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.

The Buzzer: Golden Knights shine, gold from Subban

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Player of the Night: Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers.

It hasn’t been the easiest start to the season for Twitter legend Roberto Luongo, nor has it been for the Twitter debate generators known as the Florida Panthers.

Bobby Lou hasn’t been healthy at times, making it easy to ignore that even at 38, he’s quietly managed a save percentage that climbed to .931 after today’s outstanding performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Luongo made 43 out of 44 stops to help Florida edge Toronto in a 2-1 shootout win, to the amusingly over-the-top celebration of the Panthers, who might have done so because there were probably a ton of Maple Leafs fans in the house:

Nick Bjugstad won the game with this saucy shootout score, by the way:

Honorable mentions go to tonight’s other standout goalies, plus Nathan MacKinnon, who received plenty of praise here.

Fight of the Night: William Carrier vs. Mike Liambas.

Is it fair to call this fight “methodical but entertaining?”

Quip of the Night: P.K. Subban, always entertaining, though he should reduce the height-shaming.

Pest of the Night: Nazem Kadri?

Highlight of the Night: John Tavares continues to impose his will, this time setting up the Islanders overtime-winner:

Factoids of the Night

Another milestone for the Vegas Golden Knights, who lead the Pacific Division:

Brock Boeser is another worthy mention for player of the night, as the young Canuck keeps scoring and scoring, this time helping Vancouver beat Pittsburgh (again).

Connor McDavid continues to impress, and maybe shuts up a critic or two for one night:

The Canadiens? Well, at least they got a point.

Scores

Wild 5, Sabres 4
Oilers 6, Red Wings 2
Panthers 2, Maple Leafs 1 (SO)
Bruins 3, Devils 2 (SO)
Islanders 4, Flyers 3 (OT)
Canucks 5, Penguins 2
Capitals 5, Senators 2
Rangers 6, Hurricanes 1
Blue Jackets 1, Flames 0 (OT)
Lightning 3, Blackhawks 2 (OT)
Predators 3, Canadiens 2 (SO)
Avalanche 3, Stars 0
Sharks 3, Coyotes 1
Golden Knights 4, Ducks 2
Jets 2, Kings 1

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Looks like Nathan MacKinnon is going from star to superstar

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Look, it’s not like Nathan MacKinnon has ever really been a “bad” player.

The Nova Scotia-born speed demon carried two 20+ goal seasons and three 50+ point campaigns into 2017-18, which in the tough-to-score NHL, is nothing to sneeze at. This is especially true since the Colorado Avalanche have frequently asked him to do a lot; Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire notes that he’s faced some of the toughest assignments of any centers in recent years.

Still, there was growing concern that the 22-year-old might not make that extra step from “star” to “superstar.” That’s especially true if his shooting skill really was an issue, as it seemed to be in three straight seasons where he shot under 10 percent (and considering his 8.4 career average).

Well, through the first quarter of this season, it seems like MacKinnon is “finally” making that next step, and making us feel silly for worrying too much about a guy who’s still just 22.

(Heck, he’s not even an old 22. MacKinnon’s birthday came on Sept. 1.)

Much like the Avalanche as a whole, MacKinnon’s gone from discouraging in 2016-17 to encouraging so far, and he’s probably the biggest reason to feel happy in Colorado … beyond the Matt Duchene headache being resolved, and depending upon your lifestyle, certain perks.

Wednesday was the latest reminder that the Avalanche aren’t mere pushovers, and that MacKinnon is making that leap we’ve been waiting for to join the best-of-the-best.

The tremendously fast, increasingly versatile center collected assists on every Avalanche goal as they beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Wednesday, improving Colorado’s record to 11-8-1. This actually makes for quite the logjam at “last” in the Central, with four teams at 23 points, and the Avs hold at least a game in hand on the Blackhawks, Stars, and Wild. They’re not far from being a wild card team, either.

Considering the fact that the Avalanche were one of the worst teams of the salary cap era last season with an almost unthinkable 46 points, and MacKinnon languished with 16 goals, this should put a big smile on GM Joe Sakic’s face.

But, again, it’s something fans of the sport as a whole should appreciate.

With tonight’s three assists, MacKinnon now has 25 points in 20 games. This places MacKinnon in a tie for 12th in the NHL in scoring with a pretty illustrious group: John Tavares, Blake Wheeler, and Mark Scheifele.

To me, the number that’s maybe most heartening is MacKinnon’s 13.2 shooting percentage (seven goals on 53 shots on goal through 20 games).

