Brad Richards

Just where could Brad Richards end up next season?

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With the news that the Dallas Stars ownership situation will lead to them not re-signing superstar center Brad Richards, the speculation immediately turns to where he may end up next season. While the Stars will look to trade Richards rights to a team interested in getting the exclusive time to negotiate a deal with him ahead of July 1 when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

While Joe Nieuwendyk will take plenty of heat in Dallas for not getting the maximized trade value for Richards back in February, they’ll do what they can to get something for him now. After the supposed pursuit by both Toronto and the New York Rangers at the trade deadline, it’s safe to assume that they’ll both be in the hunt. As for who else might want in on the 31 year-old all star and 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, we’ve got a hit list of the obvious and not-so obvious.

New York Rangers

The Rangers were hot after Richards at the trade deadline as they’re desperate for a playmaking center and someone to help Marian Gaborik continue being a 40 goal per year scorer. It’s clear that Glen Sather is interested and John Tortorella being his former coach in his days with Tampa Bay makes the Rangers a very attractive target. Richards’ skills would be shine on Broadway with the Blueshirts. The problem here is the cost it would take to get him on board.

The Rangers have a load of key restricted free agents to sign this off season. Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, Mike Sauer, Matt Gilroy, and Artem Anisimov are all due to be re-signed. Dubinsky and Callahan will be due big time raises and time commitments meanwhile they’re paying big money to Gaborik and Chris Drury has one more year on his monster deal. The Rangers have just over $40 million already committed to next season’s salary cap and with the cap slated to be anywhere between $60-$63 million they’ll be cutting things close. There’s no doubt that Sather would like to make things work one way or another, but whether it’s worth the roster sacrifices to make it happen is another thing.

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs are another team with interest in Richards and they’ve been eyeballing him for a while now. They too would love to get his playmaking skills in Toronto and having him line up with Phil Kessel and Nikolai Kulemin would give the Leafs a very solid first scoring line. The Leafs have $38 million committed to the salary cap next season and four important restricted free agents to get signed up. Luke Schenn, Carl Gunnarsson, Clarke MacArthur, and Tyler Bozak are all due to be retained and MacArthur is coming off a big year while Schenn, Gunnarsson, and Bozak are still very young and evolving into better players.

With guys like Colby Armstrong and Mikhail Grabovksi breaking out a bit last season as well, adding Richards would help give the Leafs the scoring depth they’d ideally like to have. Toronto also doesn’t have many contracts on the books that extend for an absurd number of years. It would make for an intriguing fit for Richards to join such a young team with potential.

Los Angeles Kings

One issue the Kings had last year was that when superstar center Anze Kopitar went down with a season ending injury, they were screwed not having a great option at center to fill the void. While the Kings could use some help with scoring wingers, Richards’ ability to help give the Kings two incredible all-star talents at center on their top two scoring lines would help snap their offensive woes and not let opposing defenses load up against Kopitar.

Dean Lombardi missed out on getting Ilya Kovalchuk last year and with Richards set to be the big prize in free agency, he won’t want to miss out again. He won’t give out a foolish contract or be tricked into a crazy bidding game, but if he’s got a shot at landing him he’ll need to do it to keep Kings fans feeling positive. And yes, they’ll be in on the hunt for him too.

While those are the heavy hitters in the hunt, there are a couple of teams I’d love to see get in the mix for more simple reasons.

Buffalo Sabres: With Terry Pegula owning the team and a guy like Tim Connolly coming off the books the Sabres are in desperate need of a playmaking center to help Derek Roy out. If Pegula wants to make a splash, finding a way to convince Richards to come to town would be a huge coup. Having Richards line up with guys like Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville would make the Sabres a serious offensive threat.

Tampa Bay Lightning: It’s where Richards started his career and he still loves the city. With stable ownership there and stable coaching and management he wouldn’t have to worry about outside interference again. The Lightning need to get Steve Stamkos locked into a long term deal this summer yet but if Richards took a hometown discount to play in a comfortable place, seeing him line up with Martin St. Louis once again would be dynamic.

Washington Capitals: Hey, why not? The Caps desperately need another playmaking center and while Nicklas Backstrom had a bit of a down season last year, Richards would come in and either help Alex Ovechkin get back to 50 goal form or give Alexander Semin someone to feed him perfect passes and become more consistent. The Caps offseason is set up to be fascinating and if they let Jason Arnott go and Brooks Laich gets away to free agency, getting Richards would make the Caps offense get back to its scary capabilities from the recent past.

Where do you think Richards will land next year? Make your choice from the teams we’ve talked about here or let us know in the comments who else you think he could sign with.

‘We love him’ — Bolts heap praise on Stamkos as uncertain future awaits

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 26, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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This may have been Steve Stamkos‘ last game in a Tampa Bay uniform.

If it was, it didn’t go according to script.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t special.

Stamkos stunned the hockey world on Friday night by making his playoff debut in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, returning from a two-month absence due to a blood clotting issue.

After undergoing vascular surgery and spending weeks on blood thinners, the captain was cleared to return for his team’s most crucial game of the season — one the Bolts lost, 2-1, the narrowest of margins.

The outcome didn’t take away from how Tampa’s players and coaches felt about Stamkos’ return

“He’s an extremely important player on our team, and we weren’t quite sure when this was going to happen, but a decision was made that he could play for Game 7,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “It was an emotional boost for all of us. The guys were really excited to have him back, and I thought he did a great job.”

By the boxscore, Stamkos’ impact on the game was minimal. He received less than 12 minutes of ice time and finished minus-1. But he did have two shots on net — one of them showing just how dangerous, even in a limited capacity, No. 91 can be:

“I thought I beat him,” Stamkos told NHL.com. “It just went through him and out the other side.”

