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Richards Update: Buffalo Talk Begins

It was inevitable.

With the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs often mentioned as the main suitors for Brad Richards in news reports, and failing to land his rights (so far), it was only a matter of time before a sports writer out there remembered that the Sabres are now owned by Terry Pegula.

Kevin Allen, of USA Today, just made the Pegula connection.

Richards, 31, could be the hottest free agent in the market, and there seems to be considerable interest in the Eastern Conference. The New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs both need a center. Richards liked playing in Tampa before the Lightning dealt him to Dallas and he excelled under Rangers coach John Tortorella when both were on the Lightning. The Buffalo Sabres could try to make a signifcant offseason splash under new owner Terry Pegula, and they could use a top center if Tim Connolly is not going to be re-signed.

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Target: Paul Stastny

The search for a #1 center continues.

As the Brad Richards saga drags on, teams are beginning to set their sights on other options.  One pivot, Paul Stastny, has been the subject of trade rumors since February.  He’d come roughly $1 million cheaper than Richards:  Stastny has a cap hit of $6.6 million per season, (under contract until 2014).  Playing on a team heavy at center (and with prospect Joey Hishon making a charge towards the NHL ranks), it is actually plausible that Stastny could be had, for the right price.

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A trade for Stastny could involve an avalanche of prospects and picks moving back to Colorado.

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Brad Richards Update: Toronto, Rangers Still in Play

Dallas is saying goodbye to their star center.

Brad Richards’ agent, Pat Morris, gave the New York Daily News some details on Monday night:

“The Stars have not asked Brad to waive his no-trade clause, and at this point in time, he has no intention of doing so,” agent Pat Morris told the Daily News Monday night when informed that a source had said a move to the Toronto Maple Leafs could be completed by the end of this week. “We’re still pointing toward July 1.”

The Daily News goes on to say that the Leafs remain the team to beat in the Richards derby:

A source told The News Monday night that the Maple Leafs felt close enough to making such a deal that they already have plans in place for subsequent moves to clear salary-cap room for Richards, who made $7.8 million this season.

“It’s legit,” the source said. “Toronto is desperate for a star like this.”

The Rangers remain linked to Richards through their head coach, John Tortorella, who coached Richards in Tampa.  The Lightning, whom Richards won a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe trophy with back in 2004, are also in the speculative market.

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Next stop: Toronto?

Meanwhile, Mark Stepneski of ESPN reports that while the Stars are out of the running to retain their star center, GM Joe Nieuwendyk has a plan B already in place:

One of the priorities for 2011-12 is a top six forward with it becoming clear now that Richards will hit the free agent market and will not be back with the team. Nieuwendyk said that top six forward might come through a trade rather than overspending on one in free agency.

“I think we need a top 6 forward with Brad obviously moving on,” Nieuwendyk said. “Jamie [Benn] shifting to center is a very likely scenario. It’s not 100 percent set in stone yet. If you’ve Benner and Loui [Eriksson] and you’ve got [Mike Ribeiro] and Brenden [Morrow], there’s your top two (lines)and you fill in around them.”

While adding Alex Goligoski at last season’s trade deadline was a major boost to the defense, Nieuwendyk said adding a top defenseman is a focus as well.

“We’d like to improve our defense for sure,” he said. “Again, it may be through trade.”

Depth is another priority. It’s an area that hurt the Stars last season and something that has paid dividends for teams that have gone deep in the playoffs.

That might seem like a lot of work for the Stars, but it shows what kind of impact a big contract like Richards’ can have on a team. With his $7.8 million off the books, Nieuwendyk suddenly has the ability to change the complexion and depth of his entire roster.  Any team that takes on Richards is going to lose much of their wiggle-room for a long time, a problem that Buffalo Sabres Nation has touched on before.

Still, some team out there will think Richards is worth the riches.

Go Sabres.

See also: “Target: Brad Richards.

 

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Target: Brent Burns

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Richards.  Bieksa.  Ehrhoff.  Wisniewski.

