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.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”