Jokinen or Richards?

Most informed pundits agree that one of the teams likely to do significant business at the trading deadline today is the Vancouver Canucks.

This is based not only on the team’s obvious need for a top-six forward (particularly since the long-term injury to centre Brendan Morrison) and blessed abundance of quality defenceman to part with but, also, GM Dave Nonis’ own admission that he is willing to make a big deal for such a player, provided he is under contract beyond this season (i.e. not a ‘rental’ player).

This has focused much of the attention on two players, as far as the Canucks are concerned: Tampa Bay centre Brad Richards, who has three years remaining on his contract at $7.8 million per season; and, Florida centre Olli Jokinen, who has two years remaining on his contract at $5.25 million and $5.5 million per season.

The case for Richards is compellingly made by JJ over at Canucks Hockey Blog, so I don’t want to spend much time covering well trodden ground. However, I would like to express, with all due respect, my unequivocal disagreement with JJ.

To be sure, Richards is a player who still has immense talent (despite his horrible season this year); yes, he is a proven winner (having won both the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe trophy); yes, he is an impact player and a tremendous leader; and, of course, he would ably fill a glaring need up front for the Canucks.

That said, let me suggest a few reasons why a move for Richards is a mistake.

1 – Affordability. As much as JJ tries to mitigate the salary/term issues involved with his contract (I do agree with his point that, at least when compared to imminent free agents, Richards may not be a ‘bad’ investment), I still don’t feel comfortable with the idea of taking on such a large contract over the next three years.

This is especially the case when we consider the possibility of Jokinen, at least purely in financial terms. Jokinen is arguably as talented as Richards, though obviously lacking in relative playoff success. The key to a move for Jokinen, however, is that he will make substantially less, and for one less season. Ultimately, then, you acquire a player who brings almost as much to the table, fills the need you are seeking to address, but comes at a much more affordable and manageable price.

2 – Fit. Presuming you have a line of the Sedins and Naslund, who do you play with Richards? Taylor Pyatt? Mason Raymond? The point is, you don’t go out and get a player, pay him $7.8 million, and effectively play him with second line guys. In fact, this is precisely one of the reasons often cited for Richards’ drop in play this season in Tampa.

Of course, it is conceivable that Naslund is moved over to play with Richards and Pyatt or Raymond play with the Sedins. That would seem to work until the end of the season, at least. But, once the season is over and Naslund likely gone, the Canucks are left to look for someone skilled enough to effectively play with Richards, yet with little cap space to do it.

Again, this is much less of an issue with Jokinen. With him, you have the same scenario, to some extent, in terms of supporting cast. However, after this season, with the likely departure of Naslund, you have approximately $2.3 million more than you have saddled with Richards’ contract to go out and get a quality top-six forward to play with Jokinen.

Now, all of this assumes, of course, that both players are likely to be moved. While the re-signing of Dan Boyle in Tampa certainly suggests Richards is facing imminent departure, I am less convinced that Jokinen is moved, unless a great deal is put to Florida. For this reason, admittedly, Richards may be more easily acquired in terms of trade cost. Tampa is certainly not desperate to move Richards, but the Boyle re-signing effectively means one of Richards, Lecavellier or St. Louis must be before next season begins.

In either case, the Canucks must accept losing one of their young defenceman (i.e. Bieksa, Bourdon or Edler) as well as a young forward (e.g., Kesler, Shannon, or Raymond) and a higher-end draft pick. (Both teams may also have an interest in goaltending prospect Cory Schneider, though I see him as more likely to be moved in a deal with Florida, as they are less in need of immediate help in goal since they acquired Tomas Vokoun.)

A steep cost, indeed. And, given, the points I raise above, I think a move for Jokinen is the better transaction, all things considered.

We shall see…


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