There have been some big UFA names bandied about this town since the Sabres Game Seven Meltdown against the Philadelphia Flyers. But in all seriousness, which of these guys do we really expect to sign on to year one of the Pegula Experience?  A quick analysis:

  • Richards – strongly tied to the New York Rangers, or an “original six” team; has also stated a willingness to return to Tampa Bay
  • Bieksa/Erhoff – one of these guys will stay with the ‘Nucks, the other will be pursued by every other team in the NHL
  • Wisniewski – has already stated he wants to stay in Montreal and raise a family; Habs will do everything they can to keep him

The July 1st spending spree is not exactly a statistical “home run derby” for contracts, anyway (see: Drury, Chris; Gomez, Scott; etc).  Invasive baseball metaphors aside, the Sabres will and should look to bolster their lineup on July 1st – but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a “curveball” or two up their sleeves.

Another baseball metaphor?  Must be 75 and beautiful outside.  Before I go outside for some much-earned sunshine, here’s one big-time surprise maneuver that the Sabres could pull off.

Trade for Brent Burns.

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The call of the Wild.

Burns isn’t an UFA – yet – his contract expires after next season.  However, as Michael Russo reports today from the Minnesota Star Tribune, he could very well be available on the trade market.  His speculation:

With the NHL draft on June 24-25 in St. Paul, trade talks are commencing and Fletcher (the Wild’s GM) says he’s willing to trade anybody — except captain Mikko Koivu.

The Wild has missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons — two under Fletcher — so he says he’d do “absolutely anything,” other than, “I’m not trading Mikko Koivu. I can guarantee you that.”

The biggest decision brewing is with defenseman Brent Burns, who scored a career-high 17 goals and 46 points last season. Burns, who struggled in the season’s second half, is a year from unrestricted free agency, meaning, as with Koivu last summer, the Wild might need to decide to either extend his contract or trade him.

Burns could command at least $5 million annually.

Fletcher said he feels no urgency to sign or trade Burns this summer, but the Wild has been down that road before. Marian Gaborik turned down a long-term deal in early 2008-09, then missed 65 games because of injury. That destroyed his trade value, and he ultimately signed as a free agent with the Rangers.

Burns also has a history of injury, but Fletcher said, “There’s a risk for any player, there’s risk in any decision you make. … If we can’t get a contract done, that’ll have an impact on his future the same as it would have with Koivu or Gaborik or anybody.”

So, why Brent Burns for Buffalo – and at what cost?  First, let’s examine his dry stats:

 

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Stats aside, he has a respectable woodsy charm about him, wouldn't you agree?*

The Sabres could award Brad Richards with the greater portion of their available cap space, (a dangerous idea as we’ve talked about on Buffalo Sabres Nation previously), but remember that at 31 years of age Richards is not entering his prime, and is coming off of a concussion.

Burns also sustained a concussion in both the 2008-09 and the 2009-10 seasons, but he is only 26 years old, and judging by his stats, he is up for a stellar career.  He’d come at a lesser price, would have a better long term impact – and heck, he’s a regional kid, coming out of Ajax, Ontario.

Buffalo needs to add veteran depth to the defensive corps right now.  They can’t wait for a guy like Brayden McNabb to earn his way up to the NHL if the Sabres are to win the Stanley Cup in 3 years. With Ryan Miller at 30 years old, now is the time to beef up the men that protect him and truly make a run at the Cup.

The Sabres have a plethora of young defensemen along with several blue chip defensive prospects – too many to fit on the roster any time soon.  Plausibly, they could part with one of them and the #1 pick in this year’s draft to land Burns.

Then, maybe, after the Sabres depart with a little bit of that crowded defensive depth chart, they could pursue one of those stud UFAs.  Myers, Burns, and Wisniewski sounds like a pretty scary top three to me.

Your move, Darcy.

Go Sabres.

*And it’s no coincidence.  Off the ice, Burns spends his summers in Barrie, Ontario and Lake Elmo, Minnesota and is a noted animal enthusiast. His suburban Saint Paul home is nicknamed “Burns Zoo,” due to his collection of dogs, cats, and dozens of reptiles, mainly snakes.

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We’ve got a lot of Defensemen: how the Sabres can Add Bieksa, Erhoff, or Wisniewski

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Something’s gotta’ give.

The Sabres would purportedly like to add to their defense to develop a true shutdown pair.  Buffalo’s locker room is already pretty full, however.  If Pegula and Regier pull in a big name on July 1st, then a player (or two) are going to have to be shown the Zamboni door.

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At the beginning of the season, Vancouver fans were clamoring for Kevin Bieksa to be dealt for a bag of pucks. After a strong year, and a particularly snarly post-season, he is the top defensive UFA of 2011.

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