Why Are So Many NHL Teams Afraid Of The Waiver Wire?

Mike Richards battles Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger
Mike Richards cleared waivers today, a golden chance that was missed by many NHL teams (Robin Alam/Icon SMI)

As has been widely reported by multiple sources today, the Los Angeles Kings have successfully sent center Mike Richards down to their American Hockey League affiliate after he cleared waivers earlier today.

No other NHL teams decided to claim Richards off of waivers because, hey, two-time Stanley Cup champions that are nearing 500 career NHL points and are in the prime of their career are so easy to find in the league these days, right?

There’s no doubt whatsoever that Richards isn’t the same player that he used to be, the one that put up four consecutive seasons of more than 60 points while playing for the Philadelphia Flyers. His 15 points in 47 games so far this season aren’t impressive at all, and they look even worse when you dig into his advanced stats and see that he had relatively easy zone starts and played against weaker competition.

There’s also the hefty price tag to worry about, an annual cap hit of $5.75 million for five more seasons.

On one hand, it’s understandable why so many teams passed on Richards. Maybe they didn’t have the cap space, maybe they had plenty of center depth already, and so on.

At the same, time, though…nobody could use his services? Not one single team?

Even though Richards is an expensive player you’re not going to be able to convince me that there aren’t a handful of NHL teams with flexible cap space that would be better off overall by adding a 29 year-old center with two Stanley Cup rings that can still score 30-40 points a season.

The Twitter account for Capitals Hill tweeted out yesterday this handy list of teams that had enough cap space to add Richards:

When taking a look at those teams it takes almost no time at all to find situations where Richards would be an upgrade over what’s already there: The Calgary Flames have dressed Brandon Bollig for 39 games, but he still has zero goals. The Buffalo Sabres have dressed Patrick Kaleta for 25 games, but he has zero goals. The Arizona Coyotes have dressed David Moss for 24 games, and he also has 0 goals. These are just three of the more egregious examples, but the list could go a lot longer.

The Richards situation is a glaring example of a trend that is all too common in the NHL: teams, for whatever reason, rarely utilize the waiver to their advantage. The number of players that successfully clear waivers is always significantly larger than the list of players that do get claimed.

Now, this isn’t to suggest that every player that gets assigned to waivers deserves to be picked up, because many don’t. For example, the Anaheim Ducks were pretty justified in waiving Dany Heatley after six games without a point, especially since the former All-Star only has three points in 13 AHL games since going down, and it’s equally understandable why no other teams bothered to cast their nets into the water.

Kevin Connauton
One team’s trash is another team’s treasure, as Kevin Connauton is fitting in nicely in Columbus after being waived by Dallas

On the other hand, though, some lucky teams find great value on the waiver wire all the time. The Columbus Blue Jackets rolled the dice on defenseman Kevin Connauton after he was waived by the Dallas Stars and have been rewarded with 12 points in 25 games, which is very impressive for a player that’s still only 24 years old. Center Derek Roy could have been picked up by 28 other NHL teams for dirt cheap in December, but now has eight points in 11 games for the Edmonton Oilers after they picked him up via trade (the Oilers wanted to add Roy but also dump a contract in return, which they did by moving Marc Arcobello to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Roy instead of just outright claiming Roy off of waivers).

There’s no shortage of other players that would be worth the risk but don’t get claimed. Jacob Markstrom, not long ago considered the best goaltending prospect in hockey, cleared waivers in September and now has a phenomenal 12-4-2 record with a sparkling .934 save percentage. Magnus Paajarvi went 10th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft and, despite a couple of rough seasons, is still only 23 years old and would be well worth the reclamation project.

The craziest thing about the whole topic is that teams have practically nothing to lose by doing some waiver fishing.

A perfect example of this is what happened with forward Zach Boychuk last season. Boychuk was waived by the Carolina Hurricanes, but then claimed by the Pittsburgh Penguins. He played seven games for the Pens before being waived again, but this time getting picked up by the Nashville Predators. After five games with the Preds he was waived and claimed again, ending up back in Carolina where his season started.

What did the Penguins and Predators lose by trying out Boychuk? Nothing. Just a small amount of money. Heck, I bet there are fans of both teams that don’t even remember Boychuk even playing for them because the consequences were so insignificant. It didn’t work out for either team, but it was well worth the price of trying because of the potential that it could have worked out. When the cost of gambling is so low why not try it a few times until you get a hit?

Going back to Richards specifically, it’s not a far stretch whatsoever to suggest that he still has a lot left to offer. Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, the very man that waived Richards, had an interesting quote about that today, as reported by ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun:

“On the long term, he could be a different player,” Lombardi said. “If you remember when Teemu Selanne when he went to Colorado it looked like he was done. He looked done. But all of a sudden, things changed. He went on for a longer career. They’re different players, but I see no reason why this can’t happen here, either.”

There’s no telling what happens next with the Mike Richards saga, but it’s probably a safe bet that he hasn’t played his last game in the NHL quite yet. It’s just a shame because he’s still good enough that he should be playing a lot more, and that many NHL teams totally missed the great chance that it could have been for them.

