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.

Hurricanes sign Teravainen to a five-year, $27 million extension

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The Carolina Hurricanes don’t have many forwards under contract next season, but they managed to secure one more on Monday, as they signed Teuvo Teravainen to a five-year, $27 million contract extension ($5.4 million AAV).

The 24-year-old is currently second on the team in points, with 39. He also finished second on the team in scoring last year, when he amassed 64 points in 82 games.

“Teuvo has improved every year of his NHL career and has established himself as a cornerstone forward for the Hurricanes now and into the future,” president and general manager Don Waddell said in a release. “He has shown that he is capable of adapting and expanding his role with our team, becoming a key penalty killer for Rod this season. He’s still just 24 years old and we believe he will only continue to grow as a player.”

Teravainen was set to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

This signing is a no-brainer for the Hurricanes, especially because Teravainen has been productive and they’re lacking it the scoring department. He’s improved his point production in each of the last three seasons and he’s on pace to surpass last year’s point total, too.

The ‘Canes now have Teravainen, Nino Niederreiter, Andrei Svechnikov, Warren Foegele and Lucas Wallmark as forwards under contract next season.

Carolina will now turn their attention to Micheal Ferland, who is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. Ferland is reportedly looking for a long-term deal that would pay him $6 million per season. Even though he hasn’t been as productive as Teravainen, Ferland has more leverage because he’s eligible to hit the open market.

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Blues look to keep rolling against lowly Kings

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between theSt. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Blues’ season appeared to be over. They weren’t scoring much, they couldn’t get a save and the losses just kept piling up. But since the start of January, they’ve managed to get their season back on the rails. Things started to change for the Blues when they inserted rookie goalie Jordan Binnington into their lineup.

Binnington has allowed two goals or fewer in each of his five decisions. He gave up two goals on 30 shots in Saturday’s victory over the Ottawa Senators. Even though the 25-year-old’s been rolling, it sounds like interim head coach Craig Berube will continue to use Binnington and veteran Jake Allen.

“I’m going to use both of them right now. I truly believe that’s the way to go,” Berube said. “Then we’ve got the break coming up and it gets really busy again, so we’ll need both of them ready.”

Since the start of the new year, the Blues have gone 6-3-1. This recent surge has allowed St. Louis to pull within five points of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

David Perron, who missed Saturday’s game against Ottawa, has been red-hot of late. Before getting hurt, Perron picked up at least one point in 13 consecutive games. The 30-year-old has 17 goals and 35 points in 45 contests.

Another player that’s turned his season around, is Vladimir Tarasenko. The 27-year-old is having a down year, but he’s been relatively productive over the last nine games, as he’s picked up eight points during that stretch.

As for the Kings, they’re currently in last place in the NHL standings. Los Angeles is coming off an embarrassing 7-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

“It was just a pathetic second period,” defenseman Drew Doughty said after the loss. “I really don’t even know what to say. Yeah, they played well but we just played poor. And we left our goalies out to dry again. And we’re sick of doing that. When we win games, we leave them out to dry. When we lose games, we leave them out to dry. It’s about time we play for them.”

The Kings have picked up just 42 points in 49 games this season. Since the start of the month, the Kings have gone 1-3-1 on the road, but they’re 2-2-0 at home. Even though they’re in the basement of the West, they’re still “only” 10 points back of the final Wild Card spot. By comparison, the Detroit Red Wings, who are last in the East, are 15 points back of the final Wild Card spot in their conference.

But let’s be honest, there’s no way the Kings can overcome a 10-point deficit. On top of being 10 points out, they’d have to leap over seven teams to make the postseason. That’s not happening.

You have to think that they have a full rebuild coming in their future.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Ideal Stanley Cup matchups; trade deadline preview

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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.

Dougie Hamilton has heard all the stories about why he was traded by the Calgary Flames, but he’s not letting that get to him. (Calgary Sun)

• A special needs hockey team got to play their first game at Gila River Arena in Arizona last week. (Fox10Phoenix.com)

• The NHL has gotten faster over the last few years, so players are turning to weight loss and nutrition to succeed. (NHL.com)

• The Hockey News breaks down 10 Stanley Cup matchups that they’d like to see this spring. (The Hockey News)

• Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck has proved so many people wrong on his journey to the NHL. He’s become one of the best goalies in the league. (Sportsnet)

• The Columbus Blue Jackets are a fun team to watch. (The Cannon)

• What’s an empty-calorie scorer? Raw Charge explains and identifies which scorers don’t really help their teams win all that much. (Raw Charge)

• ESPN previews what each of the 31 teams might do at next month’s trade deadline. (ESPN)

Braydon Coburn got to meet NASCAR driver Aric Almirola. (Tampa Times)

• What does Colin Miller‘s return to the Vegas lineup mean for the team? (SinBin.Vegas)

• A lot of the high-profile teams in the NHL haven’t been very good this season. (USA Today)

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: Toews powers Blackhawks, Petterson’s return, first place Isles

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Three Stars

1. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks. The Chicago Blackhawks are having an awful season, which has to be even more frustrating for them when you consider their superstars up front have been great all year. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane continued that on Sunday as both had five points in an 8-5 win over the Washington Capitals, continuing what has been one of the best individual seasons for Toews offensively in his career. Those five points for Toews included a hat trick. Just a shame for the Blackhawks it all happening during a season when everything around the top players has gone away.

2. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks. Elias Pettersson has been a franchise-changing player for the Vancouver Canucks and has been one of the biggest reasons they are still in the Western Conference playoff race. He returned from injury on Sunday after missing more than two weeks and tallied two points, including his 23rd goal of the season early in the first period to open the scoring. He also assisted on the game-tying goal mid-way through the third period.  He is rolling toward the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year and nobody is even close him in this rookie class.

3. Cal Clutterbuck, New York Islanders. The New York Islanders remained in first place thanks to their win over the Anaheim Ducks and the Washington Capitals’ loss to the Blackhawks on Sunday. They are not only in first place, but they actually have a three-point lead over the rest of the pack and are top-five team in the league in total points in the standings. They have now won five games in a row and 15 of their past 18. Cal Clutterbuck had the big game for the Islanders on Sunday with a pair of first period goals.

Highlights of the Night

It took Nino Niederreiter just 30 seconds to score his first goal as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday night. Then he scored another later in the period as the Hurricanes went on to rout the Edmonton Oilers.

It was not a great game for goalies in Chicago on Sunday afternoon, but we do need to give some love to these two saves by Blackhawks goalie Collin Delia.

Robin Lehner stopped all 19 shots he faced for the now first-place New York Islanders.

Factoids

  • Darcy Kuemper is one of four goalies without a regular loss since the start of the new calendar year. He improved to 5-0-2 since Jan. 1 with the Arizona Coyotes’ win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday evening. [NHL PR]
  • Nino Niederreiter’s two goals on Sunday were more than Victor Rask, the player he was traded for this past week, scored for the Carolina Hurricanes all season. [@SaraCivian]
  • Andrei Svechnikov recorded his 20th point of the season on Sunday night, making him one of four players from the 2018 NHL draft class to have already hit that mark this season. [NHL PR]

Chicago Blackhawks 8, Washington Capitals 5

New York Islanders 3, Anaheim Ducks 2

Vancouver Canucks 3, Detroit Red Wings 2

Arizona Coyotes 4, Toronto Maple Leafs 2

Carolina Hurricanes 7, Edmonton Oilers 4

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.