The Los Angeles Kings flogged Mike Richards's brutal contract hard on the weekend.
They were willing to retain a chunk of it. They were willing to throw in a prospect (although some teams questioned the quality of the players involved). GM Dean Lombardi wanted his mistake erased, and it's no wonder given how titanic of a blunder it is.
A year ago, the Kings could have wiped out the final six years of Richards's deal with no cap penalty.
Now, it comes with a huge one.
The Toronto Maple Leafs were one of the teams listening on Richards. They're in a unique position having plenty of cap space, plenty of cash and the willingness to take bad deals, given they won't be a contender in the near term.
This, however, was a case of a deal that was too awful to handle. Even if the Kings retained half Richards's contract and the Leafs then bought it out, Toronto would be saddled with a cap hit for 10 years ranging from $600,000 to $2.1-million.
It would have to be a Grade A prospect or first-round pick to consider doing it. And it wasn't.
The Leafs want to get creative. If there's another bad deal they can take on that has only a year or two remaining, they're more than willing to do so if they get something in exchange.
The problem with Richards is he has five years left at nearly $3-million a season (if the Kings retained half the deal). Even if the Leafs kept the 30-year-old centre for a year or two, there would be an ugly cap hit in 2018-19 and 2019-20 on a buyout.
Leafs president Brendan Shanahan intends his team to be on the upswing by then, and to do so, he'll need to protect every scrap of cap he can.
Unable to find a taker, no matter how creatively they worked the deal, the Kings put Richards on unconditional waivers on Sunday afternoon. His buyout will cost Los Angeles nearly $15-million in cash and more than $21-million on the cap (including two years at more than $4-million).
It could be part of what costs the Kings their status as contenders, given their cap situation. It could be part of what costs Lombardi his job.
Toronto active at the draft
The Leafs drew high marks from other teams and scouting services for their moves at the draft, which included adding a lot of undersized-but-skilled prospects (led by fourth overall pick Mitch Marner) as well as defenceman Martin Marincin from the Oilers.
There was interest in both Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf, although the Leafs continue to insist they will not retain salary in deals for either player, which discouraged some suitors. Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul didn't generate a ton of attention.
One veteran whose name is out there, however, is defenceman Roman Polak, who has one year remaining on a deal with a $2.75-million cap hit. After adding Marincin and re-signing Tim Erixon, T.J. Brennan and Petter Granberg, the Leafs have a lot of young defencemen to find minutes for, and Polak will be easy to move.
Easier than Phaneuf – who they're still seeking a good prospect for – or Stéphane Robidas.
The summer of bad money
Richards's deal is hardly the only junk deal out there. Almost every team has one or two. The Flyers moved a pair on Saturday in punting away Chris Pronger (who's retired and set to get the Hall of Fame call on Monday) and Nicklas Grossmann to Arizona to open up millions in cap space.
In exchange, they landed another unwanted player in Sam Gagner, who appears headed for a buyout (along with Richards, P.A. Parenteau and a few others) after already having some of his salary retained in previous deals.
This is becoming the circle of life in the NHL these days. Overpay. Trade and retain. Trade again. Buyout.
Bad contracts were everywhere at the draft. Alexander Semin, Bryan Bickell, David Legwand, Matt Carle, Rob Scuderi, Colin Greening … in almost every trade that's being proposed right now, there's a team attempting to sneak one of these anchors in.
Everyone in the league is also waiting to see what Blackhawks' GM Stan Bowman does, as he has at least three players – Patrick Sharp, Bickell and Kris Versteeg – he would like to deal in order to help their cap situation.
Sharp is most probable to move – the feeling is mutual between the veteran and team that it is time – but the Blackhawks' asking price likely has to come down. Many are skeptical they can move Bickell, although Chicago is including prospects to try to get it done.
The year of the offer sheet?
One of the under-discussed aspects of Boston trading a rising young star in defenceman Dougie Hamilton to the Flames was the involvement of the Oilers.
Part of the reason Boston was so adamant they had to move Hamilton on Saturday was they were certain former GM Peter Chiarelli would give the restricted free agent a massive offer sheet on July 1. With that threat looming – and the bad blood between Chiarelli and Bruins' president Cam Neely an undercurrent to it – Edmonton attempted to get in on the trade talks.
The Bruins ultimately took a slightly worse package of picks (Calgary's 15th, 45th and 52nd instead of Edmonton's 16th, 33rd and 57th) in order to get the last laugh by sending him to the Oilers' top rival.
Even when they're not actually signed, offer sheets can have an impact.
The Blackhawks could be in a similarly vulnerable position with RFA Brandon Saad, as several teams are expected to give him an offer sheet if Bowman can't get him signed by Wednesday.
The best strategy from the perspective of Saad and his agent is to wait this process out and get more teams involved. Chicago is optimistic they can get both him and Marcus Kruger signed before July 1, but there's now uncertainty there.