and Stillman, aren't under contract for next season and will therefore command a raise. Even still, none of these teams, even should they win the Stanley Cup, will end up with as salary-bloated a forward core as the Lightning.
The answer for a team like Tampa Bay? When a player's value exceeds his worth, it's time to cut him loose.
Lightning GM Jay Feaster's biggest problem this season was he failed to do so with either St. Louis and Lecavalier, and now, when his most valuable player — Richards — came due, he had no choice but to cave there as well.
Increasingly, it's going to be team's depth that will win in both the regular season and playoffs, and with so much salary tied up in so few players, Feaster is looking about as depth-poor as they come. It doesn't look good.
UPDATE Boltsmag has much more.