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May 25, 2006

Bad Brad, or Bolt of Genius?
Critics complaining about the money Tampa Bay spent on Brad Richards need to pipe down and get a reality check, according to TFP Columnist Greg Wyshynski.

(WASHINGTON, DC) -- Those who are taking Tampa Bay General Manager Jay Feaster to the woodshed for signing center Brad Richards to a five-year, $39 million contract have no idea who they're dealing with.

Feaster is a money man. It's been his calling card for the entirety of his career, going back to his days when he cut his teeth as an attorney for Hershey — you know, the chocolate people.

He had a hand in pruning the money-losers from that empire, while encouraging investment in the financially viable assets in order to maximize success.

Richards is one such asset for the Lightning. He was a 70-point man for the two seasons preceding the lockout, and blossomed into a 90-point player under the rules changes.

He's been the most consistent of the Bolts' offensive stars (Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Vaclav Prospal and Fredrik Modin). In a few years, he's going to be mentioned in the same breath that Steve Yzerman and Mike Modano are today: a top-line center that puts up stellar numbers even if he isn't making the highlight reel every night.

There's no question that if the NHL is going to continue to be the league it was this season, Richards is an essential player for Tampa. He was second in the league to Joe Thornton (40) in powerplay assists (39), and that's with the Lightning's powerplay in the bottom third of the league (16.7% conversion rate).

Meanwhile, he was tied for fourth in the league with four short-handed goals. Richards is a multi-faceted player in a league that demands it; the fact that he has 39 career playoff points in 39 playoff games and a Conn Smythe on his mantle aren't too shabby either.

But I think the critics of the Richards' deal know all of this. They're ticked off because Feaster has sent the top salaries for free agents into the stratosphere, affecting everyone from Zdeno Chara to Patrik Elias. They're ticked off because the new CBA was "supposed" to prevent teams from putting all of their money into a select number of offensive stars, which is what it appears Feaster is doing.

To those critics, I ask: What was Feaster supposed to do, exactly?

Richards was going to be an unrestricted free agent after next season. He would have made a killing in arbitration this off-season anyway. If Feaster doesn't ink him to this contract, Richards is taking similar money from Philadelphia or Calgary or New York as a free agent. Every GM in the league wanted a shot at Richards. Feaster did what he had to do.

And now he'll continue to do what he's always done, which is eliminate the investments that aren't paying off. St. Louis made $6.5 million for 61 points. Pavel Kubina made $2.6 for a minus-12. Sean Burke and John Grahame combined to make about $3.8 million; look around the league and tell me that they're worth it.

Richards already helped Tampa Bay to one Stanley Cup. Keeping him in the pivot was essential to keeping the Bolts in contention for another one, no matter the price.


...This injury to Barbaro had me thinking – is it too late to put Eric Lindros out to stud?

...Understatement of the Week: Gary Bettman tells The Canadian Press that he's not concerned the final four are all small-market franchises. "I don't spend much time looking for symbolism," Bettman said.

Yeah, no kidding, Gary. That's why years after the division and the conference names were desecrated, I'm still worried that we're only a few seasons away from seeing the Conn Smythe renamed "The Burger King Whopper of the Playoffs Award."

...Dwyane Roloson is, by far, the most intriguing story of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Here's a guy who's gone from splitting time on a trap-happy Minnesota team to nearly leading the Oilers to the Stanley Cup. He's shaken the rap that he couldn't thrive away from the Wild's defensive stranglehold and has posted stellar numbers (2.13 GAA, .932 save percentage). Many expect he'll resign with Edmonton. If I'm the Red Wings, I forget about reuniting Mike Babock with either Martin Gerber or Jean-Sebastien Giguere and see what it would take for Roloson to roll into Motown.

...Dean Lombardi and Marc Crawford are a dream team if you're the Los Angeles Kings. One is a general manager who can build a winner and who may never have the contract headaches he had in San Jose under the new CBA; the other is a coach who's only missed the postseason once when he's had a team for a full campaign. My only concern is what Crawford's going to look like after a year in the California sun; that man is a George Hamilton-in-waiting.

...Mainstream Media Hockey-Hater of the Week: John Rolfe of Sports Illustrated wrote a piece on that publication's Web site recently, comparing the ratings for playoff hockey to those of the World Series. "The ice-cold reality is that hockey in the U.S. is a niche sport. 'Twas ever thus. The NHL matters where it matters, but that is still enough to live on comfortably if the league manages its coffers wisely. The perception of failure only rears its hideous mug when the notion that the NHL must attain NFL- or MLB-like status is entertained."

Talk about your back-handed compliments; was that the sportswriting equivalent of "that dress looks great on you, considering how huge your butt is" or what?

His argument that, in the U.S., hockey is a niche sport is preposterous. Thirteen American cities — coast to coast, border to border — averaged over 16,000 fans per home game this season, the first after a work-stoppage. If the argument is based on television, well then all you've proven is that for the last 25 years the NHL still hasn't figured out how to televise a sport that plays so damn well in the arena.

Look, hockey isn't a completely national sport. In fact, the UHL just basically raised the white flag in the Southeast, yanking two teams from Virginia after past failures North Carolina and Tennessee. But the sport is thriving in Oklahoma. It's thriving in Texas. Kansas City will have an NHL team before the city ever hosts a Super Bowl. None of those regions are going to remind anyone of Moose Jaw.

Here's my question for Rolfe and his ilk: if both Tampa Bay and Florida outdraw their baseball counterparts this season, as they are currently on pace to do, can we officially begin to call Major League Baseball a niche sport in the Sunshine State?

Greg Wyshynski, also the Sports Editor of The Connect Newspaper, is a columnist for and the Washington Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine. 
His book, "
Glow Pucks and 10-Cent Beer: The 101 Worst Ideas in Sports History" is now on sale.



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