15 thoughts on “Why Are So Many NHL Teams Afraid Of The Waiver Wire?”

  1. I can appreciate the rationale behind a lot of what’s argued here. Personally, I don’t consider Richards to be a “throw away” as some might. He has a lot of experience and on the ice, I think he’s capable of more than he’s demonstrated. Seems to me that there might be an ongoing lack of confidence and commitment on his part.
    Having said that, his contract is an absolute deadweight. Substantial term and salary for a player who has “played” himself right out of a role with the Kings. Similar to Redden in a sense except I actually believe that Richards CAN be of benefit to teams if he has the right attitude and effort. With Redden, it sure appeared that he was “held up” by Chara.
    Didn’t surprise me that the Flames apparently tried to acquire Richards, but what was the cost? I’m sure that Treliving would have insisted that the Kings retain a significant portion of Richards’ salary – something the Kings might not have been able to do. Of course there’s suitors for Richards, but at that price, it’s a massive gamble on a player who seems to be absolutely lost and with no guarantee that he’ll find his way eventually.
    Ultimately, Richards is the guy who needs to decide what he wants. If he turns his career around with Manchester, then he still has a role in the NHL. Can’t fault Lombardi much in my opinion – he trusted Richards with a promised improved work ethic and commitment but that obviously hasn’t happened. I don’t fault a GM for having confidence in one of his players and giving him another chance.

  2. So many of these comments are based on arms length stats analysis; the off-ice behaviour is equally as meaningful. Without thinking about any one person…. What are the player’s off-ice habits? Does he regliously ride the bike after practice? Spend free time in the weight room? Is he a role model for younger players? How does he interact with teammates? Their wives? His coaches? Does he have his personal life in order?

  3. Awful analysis. As the other posters have pointed out, the contract is an albatross. And it still has significant term remaining (4 more years). Claiming Richards is the exact opposite of what GMs try to do – get value for their money. He’s had little value since 2011.

    • His contract wouldn’t be a death sentence to teams with enough cap space. He’s wildly overpriced, but I think his experience and padded resume still gives him value.

      Shawn Horcoff is horribly overpaid, but has been a really valuable fit as a veteran leader on a young Dallas Stars team. Richards could, in theory, offer the same thing to young teams with cap space. But, yeah, there’s obviously risk involved there.

  4. “The Calgary Flames have dressed Brandon Bollig for 39 games, but he still has zero goals.”

    With due respect, Bollig is there as a goon who can skate. And if he weren’t on a kinda bad contract, the Flames would be playing David Wolf instead. They actually have four of these kind of contracts they’re dealing with that are eating up roster spots (Smid, Engelland, Bollig, and Mason Raymond) that could be taken by better guys on their farm (Wotherspoon, Wolf, Baertschi). And next year they still have to make space for Sam Bennett, Emile Poirier, and maybe some offseason Top 6 signing.

    The last guy they need is Mike Richards, so don’t just give lazy analysis like “Bollig has zero goals and Richards is an upgrade”. I’m sure you’re doing the same for other teams.

    Teams don’t want Mike Richards because there’s these things called Salary Caps and Roster Size Limit. That’s doubly so for the waiver wire, we’re you’re not sending off any of your own bad contracts or roster spots.

    • Bollig plays his role well…but his type of role is dying fast. I’d take an expensive two-way center over a less expensive possession black hole any day.

      The Flames do have an impending logjam of youth coming up, but Richards has a plethora of winning experience. That could be hugely beneficial for a team with as many young players as the Flames have. Not having the right veterans around is one of the main reasons why the Oilers have been spinning their tires for so long.

      • Flames already have the “right veterans” around in guys like Giordano, Hudler (who has a ring too, BTW), Jones, Glencross, Stajan, Raymond, Russell, Wideman, Hiller, Smid. All hard-working, character guys who make the youth work harder and become smarter. At this point Michael Backlund is essentially a veteran too, though he’s on the younger side. They’re not the Oilers and Brad Treliving is very big on proper development.

        The Flames have a strong veteran leadership core to supplement and develop their youth. Giordano is among the “best captains” in the NHL. Do they really want to put that at jeopardy by bringing a different leader, former and a guy who was traded once already for off-ice behaviour?

        The Flames are not in win-now mode nor are they just kicking off their rebuild. They’re at a point in their rebuild where they can use the cap room they have smartly, not blow it for the next five years. They might have cap room now, but not when Giordano, Brodie, Monahan, Gaudreau, Backlund, Poirier, Ortio, and a few others are on their next contracts, and they’ll still need to round out their Defensive depth through free agency.

        Mike Richards is simply not the player he once was, and hasn’t been for a long time. And no, it’s not because LA’s centre depth is that unique – he’s not currently a better player than Calgary centremen Sean Monahan(who’s quickly establishing him as a #1C with ice-water in his veins), Mikael Backlund(one of the best two-way players in the league and the best possession-driver on the team), Josh Jooris (a rookie on pace for 20+ goals and the team leader in GWG) or Matt Stajan (who’s been money on faceoffs, defensive coverages, and has kept offensive play pretty stable with his great passing). They have four more prospect centres on the farm in Drew Shore, Markus Granlund, Bill Arnold, and Max Reinhart vying for some NHL play, and that doesn’t even include the franchise’s highest draft pick ever Sam Bennett.) Centre depth is not a place of weakness for the Flames from an on-ice perspective, in fact it’s probably their deepest position along with Left Wing.

