Brad Richards is in the final year of his contract and has 25 points through 19 games. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
The Dallas Stars flew into Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs this week, spurring the Hogtown media to speculate about the future of top center Brad Richards.
It started Sunday, when the Toronto Sun reported the Maple Leafs and New York Rangers were rumored to have interest in Richards.
Richards is facing an uncertain future with Dallas given his eligibility for unrestricted free agency next summer.
Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk would love to start talking extension with the Richards camp, but the club is seeking new ownership and Nieuwendyk can’t start negotiations until that’s resolved.
It’s a frustrating situation for both sides, but Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reported Nieuwendyk has maintained dialogue with Richards and his agent. Heika speculated a Richards extension could be “in the ballpark” of a seven-year deal worth $7 million per season.
Richards acknowledged the situation, saying he’s discussed it with Nieuwendyk and maintained his current focus is on the Stars. Richards admitted that, “when the time comes, if that’s an option, Toronto’s always a No. 1 hockey destination,” but quickly added they’re “not even close to that bridge yet.”
TSN’s Bob McKenzie believes Richards won’t be moving for the time being, but the closer the Stars get to the Feb. 28 trade deadline without re-signing Richards, the greater the chance he’ll be shopped.
Not everyone believes Richards will end up with Toronto, though. McKenzie’s colleague Darren Dreger believes the Rangers would be the likely destination, while Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox wrote the Stars’ asking price (young players, draft picks and prospects) would prove too expensive for the Leafs.
Cox also suggested the Leafs would lose out in the free agent bidding war for Richards, even though they would have the cap space to sign him. Other clubs are more likely to step up with more lucrative front-loaded deals, which Leafs GM Brian Burke is very much against.
Of course, it’s far too early to speculate if Richards will be traded or which club would win a bidding war for his services via next summer’s free agent market.
The Stars would likely try to move Richards if they haven’t re-signed him by the trade deadline, but if they’re still in the Western Conference playoff race it would make more sense to hang on to him.
The Stars may also have new ownership in place by February, which may want Richards as the cornerstone of the franchise, rendering all this November trade speculation meaningless.
As an aside, the Sun report also mentioned Richards’ fellow Stars center Mike Ribeiro as a trade target for the Leafs.
However, Ribeiro’s still under contract for two more seasons at $5 million per and carries a limited no-trade clause, so he’s unlikely to be shopped anytime soon.
THE FUTURE OF JOHN TAVARES
It’s been an ugly start to the season for the New York Islanders.
They’re stuck in a 13-game winless skid, fired their coach, attracted media scorn for pulling popular blogger Chris Botta’s media credentials and continue to face an uncertain future on Long Island.
The Islanders also haven’t won a playoff series since 1993, which Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun cited as “just one of the many reasons” he believes John Tavares will refuse to re-sign with them after next season.
One shouldn’t be too quick to assume that, though.
During Tavares’ final year in the Ontario League, Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun suggested the young star would refuse to report to the Islanders if they selected him first overall at the 2009 draft.
Agent Pat Brisson swiftly denied it and Tavares happily joined the Islanders a few months later.
While the club is currently going through a difficult period, there’s been no hint from the Tavares camp he’ll refuse to re-sign when his entry level contract ends July 1, 2012.
It’s far too early to start speculating over Tavares’ future with the Islanders, but if - for argument’s sake - he did want out of Long Island, the easiest route would be to sign an offer sheet from a rival team that’s too expensive for the Isles to match.
Yes, the current collective bargaining agreement expires in September of 2012, but if a new CBA is in place by then and Tavares is still unsigned, it’s a good bet several teams would be willing to swoop in with a lucrative offer.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.