Five best destinations Brad Richards could wind up during free agency frenzy

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So just where is Brad Richards going to wind up when the free agent semi-frenzy kicks off at noon? The former Conn Smythe Trophy winner with the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning and now former Dallas Star is the most desired free agent this summer. Unlike last year when Ilya Kovalchuk was the main squeeze and he had basically two suitors in the Kings and Devils, the field to go after Richards is a bit bigger.

With teams having a bit more cap space or more need to spend big bucks thanks to the jump in the salary cap and salary floor, targeting Richards is the “in” thing to do this year. With some teams in desperate need for a playmaker or first line center, Richards at 31 years-old and a proven point producer he fits the bill for a lot of teams… But who? We’ve got a list of the five teams (in order of likelihood) we think stand the best shot at landing Richards come noontime.

1. New York Rangers
Why wouldn’t it be the Rangers? His former coach from the Lightning is there in John Tortorella, the Rangers have a burning need for a #1 center and playmaker, and the Rangers have been lusting after him since the trade deadline. Richards in New York makes a world of sense for them and they obviously don’t fear coughing up a monster contract to land him.

That said, the Rangers recent history in going after top centers isn’t so hot. They just bought out their most recent savior at center in Chris Drury and they traded Scott Gomez away two summers ago after he failed to live up to expectations. Drury’s example is one the Rangers should take particular care to look at as he too was 31 when he signed with the Rangers. The big production he had with Buffalo dropped off in a hurry. While that could be in the back of their heads, the possibility of seeing Richards feed Marian Gaborik endless feeds for goals is more on the mind of GM Glen Sather and we can’t fault him for that.

2. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs also are in need of a true first line center and they’ve got a couple of fun scorers that would benefit from Richards’ passes in Nikolai Kulemin and Phil Kessel. While Mikhail Grabovski is a fine center in his own right, getting Richards in there to spark those two would give Toronto a top line to fear and deepen the team considerably.

The issue for Richards might be in having to play in the hyper-crazy hockey market that is Toronto. With the pressure and demands that come with playing hockey in Toronto, the stress of trying to lead the Leafs back to the playoffs might be a bit too much for a calm and cool character like Richards. If he does go to Toronto, watching him operate in the fishbowl that is Toronto will prove to be a fascinating study. If money is a big motivator for Richards, Toronto could be his landing spot as the Leafs have enough cap space to burn to get him with as CapGeek points out they’ve got nearly $18 million left under the cap.

3. Buffalo Sabres
Yeah, we’re still thinking the Sabres are going to make Richards an offer and we still think that Buffalo is a team he should strongly consider. If Richards is looking for a major league payday, then Buffalo may not be the place to go. After bringing Robyn Regehr aboard via trade and then signing Christian Ehrhoff to a ridiculous 10-year, $40 million deal, according to CapGeek the Sabres are left with just over $7 million in salary cap space for next year with only 17 players signed and a need to lock up a backup goalie.

Of course, Terry Pegula has done wonders to sell Buffalo to both Regehr and Ehrhoff and if he can do that why not sell it to Brad Richards too? He can point out a spot on Buffalo’s first line playing alongside Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville or also teaming up with 30-goal scorer Drew Stafford and rising offensive player Tyler Ennis as well as a healthy Derek Roy. That looks pretty good and we’d think Richards would like that as well as the undying support the Sabres get at home.

4. Tampa Bay Lightning
All right so this is a bit of a reach. The Lightning are busy trying to get Steve Stamkos locked up to a long term deal and while there’s all sorts of nonsensical talk that a team will swoop in and try to poach Stamkos with an offer sheet, the lure of Richards going back to Tampa Bay has to be intriguing. Richards used to play for the Lightning and still calls the city his home. Now that Jeff Vinnik is in place as the owner and Steve Yzerman is there as the GM with Guy Boucher as the head coach, things are a lot more stable with the Lightning than they were when Richards was dealt away.

While it’s 98% likely that Stamkos will be back in Tampa, the possibility that Richards would take a sweetheart deal to play alongside his old pals in Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis to join up with those guys and Stamkos might be intriguing enough to bring him back. It’d give the Lightning a wealth of riches and a glut of top of the line centermen to figure out how to use, but having the Lightning bringing an All-Star team to the rink every night would be awfully fun.

5. Washington Capitals
We’ve played this dark horse card before a month ago when we looked at things and we’re sticking by it now. The Caps are letting Jason Arnott go to free agency and that clears out a spot for another top center. The Caps are going into today’s free agent party with a lot of cap room and a need for another playmaking center. Being able to march into battle each night with both Nicklas Backstrom and Brad Richards would give the Caps the two-pronged attack up the middle they’ve never had.