        Even considering Richards at Right Wing, where they’re notably weaker, he would still have to make the roster over Jiri Hudler (Flames’ leading point getter with championship experience), David Jones (who’s much more effective as a two-way player right now, a much better skater and he brings size and physicality), Joe Colborne (who is still young and getting better every week), and Paul Byron (who’s the best skater on a very fast skating roster roster and probably the Flames’ best PKer.) And again, that’s not factoring in that Emile Poirier is vying for one of those spots.

        They simply don’t have a roster spot for Mike Richards. Nor does Richards’ style and lack of speed even remotely fit Bob Hartley’s system.

        The only reason the Flames even entertain this trade is if they get a guy like Tyler Toffoli back… which makes no sense for LA since that guy is among the main reasons the Kings need to lose Richards’ contract ASAP. In other words, if Mike Richards stays in LA, they need to make some serious moves to match any offer sheets on RFA Toffoli.

        Know what team could make an offer to either force L.A.’s hand or come away with a budding star?

        A certain one with plenty of cap space in the middle of a rebuild looking to add a young, scoring Top 6 Right Winger.

        As for Bollig? He’s a 10 minute a game guy. He’s playing Left Wing and the team might as well be called the Calgary Left Wings between Gaudreau (guy on pace for a 60+ point season as a rookie), Glencross (consistent 20 goal guy), Baertschi (who projects as a Top 6/Top 9 guy), Mason Raymond, Wolf (Basically everything Bollig is, except with goal-scoring ability), and prospects like Klimchuk, Ferland, and Jankowski. The reason Bollig and Raymond are on the team was part of the GM’s goal to not gift prospects any roster spots they haven’t earned in the A. They’re both on pretty much the same 3mil/3Y contracts, and while they’ve been unspectacular, that’s perfectly okay.

        If Bollig were on a 1 year contract, he would have been waived by this point in the season. He brings some size and physicality that the generally undersized Flames can use, but he’s neither a big part of the present nor a big part of the future. The Flames are not desperate to replace him with someone older even-if-better. Their goal is for someone younger-and-better to prove it and force them to move him(and Raymond).

  5. I have watched every minute of every period of every game that Richards has played in as a king. He had a decent 2012 post season, but contrary to what Lombardi says, we not only would have still won the cup with Simmonds instead of Richards, we may have done it easier, although it can’t get much easier when you take a 3-0 lead in every series. He had a decent 2014 post season too, but once again he wasn’t instrumental in us winning the cup. He did make a good play on the Gaborik game tying goal against the ducks with 6 seconds left in the game. But overall in his 3+ seasons, he looks slow and unsure out there. I didn’t see him play in Philadelphia so I don’t know if he has slowed down, but make no mistake, he is SLOOOOOW. If a player is slow, he has to make up for it with either a great shot or smooth hands. Richards has neither. Bottom line, his resume looks great. Every time he gets interviewed by broadcasters other than the LA crew, they bring up his gold medal, calder cup, memorial cup, and Stanley cups. So on the surface he looks like a winner. I think he has just played with really good teams. Any team that takes him thinking he is going to be a catalyst to take that team to the next level, they are going to be very disappointed.

  6. I think Dean Lombardi realized that He was taken after giving Mike Richards a chance to get back to the level He once played. I am a Kings fan and I’ve seen Mike battle hard in Kings vs Sharks last playoffs. He in some reminds of Dustin Penner who could be a great player but goes from team to ream for a season, gets fat and slow during summer and becaomes useless until the playoffs. For $5.75mil it is reasonable to expect 60 – 80 points production. I hope Mike realizes that and gets back to NHL. He has a heart of lion.

  7. So four seasons not living up to his contract but somehow he is going to turn it around? LA was hoping someone would pick him up but nobody was that stupid.

  8. those teams can fit Richards in NOW…but what about three years? its that type of short sightedness that got LA in the trouble theyre in cap wise. teams want to offload a contract before adding a white elephant

    • The cap hit isn’t going up as much as expected next year, but is still projected to keep going up in the following years. In three or four years Richards’ contract will be much more manageable.

      He’s slowed down in LA, but there’s still a chance that a change of scenery might help him out. Dustin Penner had a nice bounce-back season in Anaheim after leaving LA

  9. If any team were to pick up Richards, their GM would def come under heavy scrutiny regardless of how he played. Unlike Roy, even if Richards has some decent seasons left you’re stuck paying 5m+ for five years of a project player in decline. Yes he is a reliable player, just not at that price and term.

    If LA buys him out though, expect a bidding war. ^^

    • i agree with most of what you said except for the “bidding war” comment. no way. no how. wont happen. he’ll sign a one year $1 million cap hit somewhere. low risk

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