Free Agency Brings Two To St. Louis

Spartans make an impact in free agency by signing Mike Richards and Marc Savard
by Sean Gallagher | November 15, 2009, 6:50 PM ET
This year's free agency period didn't go as well as planned, but in the end, the St. Louis Spartans did help their team by landing a high-profile unrestricted free agent in center Marc Savard and by coughing up three first-round picks for the rights to RFA center Mike Richards. "Yeah, we were hoping to get a couple other guys to address our defense," admitted team GM Sean Gallagher, "but we had a fax machine malfunction that caused problems with a couple bids. We missed a deadline. We're really excited about the pair we did get, though." The first of the pair, Savard, is expected to serve as the pivot for either Evgeni Malkin or Phil Kessel, or possibly both. His addition pushed Malkin onto the left wing and makes for the potential of a seriously dangerous offensive line. "I'm excited to play anywhere on this team," said Savard, "We're clearly built for offense, so I'm looking forward to the season, no matter who I play with. I can't really go wrong with the talent here." The Spartans' bid to acquire Richards shocked many SICHL observers, as giving up first-round picks for free agents is unheard of for this franchise, let alone the three that it cost to land the RFA from New York's Empire. "We looked at what he could bring to this team and decided it was worth it," said Gallagher. "The guy is 24-years-old, already an offensive force and a guy who we all know has great leadership potential. He fits in perfectly with our core group of players in terms of abilities and age. In fact, last year we tried to acquire him from the Empire and the deal that was on the table was essentially for three first-round type of players. We felt like the sacrifice was worth it and we're glad that the Empire felt comfortable in taking the compensation." Richards, meanwhile, made an immediate impact on his teammates. At the end of an intense but abbreviated pre-season practice schedule, the team voted for their team leadership positions on the eve of their first pre-season game. Newcomer Mike Richards was named captain of the squad, with fellow new-arrival Savard being given an alternate captain's letter, as was Evgeni Malkin. Richards assumes the mantle held by Joe Sakic for the last three seasons. "It's an honor, obviously," said Richards, "Being a captain in the SICHL isn't something to be taken lightly and to be named like that by my new teammates means a lot to me. It's also an honor to follow in Joe Sakic's footsteps in any way. I'll do my best for the team in every way I know how." Richards looks to anchor the second line center position and will likely line up with yet another newcomer, Andy McDonald, who was acquired before the draft. McDonald and Richards will likely see Phil Kessel join them during 5-on-5 situations. With the additions at forward, the Spartans have improved an offensive corps that will also see players like Nathan Horton, Nikolai Zherdev, R.J. Umberger and T.J. Oshie seeing significant minutes. This overload up front has caused many observers to wonder how long the roster will stay constant before someone is traded to address the team's glaring weakness on defense. With the team's best offensive defensemen still developing in the minors, they're asking a lot of Paul Ranger to bear the majority of the offensive load from the blueline. "As far as I'm concerned, our defense includes the guy in net. And our guy in net is pretty good," said Gallagher, referring to franchise player Evgeni Nabokov. "Obviously, I really like what we have now. If we decide that we need to re-distribute some assets, we'll do that. But, again, we're building this team the way we want; lots of good young guys in key positions and lots of good young guys in the minors getting ready to come up. If we make a move, you can be sure it'll be one that fits the team we've assembled."

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