While guys like Arnott and Brendan Morrison in the past did OK, Richards would be the perfect kind of guy to either plug in next to Alex Ovechkin or Alex Semin to help spur them to huge offensive seasons. The team needs to find a way to keep Semin motivated all year and a competitor like Richards would be ideal in that role.

The Caps and GM George McPhee aren’t really huge splash makers on free agency day and they do have other areas to tend to (defense for instance) but grabbing Richards would send the message that the Caps are deadly serious about winning the Stanley Cup. If you’re worried about the money, the Caps are under the salary cap by about $10 million according to CapGeek. If your choices for a second center are Brad Richards or Marcus Johansson who would you be more comfortable with in chasing after the Cup? Exactly.

PHT Morning Skate: Eastern Conference team needs; Ovechkin’s interesting bye week

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Up top, check out the highlights from the Islanders’ big overtime win over the Canadiens.

• TSN’s Frank Seravalli breaks down each Eastern Conference team’s needs. Some need help for their playoff push, while others need to maximize their lottery odds. (TSN.ca)

Alex Ovechkin has been keeping busy during the Capitals bye week. He fed seagulls and lied down on a bed at Bed Bath and Beyond. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• The Chicago Blackhawks are dealing with an identity crisis and they need to straighten it out right away. (Blackhawk Up)

• Here are four positives from the first half of the season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Editor in Leaf)

• Former Blues owner Mike Shanahan passed away at the age of 78. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• The Buffalo Sabres haven’t had a lot of things go their way this season, but Casey Mittelstadt’s performance at the World Junior Championship was positive enough. (Associated Press)

• Claude Julien will head to Boston for the first time since being fired last February. It should be an interesting. “I’m looking forward to it, but I’ll also be happy when it’s over.” (NHL.com)

• With Semyon Varlamov on the shelf for the next two weeks, the Avs don’t need to trade for a goalie because Jonathan Bernier is rolling. (Denver Post)

• Even the most hardcore of Ducks fans realizes that the NHL got it right when they Andrew Cogliano a two-game suspension. (Anaheim Calling)

• The Predators’ schedule sets up pretty well between now and the end of the regular season. (Predlines)

• Wild captain Mikko Koivu hasn’t been as productive as he was last year, but that doesn’t mean he’s having a bad season. (Hockey Wilderness)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Tavares gets back to scoring ways

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Players of the Night: 

Jonathan Bernier, Colorado Avalanche: Bernier made quite the save on Ryan Kesler, using his paddle to stop a backhand shot after sprawling across his crease in an attempt of desperation. He also stopped 33 pucks and won his sixth straight game in the process.

Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks: Jones made 29 out of 30 saves in the second and third periods in a 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings. His 35-save effort was a nice rebound after allowing three goals on six shots and getting yanked on Saturday.

John Tavares, New York Islanders: Tavares scored a shorty in regulation on an unassisted breakaway and then the game-winner in overtime to lead the Isles past the Habs in Montreal.

Highlights of the Night:

Tyler Seguin provided some matinee magic with this overtime winner in Boston. What a goal:

Bernier made this incredible paddle save on a poor Ryan Kesler:

MISC:

Scores:

Stars 3, Bruins 2 (OT)

Avalanche 3, Ducks 1

Sharks 4, Kings 1

Islanders 5, Canadiens 4 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Barzal, Tavares shine as Islanders edge Canadiens 5-4 in overtime

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The scary thing about Mathew Barzal is that he may just be gaining steam.

Any time the New York Islanders play these days, it turns into Barzal Watch (in the Twitter world: #BarzalWatch). Even if the Islanders had plummeted as of late with five losses in their past six games heading into Monday, many are just tuning in to see what the dynamic rookie is going to do.

Indeed, Barzal has been lights this season, with 44 points in 44 games prior to Monday and coming off the buzz of a five-point game on Saturday — the second time he’s done that this season.

But John Tavares, who had just one goal in nine games coming into Monday, stole some of that spotlight back with a shorthanded goal in regulation and then the game-winner in overtime in a 5-4 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.

Tavares second of the game came 1:51 into over time and after Carey Price made quite the save to stop a redirected attempt by Tavares just before the latter scored the winner.

Barzal was at it again early in the first period as the Islanders jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead.

