Tuesday, June 28, 2011



Every summer, the start of the NHL's free agency period revolves around one name, and this year it's Dallas' Brad Richards.

Richards will be far and away the best talent available when deep-pocketed clubs look to give their rosters a jolt Friday. At age 31, coming off a season in which he scored 28 goals in 72 games with the Stars, the center could command $8 million a season.

After Dallas announced that it could not re-sign Richards because the team is for sale, the Stars attempted to trade away his negotiating rights, but he would not waive his no-trade clause and thus will become an unrestricted free agent.

The New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Los Angeles Kings were at one point considered potential destinations, but with the salary cap rising $5 million to $64.3 million in 2011-12, there could be other suitors. The Kings may no longer be interested now that they have picked up Mike Richards from Philadelphia.

A year ago, Ilya Kovalchuk was the NHL's hot ticket free agent, and the story played out like a soap opera. If you recall the price was so high that everyone dropped out of the running and New Jersey was bidding against themselves.

Clearly the Maple Leafs’ greatest need is a first line centre to set up their top sniper, Phil Kessel. Richards is just what they need but Brian Burke has avoided long, front-loaded contracts, what Richards will be looking for. Perhaps his attitude has changed after seeing a number of players with big contracts moved. But Richards has a history with Ranger coach John Tortorella which goes back to when Tampa Bay won their only Stanley Cup. However the Rangers have been burned by big free agent contracts in the past and may be a little gun shy.

If the Leafs cannot sign Richards then to realistically compete next season Burke will need to move some of their limited talent for a top centre. For example, the Flyers were supposedly asking for Nazem Kadri and Nikolai Kulemin for Mike Richards.

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