Gauging Brad Richards' Availability

The Dallas Stars’ tenebrous ownership situation and the club’s indeterminate performance thus far in 2010-11 have called into question long-term status of Brad Richards in a Stars uniform.  Richards is in the final season of a deal that sees him come in at a cap hit of $7.8 million, and he’s been delivering on that lofty investment by sitting tied at sixth in NHL scoring with 24 points in 18 games.

With reports of Tom Hicks setting an internal budget far below the NHL’s salary cap, the chances of the Stars re-signing Richards are becoming less likely.  Fans of the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs have been drooling at the prospect of their team landing the prized centre, but to this point it’s merely speculation.  TSN’s Darren Dreger acknowledged the potential Manhattan scenario on Twitter, but the financial implications could impede any plans for the Rangers to acquire Richards.

According to CapGeek, the Rangers have just over $1.5 million in cap space and little in the way of attractive trade chips.  The cost for Richards will undoubtedly be high, if he’s even to be had (the Stars currently sit just 5 points out of top spot in the Pacific Division).  Moving Richards would signal that a full-scale rebuild is on the horizon for Dallas, meaning that Joe Nieuwendyk and the Stars would be probably be looking for youth in return for the 30-year old centre.

The Rangers would need to free up more space, possibly by placing Todd White and his $2.375 salary on waivers, and then move some salary to Dallas if there’s a deal to be had.  Daniel Girardi, Artem Anisimov, and/or one of Brandon Dubinsky or Ryan Callahan are all names that could become subject to serious trade talk, especially given that the Rangers’ system isn’t exactly teeming with future NHL stars.

The Maple Leafs are in dire need of top centre, and they currently has a little over $3 million in cap space available.  The problem with acquiring Richards is the uncertainty of his status beyond July 1, 2011.  He’d make for a great rental player on a contender that can afford to ship some prospects the other way – but he’d be a risky proposition for a club like Toronto that’s light on blue chip prospects.  Dallas’ Mike Ribeiro may actually be a more logical fit in Toronto, at this point – although, his availability is merely Garrioch banter at this point.

Tomas Kaberle’s name is beginning to make the rounds in trade rumours again, but his involvement in any deal will require Brian Burke to ask the defenceman to lift his no-trade clause.  Let’s not revisit that scenario right now.

Richards to the Rangers makes the most sense from the rental player perspective, although, New York is slated to see over $9 million come off the books at season’s end – thus giving them the financial viability to make a run at Richards.  The thought of Brad Richards zinging passes to Marian Gaborik is an offensive dream, too.

It’s important to take into account that the Stars are actually a competitive team in the Western Conference right now.  The franchise’s ownership problems and declining attendance figures aside, this team looks like it can make a run in the West.  If Richards is indeed moved prior to mid-season, you’d have to think it was purely a business decision. His value is high right now, and the return could be much lower at the trade deadline if the Stars are out of contention.

So, will he stay or will he go?