Barzal fed Anthony Beauvillier with a nice lead pass and the latter ripped home his eighth of the season just down the road from where he grew up in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, beating Carey Price with New York’s first shot of the game.

It was Barzal’s 30th assist of the season and he followed that up with his 16th goal of the year on the Islanders just over five minutes later for the two-goal advantage. Barzal finished with three points and now has 10 in his past three games.

The Canadiens entered the game 2-0-1 in their past three games but were without Phillip Danault due to a puck to the head on Saturday and Andrew Shaw, who was injured in the same game.

Despite their recent success, things looked grim early on, with Price allowing two goals on four shots.

The Hab battled back, first by forcing a turnover in New York’s zone, allowing Jakub Jerabek to quickly find a wide open Nicolas Deslauriers out front to make it 2-1.

Another defensive breakdown by the Isles led to the tying goal as Paul Byron snatched his 12th of the year on a rebound.

Barzal grabbed his third point of the night early in the second period as the Isles restored the lead with Adam Pelech‘s first of the season at 2:37. And the Islanders led by two for the second time as John Tavares scored shorthanded 1:59 later on New York’s 10th shot.

The Canadiens, down two again, needed a second comeback and they put it together beginning with Jonathan Drouin‘s marker with 34 seconds left in the second period.

Montreal completed the comeback on the power play in the third, with Max Pacioretty scoring his 14th at 13:01.

Andrew Cogliano chokes up talking about the end of his iron-man streak

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An emotional Andrew Cogliano said having his iron-man streak ended by suspension was a “tough pill to swallow.”

Speaking to Fox Sports’ Kent French prior to the Anaheim Ducks 3-1 loss against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, Cogliano choked up when asked about how tough the past 24 hours had been like for him.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow, I’m not going to lie,” Cogliano said, fighting back tears. “I’ve played hard and I’ve battled. I’m a professional in that I’ve played a long time and I’ve now missed a game.”

Cogliano was suspended Sunday for two games following an illegal check to the head of Los Angeles Kings forward Adrian Kempe in a 4-2 Ducks win on Saturday.

The ban ended the NHL’s fourth-longest games played streak at 830 games for Cogliano, who had never missed action in his 11-year NHL career before Monday.

Cogliano was a 134 games shy of Doug Jarvis’ record of 964 consecutive games played, which the Ducks forward would have reached at the start of the 2019-2020 if he remained healthy.

“First and foremost I think, I probably initiated contact too late,” Cogliano said. “I’ve been very open about that with this process, and I made a mistake at that time.

“As I think about the hit though, I watch it and I still see that my body doesn’t change through the process of it. I think my shoulders are low, my elbows are low, my knees are bent and I’m in a pretty set position. As it evolves, he tries to make a play back across my body, which ends up maybe initiating some head contact near my upper back area. That’s what I see. I think there’s no injury, he came back and played. At the end of the day from what I’ve seen, it is a situation where we closed the gap on each other a little bit.”

Despite the hit, which clearly showed Cogliano nail Kempe in the head well after the puck had left the vicinity, Cogliano was surprised about hearing he was going to have a chat with the league.

“I was told after the game from Bob [Murray] that I was going to have a hearing or have a call,” Cogliano said. “I was surprised because no one said anything after the game to me otherwise. There was no media talking about it or nothing was brought up, so I was more surprised about that. Initially, I was thinking back on it, wondering what happened and wondering if I did anything bad.

“Obviously, you never want to injure anyone on the ice. That’s a fact. I’ve played 11 years and that’s one thing that I have stood behind and I’m glad he played the rest the game. From my end, there’s zero intent to do any sort of head contact or hit a person to injure them. I think it was a situation where I admitted to initiating contact too late and I think it was something that happened that ended up being very unfortunate for me.”

Cogliano said his teammates, and at least one Ducks legend, have offered their support.

“I’m probably being too dramatic about it. I’m sorry my emotions came out for whatever reason. I have had a lot of support.” Cogliano said. “I think there has been a lot of people that have reached out and initiated that I have done something special. The more I look back on it, it’s pretty cool. I think that playing 830 games in a row, not a lot of guys can say that and I think that’s something that I will hold to my heart.

“I appreciate all the texts. [Teemu] Selanne has been a big advocate in terms of reaching out. I may be making too big a deal of it, but I think when you go through the process and think back about coming to work and playing every single game for 11 straight years, it holds some value and holds some value to a lot of the guys in the league. Like I said, this is the last way I wanted it to go out. I’m glad he wasn’t injured and I’ll take the suspension, move on and come back and help my team.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck