Report: Richards, Niskanen among targets for ‘aggressive’ Isles

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Garth Snow’s busy summer isn’t slowing down.

Having already made a pair of big moves by acquiring Jaroslav Halak’s and Dan Boyle’s negotiating rights — the former worked out, the latter didn’t — Snow is reportedly working the phones hard in the early stages of the UFA contact period.

Richards, who became an unrestricted free agent just a few days ago following his buyout from the Rangers, is coming off a solid-if-unspectacular campaign in which he finished third among all Blueshirts skaters with 20 goals and 51 points. While the 34-year-old was a lightning rod for criticism given his $6.6 million cap hit, Richards will generate interest at a lower price point.

Niskanen, arguably the top UFA defenseman available on the open market, is coming off a career-best 46 points. Given he’s only 27 years old and a right-handed shot, it’s expected there will be a large line of suitors looking to secure his services, and that Niskanen’s in line for a big bump (having made $2.3 million annually on his last deal.)

Regardless of what money Richards and Niskanen will command, it’s not surprising to hear Snow wants in on them and other impact UFAs as well. By keeping this year’s fifth overall pick and forwarding next year’s first-rounder to Buffalo (from the Thomas Vanek deal), Snow runs the risk of giving away a potential lottery ticket to the Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel sweepstakes in ’15 should the Isles finish out of the playoffs. Having a good year is critically important.

What’s more, Snow and the Isles are at a crossroad. Are they more like the team that rallied to make the playoffs in 2013 and pushed Pittsburgh in a lively opening-round series? Or are they more the team that finished 26th in the NHL last year with a minus-42 goal differential? This upcoming campaign is an opportunity to find and, not coincidentally, the final season before the Isles move to Brooklyn.

It’s also worth noting that, while they’re not a spend-to-the-cap team, the Isles are $27 million away from the ceiling…and Snow has been given the green light to make aggressive moves in the past.