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With the Dallas Stars continuing to slide in the Pacific Division and Western Conference standings, Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun debate what GM Joe Nieuwendyk will do with Brad Richards:
Burnside: Well, there was another night of shifting playoff fortunes in the NHL and tremors across the trade landscape. A minor trade late last night saw Montreal reacquire defenseman Paul Mara from Anaheim for a 2012 fifth-round pick, a depth move for the Habs. Mara hasn't played in a month, but did play well in Montreal before a shoulder injury ended his 2009-10 season.
But the Dallas Stars lost again Wednesday night (4-2 to Calgary) and lost ground to Los Angeles and Chicago, both of whom picked up victories. The Stars once looked invincible at the top of the Pacific Division, but they are now just a single point out of ninth place.
Frankly, I don't like their chances, and I'm sure these are difficult days for GM Joe Nieuwendyk, who arguably has the most sought-after trade-deadline asset in center Brad Richards. You and I talked yesterday about how the trade market hasn't been set for a pure rental. Richards can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and teams like Boston, Los Angeles, the New York Rangers and perhaps Montreal would pay through the nose for a player with Richards' pedigree.
LeBrun: The Stars' collapse has put Richards right back in play, in my opinion. Richards is out right now (undisclosed injury), but Nieuwendyk told me Wednesday there was hope he might be ready to return next week. As to whether the GM would possibly trade Richards, who controls his fate with a no-movement clause, Nieuwendyk was obviously careful with what he told me.
"Brad and I are on the same page," Nieuwendyk told ESPN.com. "Our intention all along has been to sign Brad, [but] we're leaving all our options open."
I don't think there's any question Nieuwendyk must put the future of the franchise ahead of this season's short-term goals, especially with the team fading so badly. He's done a terrific job of getting this team younger and better since he's taken over. Now comes his biggest test. There is word that progress is being made in finding the Stars a new owner, but it's too late in the game when it comes to Richards.
The Bruins have interest after losing Marc Savard for the season. I think the Kings do, as well. They had considered Richards a non-option for most of the season because of the Stars' first-place standing, but now all bets are off. Los Angeles is intrigued by Edmonton winger Ales Hemsky, but Richards would have the bigger short-term impact. The Rangers would covet Richards July 1 via free agency, but I'm not convinced they would make a play now, given the assets it would take to acquire him.
Burnside: Well, the dynamics are a little different than a week or two ago, when we first saw pre-emptive deals being made by teams like Anaheim and Nashville. I agree -- the Stars need to look to the future even if they do sneak into the playoffs. Both Carolina and the Rangers have stumbled of late and neither is guaranteed a playoff berth.
I had some communication with Carolina GM Jim Rutherford before his team lost to New Jersey 3-2 on Wednesday; there was nothing new on defenseman Ian White, but I'd be shocked if he doesn't move. The dilemma for Rutherford is Joni Pitkanen, who is among the top-skating defensemen potentially available by the Feb. 28 trade deadline and could be attractive to a team like San Jose or Boston pending the Tomas Kaberle situation. With the Canes so close to making the playoffs, it might be worth the risk of losing him on July 1 to keep him beyond the trade deadline.
But back to Richards for a moment. I think it would be a huge step backward for the Rangers to trade off some of their good young players -- players who have really driven the bus for the team all season. But what about a team like Toronto? Would the Leafs be interested in Richards as a free agent? They are suddenly -- no, shockingly -- just six points out of eighth in a very soft conference. Does GM Brian Burke have enough assets to pry Richards away from his old pal Nieuwendyk?
LeBrun: Leafs Nation flooded Twitter en masse after last night's big 2-1 win against Buffalo. Hey, you never know. There is no question Burke would go after Richards come July 1. Your question, however, is would he try now? I think it's a risky move unless you're pretty sure Richards is willing to sign past this season. At this point, I don't see why Richards and veteran agent Pat Morris of Newport Sports would forgo July 1, not with Richards being such a cut above the free-agent crop and in the best position of his career to cash in.
Moving on, I mentioned the Sabres losing at home to the rival Leafs -- that one hurt. But the Sabres are still only two points out with two games in hand on most of the competition, and judging from their play over the past month, they are still the best club among those bubble teams. I texted Sabres GM Darcy Regier yesterday and asked him if his team's run has changed his stance for Feb. 28.
"It does a little. But not looking for rentals, prefer long-term view,'' Regier texted back.
Burnside: The Sabres have never been known as a "go for it" team, especially around the deadline. The team's conservative approach to personnel may have been why there has been such unrest in Queen City the past couple of seasons. Despite new ownership waiting in the wings, I doubt the Sabres will change their identity in the next week and a half.
Of all the teams that may be looking to make a big splash, Boston GM Peter Chiarelli is in the best position with the Leafs' first-round pick to dangle (although the Leafs' winning ways makes it less a certainty that pick will be a lottery pick). The Kings have said they won't deal Brayden Schenn, but they have plenty of assets the Stars would like moving forward. If it gets into a bidding war, Nieuwendyk will come out a winner over the long term. The team that ends up with Richards could take a big step forward in the playoffs. My gut says Boston goes all out and goes after Richards. What's your gut tell you?
LeBrun: I think the Bruins are the most aggressive right now in their willingness to add to their roster. They've got the assets to do it. If Richards does move, and there's still no guarantee he will, I think the B's would win that bid.
Before we go, I'll quickly touch on the Red Wings, who tonight face their old pal Steve Yzerman in Tampa Bay tonight. I had a chat with Wings GM Ken Holland a few days ago, and while he keeps his cards close to his vest, I don't see him being very active at the trade deadline, not unless Chris Osgood regresses in his rehab between now and Feb. 28. The Wings are getting Brad Stuart back tonight and look forward to Mike Modano returning sometime next month. Just getting healthy again will be their big moves. Until tomorrow!