Brad Richards Back To Tampa Bay?

The Brad Richards rumour mill has brought us a new twist today. Apparently the Tampa Bay Lightning, Richards’ former team, is now in the running. According to CapGeek, the Lightning could have at least $22 in cap space available to sign players this summer. Now, that only includes the salaries of 11 players, so the Lightning will have a few other needs to fill this offseason as well.

The most important one is getting Steven Stamkos signed to a new contract before he becomes an RFA on July 1st. His salary is bound to take up a decent chunk of the Lightning’s cap space. However, there will definitely be room for others.

Signing a goaltender will also be a priority. Both Dwayne Roloson and Mike Smith will be UFAs on July 1st. Whether the Lightning decide to stick with that tandem isn’t known at this point.

However, even after signing Stamkos and a goaltending team, the Lightning will still have a substantial amount of cap space. Yes, players like Ted Purcell, Sean Bergenheim and others may ask for raises, but the Lightning should be able to fit those players in nicely while still having room to sign Richards if they’re interested.

According to Puck Daddy, “Richards loves Tampa.”

That said, with Lecavalier and Stamkos both at center, do the Lightning need a third superstar in the middle? Adding Richards would allow them the luxury of playing one of the three players at wing or give them the chance to employ a “strength down the middle” strategy like the Pittsburgh Penguins have done in the past.

Either option would be tempting for the Lightning.

Richards recently told the St. Petersburg Times that he “never really wanted to leave Tampa” and that “if they talk to me, it’s going to be something I’ll listen to because of my history there.”

Brad Richards won the Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004.

Adding Richards to an already strong Tampa Bay team would certainly be a wise move for the Lightning if they could pull it off. Tampa Bay came within one win of the Stanley Cup Final this year, and Richards could make them a favourite next season.

At 31 years old, Richards still has a great deal to offer any NHL team. He scored 28 goals and picked up 49 assists with the Stars in 2010-2011. If he played with the likes of Stamkos, St. Louis and Lecavalier, you would have to assume that his numbers would be even better.

Of course, the Lightning are not the only team interested in Richards’ services. While ownership issues are making it essentially impossible that he will return to Dallas next year, several other teams are still in the running. They include the New York Rangers, the Los Angeles Kings and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Though, to be fair, what free agent don’t the Rangers, Kings and Leafs have interest in these days?

The Stars may attempt to trade Richards’ rights before the July 1st deadline rather than let him walk away for free. Whether this becomes a Dan Hamhuis situation remains to be seen.