It will be interesting to follow this specific trend over the long haul of the season, as he’s firing the puck just a little bit less often; he averages 3.08 SOG for his career according to Hockey Reference, while his current average is 2.65 this season.

That’s not a massive drop, but it’s actually quite noticeable, and you wonder if MacKinnon is being a little more selective with his shot. Again, it’s a small sample size, so we’ll see if that changes. But if MacKinnon either improves his shooting skill or simply finds a way to inch closer to the 24 goals he scored as a rookie while using his speed and smarts to be a difference-maker in every phase of the game, this could be quite the transformation.

The Avalanche probably weren’t going to complain about “the old” MacKinnon, but they should be delighted if he ends up being a truly complete star, and one who can flirt with 20-goal, 70-point seasons.

And you know what? Fans of exciting hockey should be excited about this development, too. Even if he’s using his scary speed and skill to your own team’s dismay from time to time.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Point gets Lightning extra point against Kane, Blackhawks

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The Tampa Bay Lightning edged the Chicago Blackhawks – barely – on Wednesday to leapfrog back over the St. Louis Blues for the top record in the NHL.

The Bolts capitalized on a power-play opportunity in overtime, with Brayden Point scoring the decisive goal in a 3-2 OT win. It was an exciting overtime period, with Point being stopped all in alone earlier in the OT, and the same happening to Patrick Kane on a breakaway.

Kane had been getting the best of the Lightning earlier in the game, scoring the first two goals of the contest in the first period. Not a lot of players can make plays like this off the rush:

Then again, few teams can score a goal this pretty, especially while shorthanded:

Steven Stamkos and Vladislav Namestnikov collected assists on Wednesday, but the top line (including Nikita Kucherov) failed to score a goal, though they created quite a few chances. The best – at least in regulation – came when Stamkos seized an opportunity against the Blackhawks, but Corey Crawford was game:

Wow.

Again, both goalies made some big stops. Here’s that Kane miss in OT, with Andrei Vasilevskiy depriving number 88 from a hat trick:

So, with that, the Lightning hold a one-point standings edge (34 to 33) over the Blues in the early race for the Presidents’ Trophy, and most importantly, gives them a five-point edge in the Atlantic Division. Tampa Bay’s impressive start to 2017-18 is especially notable since they’ve played one fewer game than St. Louis and two fewer than the Toronto Maple Leafs (the second-ranked team in the up-and-down Atlantic).

Check out the logjam at second-to-last in the competitive Central for Chicago, as of this writing, with these three teams all at 21 games played:

Dallas Stars: 11-9-1, 23 points
Blackhawks: 10-8-3, 23 points
Minnesota Wild: 10-8-3, 23 points

It has to be a little frustrating for the Blackhawks to see a two-goal lead dissolve, but plenty of teams would struggle to secure such an edge against the powerhouse Lightning. Maybe the Blackhawks will gain some confidence in merely sticking with them (and grabbing a point for their troubles).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Much-needed response from Oilers vs. Red Wings

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One win can’t cleanse the palate of a bitter 21-game start, but beggars can’t be choosers, and the Edmonton Oilers really needed a W tonight.

That’s not to say it would be easy, either, as they faced a rested Red Wings team in Detroit to close off a back-to-back after Tuesday’s humiliating loss to the St. Louis Blues. Edmonton got that sorely needed response, chasing Jimmy Howard and beating the Red Wings 6-2.

While Connor McDavid (two assists) and Leon Draisaitl (one helper) made their typical impacts, it’s especially heartening for the Oilers to see less-obvious names show up in the box score. Jesse Puljujarvi, Jujhar Khaira, Mark Letestu, and Drake Caggiula ranked among goalscorers, while Ryan Strome collected a pair of assists.

Any bit of confidence gained, particularly for supporting cast members, could be very important for the fledgling Oilers.

It doesn’t take long to ruin the party; now at 8-12-2, the Oilers’ 18 standings points still leave them at second-worst in the West.

Still, all the Oilers can do right now is gradually, slowly dig themselves out of the troubling hole they’ve created for themselves. This won’t be easy, and even this early on, they might need a few other teams to hit a wall.

But, hey, it’s better than the nothing this team showed last night, right?

Catch up on Edmonton’s struggles

Why they’re the NHL’s most disappointing team

The uncomfortable parallels between McDavid and Jack Eichel

These struggles are the results of some bad moves from Peter Chiarelli

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.