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Brad Richards to N.Y. Rangers trade rumor mill heats up

When you look at the situation the Dallas Stars find themselves in with Brad Richards, it’s a pretty fruitful scenario for the creation of rumors – valid or random.

For one thing, the high-scoring (91 points last season, 30 in 25 games this year) Richards is a tantalizing tease for any deep-pocketed team in need of a catalyst at the center position. The free agent-to-be is in the last season of a deal that registers a $7.8 million cap hit, a huge number that will be far more digestible as each week passes. When you combine his skill, pending free agency and the Stars’ shaky ownership situation, any number of armchair general managers (and real-life ones) can be excused for cooking up scenarios that enrich their teams by way of prospect/draft pick + salary dump-type deals.

(Side note: The Stars’ disturbing attendance woes give credibility to the rumors as well, being that the team cannot seem to draw sellouts even with Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in town. Why can’t a team on what is now a six game winning streak and with a 10-3-1 home record attract the locals?)

Perhaps it makes perfect sense, then, that the New York Rangers seem to be the first team tearing a ticket at the Richards’ deli counter today. Here is what ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun wrote about the Rangers’ interest in Richards, justified partially by the fact that general managers will gather at the Board of Governors meetings taking place early next week.

I was told Saturday the New York Rangers’ interest in Brad Richards (set to be an unrestricted free agent July 1) is serious enough that they’re willing to pony up assets before the Feb. 28 trade deadline to make sure he doesn’t go elsewhere should the Dallas Stars decide to put him on the market in order to get value before he leaves. This despite the fact the Rangers could get him July 1 without giving up any assets.

Obviously, the carrot here for Richards, who has a no-movement clause, is his relationship with Rangers coach John Tortorella. The two won a Cup together in 2004 when Torts was behind the bench for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

I would hope that the Stars would be able to acquire at least one genuine asset for Richards, at least from a public relations standpoint. After all, a fan base already fractured (maybe by the dual loss of former franchise faces Mike Modano and Marty Turco?) would have another reason to focus only on the Dallas Mavericks if the Stars dealt Richards while the team was still atop the Pacific Division.

Larry Brooks of the New York Post writes that $4.125 million in dead salary cap space in the form of healthy scratches Todd White and Matt Gilroy represents an issue if the Rangers hope to clear space for a Richards trade.

Dallas would prefer to sign Richards, in at $7.8 million, to a contract extension, but the absence of an owner would seem to make that impossible before July. As such, even as the Stars contend in the Western Conference, GM Joe Nieuwendyk probably will have to reach out to clubs that Richards, who holds a no-trade clause, would approve for a move.

The Rangers assuredly would be on that list. But the math and the possible lack of a match — understand that Sather will not send valued young assets to Dallas for a player who all but certainly will be there for the taking on July 1 — might mitigate against such a deal.

The league’s Board of Governors convenes tomorrow for the first day of meetings in Florida. It’s likely that Sather, whose hunt for a lefty defenseman has become less urgent with the steady development and improvement of the Steve Eminger-Michael Sauer third pair, will initiate a chat with Nieuwendyk.

The fact, though, is that the Rangers not only do not have the space now for Richards, it will be a task for Sather to create it before the Feb. 28 trade deadline.

Considering the sneaky salary cap movements of many GMs including Glen Sather’s stashing of Wade Redden’s $6.5 million annual cap hit in the minors, I am reluctant to believe that Sather couldn’t just dump more salaries to the AHL in favor of young bodies. The question is whether or not the Rangers can entice the Stars to blow up that great Richards-James Neal-Loui Eriksson line for the sake of their money situation.

Personally, I think the Stars should look at the Texas Rangers as a guiding light in a tough storm of a 2010-11 season. Their situation looked dire, too, but their team put together a historic season and pushed their franchise value to new heights.

Of course, DFW residents need to notice how well the Stars are playing for any of their wins to matter, though.

The Ducks look pretty mighty right now after six consecutive wins

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In what should be a disturbing trend for every other team in the Pacific Division, the Anaheim Ducks have now won six consecutive games, and eight of their last 10.

After dominating the shot clock for pretty much all of Friday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, the Ducks completely took over on the scoreboard in the third period. It seemed like only a matter of time before a breakthrough would occur.

Just 24 hours after beating the L.A. Kings, the Ducks earned a 5-2 victory over the Coyotes.

Ryan Kesler has eight points in his last six games. Corey Perry has seven points in his last six games. Patrick Maroon, who had only eight points all season prior to Friday, had a three-point night versus Arizona.

Again. Bad news for every other team in the Pacific.

