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.