Brad Richards had 77 points in 72 games for Dallas last season. (Getty Images)
With the NHL Entry Draft now history and unrestricted free agency starting July 1, focus is shifting once again to Dallas Stars center Brad Richards, who will unquestionably be the biggest name available.
The New York Daily News recently reported sources who claimed the Rangers intend to make an all-out effort to sign Richards on July 1.
They won't be alone, as the report suggested the Toronto Maple Leafs and possibly the Tampa Bay Lightning - Richards' former team - are potential bidders.
The Lightning already have big money tied up in Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St-Louis and are intent on re-signing center Steven Stamkos. It appears unlikely they'll be bidding for Richards.
The Leafs definitely need a first line center and Richards would certainly fill that role, but a recent report in the Toronto Sun suggested the term and dollar amount it will take to get Richards will make signing him a reach.
Internet speculation suggested the Buffalo Sabres as a potential “dark horse” in the race. They have more than $12 million in available cap space and a new owner willing to spend, but it remains to be seen if he would want to come to Buffalo.
The Florida Panthers have also been brought up as another potential bidder. Despite adding Brian Campbell's huge salary during the entry draft, the Panthers still have roughly $26 million of cap space to spend in order to get above the minimum cap limit of $48.3 million for next season and could use a first line center like Richards.
However, it's believed Richards would prefer to join a playoff contender with stable ownership, which would take the Panthers out of the running.
As things stand now, the Rangers have to be considered the front-runners for Richards.
WISNIEWSKI TO THE WINGS?
The Montreal Canadiens recent re-signing of defenseman Andrei Markov has Habs followers wondering if James Wisniewski will also be re-signed before July 1.
Wisniewski joined the Canadiens midway through this past season after Markov was sidelined for the year with a knee injury and quickly became a fan favorite with his big shot and physical style.
The Montreal Gazette recently reported the increase of the salary cap to $64.3 million will give the Habs enough money to re-sign Wisniewski or Roman Hamrlik, but it's believed the club had opened talks with the latter.
If Wisniewski hits the open market on July 1 he probably won't be unsigned for long. The Detroit News recently suggested he will be a target for the Red Wings, who intend to use the free agent market to find a replacement for retired defenseman Brian Rafalski.
HURRICANES CONTINUE TALKS WITH PENDINGS UFAs
It appears talk the Carolina Hurricanes would definitely lose defenseman Joni Pitkanen and forwards Jussi Jokinen, Erik Cole and Chad LaRose to the UFA market was premature.
Earlier this month, Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford suggested Pitkanen and Jokinen were likely to hit the open market, while suggesting talks with Cole and LaRose were tougher than he expected.
But over the weekend, Rutherford told the Raleigh News & Observer there had been significant improvement in talks with Pitkanen and Jokinen, to the point where it was possible an announcement on their re-signings could be made as early as Monday.
Rutherford remains hopeful of getting Cole and LaRose inked by July 1 as well.
Perhaps one reason for the improvement in talks is the increase in the salary cap floor. The Hurricanes presently have a little more than $31 million invested in 12 players next season, leaving them to spend more than $17 million just to get above the cap minimum.
Re-signing Pitkanen would also remove a valuable defenseman from the UFA market. He put up 35 points last season, which was second on the Hurricanes, and at 27, is entering his prime.
SHELDON SOURAY BEING SHOPPED
The Chicago Blackhawks trading overpaid blueliner Brian Campbell inspired Edmonton Oilers management to shop Sheldon Souray during the draft, but they found no takers.
While Souray has only one year remaining on his contract, at a more affordable cap hit than Campbell ($5.4 million), age and injury have caught up with him. The Oilers might try to shop him again, but it's expected they'll buy him out by the June 30 buyout deadline rather than try to bury him in the minors for another season.
TALBOT SET TO TEST FREE AGENT WATERS
It appears center Maxime Talbot's days with the Pittsburgh Penguins are coming to a close.
Penguins GM Ray Shero told The Sporting News Talbot had recently rejected a three-year contract offer and appeared headed to free agency on July 1.
The popular Talbot will be remembered fondly by Penguins fans for his energetic style, care-free attitude and scoring the only two goals in the Penguins’ 2-1 Game 7 victory over the Detroit Red Wings in the 2009 Stanley Cup final.
He won't go unsigned for long. Players of Talbot's caliber tend to draw considerable attention in the UFA market as much for their affordability as for their skills and experience.
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 News.