The Ducks now have a three-point lead over the Coyotes for third place in the division. They’re one point back of second-place San Jose and eight back of division-leading L.A.

As for everyone else, more specifically the Canucks, Flames and Oilers, well it might be time to start focusing more on the upcoming trade deadline and, beyond that, the draft.

The Ducks had a terrible start to this season, one that started with so much hype about a team seen as an immediate Stanley Cup contender for 2015-16.

Count Corey Perry as one who believes those early season struggles could pay off at playoff time.

And remember all of that talk in October about Bruce Boudreau perhaps at the end of his days as coach of the Ducks?

At the end of October, GM Bob Murray vowed to be patient despite such a poor start just a few months after being one win away from the Stanley Cup Final last June.

There is still plenty of hockey remaining in the regular season. The Ducks have 32 games remaining on their schedule. But it appears that patience Murray showed in October is paying off.

Jets can’t complete the comeback after miserable start against Hurricanes

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) Phillip Di Giuseppe, Andrej Nestrasil, Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk scored in the first period, and the Carolina Hurricanes held on for a 5-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night.

The Hurricanes scored four times on their first nine shots, taking a 4-0 lead just 10:04 into the game. Nestrasil added another goal in the third period, and Cam Ward made 33 saves. Staal and Joakim Nordstrom each had a pair of assists.

Alexander Burmistrov, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler scored for Winnipeg.

Jets rookie Connor Hellebuyck allowed three goals while facing only six shots before being replaced by Michael Hutchinson after Staal’s power-play goal just 4:33 in. Hutchinson, who hadn’t played since a 4-1 loss in Anaheim on Jan. 3, finished with 21 saves.

The loss wrapped up Winnipeg’s season-high six-game homestand, which included just one victory.

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Carolina’s first goal came after the Jets turned over the puck and Di Giuseppe scored on a sharp-angled shot at 1:43.

Hellebuyck then kicked out a bad rebound and Nestrasil tallied his 16th goal of the season in his 100th NHL game from almost the same angle at 3:05.

With Byfuglien in the penalty box for delay of game, Staal’s shot beat Hellebuyck, ending the young goalie’s night.

Faulk made it 4-0 when his team’s third shot at Hutchinson went between his pads at 10:04.

The Jets came out at a faster, more aggressive pace to start the second period and it paid off with 1:25 remaining.

Andrew Copp and Chris Thorburn were battling a pair of Hurricanes behind the net when Thorburn poked the puck out front as he was falling and Burmistrov got his sixth goal of the season.

Ladd, who hit the post late in the second period, banged home a rebound with Hurricanes winger Jeff Skinner off for hooking at 9:07 of the third.

Byfuglien one-timed a pass from Nikolaj Ehlers that Wheeler deflected to make it 4-3 with 6:12 remaining.

Nestrasil sealed the win with his second goal at 18:40.

NOTES: Ehlers’ assist extended his point streak to six games, with four goals and four assists. … Winnipeg heads out for a two-game road trip starting in Colorado on Saturday. Carolina visits Montreal on Sunday.

Video: Zatkoff robs Condra with sprawling paddle save

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All Erik Condra had to do was lift the puck off the ice.

He didn’t, and as a result, he was robbed by sprawled out Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who made a spectacular desperation save with the paddle of his stick on the Lightning forward.

The save occurred just past the midway point of the third period. That kept the Penguins in the game, down by a goal at the time.

However, the Penguins couldn’t get the equalizer. The result was a 6-3 loss for Pittsburgh, as Tampa Bay scored twice later in the period.

Defending Eastern Conference champion Bolts continue hot streak

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Remember those distractions the Tampa Bay Lightning had to endure?

— The future of captain Steven Stamkos, who is a pending unrestricted free agent and whose contract situation has been an ongoing discussion point for months now.

Jonathan Drouin‘s camp publicly requesting a trade, then having the 20-year-old forward sent to the minors and then suspended by Tampa Bay, etc.

Well, through it all, the defending Eastern Conference champions have emerged and are now one of the hottest teams in the National Hockey League . Since the start of January, the Bolts have lost twice. In 13 games.

They continued their hot streak Friday, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins — another of those teams on an impressive streak — by a final score of 6-3, with Tyler Johnson leading the way with three points. He was one of six Tampa Bay players to record a multi-point night.

Penguins’ goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled in the second period after allowing four goals on 14 shots.

Tampa Bay is now five points behind the Florida Panthers for first in the Atlantic Division.

For the Penguins, the loss keeps them on the outside of the playoff bubble for now. They remain one point back of New Jersey for the final Wild Card spot in the East.

Sidney Crosby extended his point streak to nine games. He also has goals in five straight and is one point shy of 900 for his career.