[an error occurred while processing this directive]
|Email story||Comment||Letter to the editor|
With the trade deadline Tuesday, rumors link the center to Columbus.
By Eduardo A. Encina, Times Staff Writer
Published February 23, 2008
[Dirk Shadd | Times]
TAMPA - With Lightning center Brad Richards one of the most mentioned names in trade talks as Tuesday's 3 p.m. deadline looms, it appears a frontrunner has emerged: Columbus.
The Columbus Dispatch reported the Blue Jackets, seeking their first playoff berth, would love to put him alongside Rick Nash, a 40-goal scorer who has never played with a playmaker of Richards' caliber.
A goaltender and proven defenseman top the Lightning's priority list. But it would be hard to pry away Pascal Leclaire, whose eight shutouts lead the league, and Steve Mason, Columbus' top goaltending prospect, has been deemed untouchable.
Plus, Tampa Bay might find a solution in free agency by making a run at Montreal's Cristobal Huet, who could serve as a bridge until Karri Ramo is ready.
Ironically, the Lightning believed it solved its goaltending problem in a 2006 deal with Columbus, when it gave up wing Fredrik Modin and goalie Fredrik Norrena for Marc Denis. Norrena is the backup for Columbus while Denis, who signed a three-year, $8.6-million contract after the trade, struggled and has been sent to the minors.
Even without a goalie in the deal, Richards could command a high price, though a contract with three years left at $7.8-million annually limits trading partners.
Financially, the Blue Jackets, who sent two scouts to Thursday's Lightning game, are logical. They are about $10-million under the salary cap. Sergei Fedorov, making $6.08-million, reportedly could be dealt. And David Vyborny ($2.2-million), Michael Peca ($1.3-million), Dick Tarnstrom ($2-million) and possibly Adam Foote ($4.6-million) come off the books after this season.
The Dispatch reported the Blue Jackets could be willing to dealRostislav Klesla, a sound 25-year-old defenseman, touted center Derick Brassard (or fellow first-rounder Gilbert Brule) and a first- or second-round pick.
Lightning general manager Jay Feaster declined to comment. Richards said this week he wasn't paying attention to the buzz.
"I am focused on helping my team make the playoffs," he said.
Richards' agent, Pat Morris, said his client has not been asked to waive his no-trade clause.
"There's no sense in having him distracted," Morris said. "He's a very focused man. I don't react to rumors. If it gets serious, we'll talk about it then."
If a deal is not done by Tuesday, talks could serve as a framework for one this summer, especially because it might hinge on signing defenseman Dan Boyle to a long-term contract. That could cost $7-million a year.
Richards, 27, was the playoff MVP when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004 and recorded 91 points (on 23 goals and 68 assists) the next season. But he dropped to 70 (25 and 45) last season, and this season has 50 (18 and 32) with a league-worst minus-25.
Richards is more likely to be shipped than Marty St. Louis, on pace for a 98-point season and with a more cap-friendly contract. Also, with unrestricted free agent Vinny Prospal likely to be dealt, it's unlikely the team would take away both of Vinny Lecavalier's wings.
Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal, Vancouver and Dallas also reportedly have interest in Richards. But with potential free agents such as Marian Hossa, Mats Sundin and Olli Jokinen also trade fodder, Richards' contract makes him a less plausible option.
[Last modified February 22, 2008, 23:07:13]