The focus for Stamkos and the Bolts now shifts to his contract situation. Slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, the former 60-goal scorer projects to be the biggest star to hit the market since Zach Parise and Ryan Suter became UFAs in 2012.

Those two, you may recall, cashed in quite nicely, signing identical 13-year, $98 million deals.

So you can see why Stamkos’ future is of great interest across the league.

Of course, nobody has officially ruled out the 26-year-old’s return to Tampa Bay, and tonight’s drama probably strengthened some pretty serious emotional ties. Remember, this is the only team he’s ever known. The Lightning made Stamkos the first overall pick in 2008 and, six years later, the 10th captain in franchise history. He won two Rocket Richard trophies with the Bolts, and played in a pair of Eastern Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup Final.

He’s the team’s leader and face of the franchise. That’s not small stuff.

But in the end, it might not matter. It’s important to remember the Lightning got to this point without Stamkos because they’ve got incredible depth and some really good young players. Those young players will need to be paid too, and there might not be enough money under the cap for GM Steve Yzerman to make Stamkos an offer he can’t refuse.

Which is why it was hard not to listen to comments the Bolts made tonight, and wonder if they’re aware of what the future probably holds.

“We hope we can stick together, but you just never know,” Boyle said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “Thought we were destined for some pretty special things.”

Here’s your Stanley Cup Final TV schedule

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 21: Patrick Marleau #12 of the San Jose Sharks skates on the ice against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on November 19, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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From the NHL:

The National Hockey League announced today the schedule for the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, which begins Monday, May 30, in Pittsburgh.

Based on their superior regular-season point total, the Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh Penguins will host Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final, as well as Games 5 and 7, if necessary.

The Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks will host Games 3 and 4, as well as Game 6, if necessary.

In the U.S., NBC will televise Game 1 and, if necessary, Games 5-7. NBCSN will broadcast Game 2. Television information for Games 3 and 4 will be announced at a later date.

Game 1 Monday, May 30 8 p.m. San Jose at Pittsburgh NBC
Game 2 Wednesday, June 1 8 p.m. San Jose at Pittsburgh NBCSN
Game 3 Saturday, June 4 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at San Jose TBD
Game 4 Monday, June 6 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at San Jose TBD
Game 5* Thursday, June 9 8 p.m. San Jose at Pittsburgh NBC
Game 6* Sunday, June 12 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at San Jose NBC
Game 7* Wednesday, June 15 8 p.m. San Jose at Pittsburgh NBC

Media day will be on Sunday, May 29, time TBD. PHT will be on location for the entirety of the final, and a reminder that all games will also be broadcast on NBC Sports Radio.

PHT’s Mike Halford (that’s me) and Jason Brough will be providing analysis for both pre- and post-game shows.

Pens edge Bolts, advance to first Stanley Cup Final in seven years

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For one night, anyway, the Steel City loved it some Rust.

In a thrilling and drama-filled affair, the unlikeliest of heroes — Pens rookie Bryan Rust — stole the show, scoring both goals in a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Rust’s heroics sent Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2009.

Seven years ago against the Red Wings, it was depth forward Max Talbot that etched himself into Penguins lore, scoring both goals in the decisive Game 7.

Rust pretty much did the same on Friday.

The former Notre Dame standout opened the scoring in the second period, then took all of 30 seconds to wipe out Jonathan Drouin‘s equalizer. It was a performance that’ll long be remembered in Pittsburgh, as it was the organization’s first Game 7 victory since — you guessed it — 2009, when Talbot led the Pens to victory over Detroit.

As mentioned above, this contest was filled with drama. The theatrics actually began prior to puck drop, when Bolts captain Steve Stamkos was added to the lineup — his first game since being diagnosed with a blood clotting issue on Mar. 31.

Stamkos’ playoff debut was somewhat muted. He finished minus-1 with just 11:55 of ice time, though it’s tough to suggest much more could’ve been expected from a guy that hadn’t played in two months.

At times tonight, it seemed nothing, not even Stamkos’ presence, was going to slow Pittsburgh down. The Pens out-shot the Lightning 39-17 and had it not been for some terrific netminding from Andrei Vasilevskiy, the score could’ve been much worse.

That said, Tampa Bay did have its chances in the third period, and finished with a frantic flurry around Pens goalie Matt Murray (who wasn’t busy, but finished with 16 saves).

In the end, the Lightning will undoubtedly regret the missed opportunity to finish this series off in Game 6 at home.

The Penguins, meanwhile, have to be thrilled with the form shown over the final two games of this series. They’re playing some terrific hockey, getting contributions across the board and now staring at a Stanley Cup Final matchup with San Jose — which promises to be a fast, offensive and compelling series.

Game 1 gets underway at Consol on Monday. Have to imagine Pittsburgh can’t wait.

Video: Drouin equalizes, but Rust strikes again 30 seconds later

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Bryan Rust is really having himself a series.

After opening the scoring in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Rust took matters into his own hands after Jonathan Drouin evened the score for Tampa Bay, notching his second goal of the game — just 30 seconds after Drouin scored — to put Pittsburgh back out in front, 2-1.

Before digging into the Rust goal (posted above), let’s take a moment to appreciate Drouin’s snipe, one that whizzed by Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray:

Now, back to Rust.

With that second goal he’s now racked up eight points for the playoffs, just three back of the 11 he put up over the course of the entire regular season. The former Notre Dame standout has become a major storyline, and now sits tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead in even-strength playoff goals.

Not bad for a guy that spent a fair chunk of the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, eh?