Monday, February 14, 2011

Trade Deadline: Will Recent Struggles Force Stars to Consider Dealing on Brad Richards?

Over the past week all of the movement to be buyers has come out of the Western Conference due to how close the standings are right now.  Another Western Conference team, the Dallas Stars, might just hold the key to how the rest of the trade market shapes up before the deadline in whether or not they make Brad Richards available within the next two weeks.  Compared to the other players said to be in the market right now, Richards would clearly be the best available commodity out there.  Many of the other players that are rumored to be possibly available have concerns (injury, salary) that make them less attractive to perspective teams or just lack that ability to fully change the race like Richards does to be worth the asking price. 
This season he was an All-Star selection and has produced 24 goals, 39 assists and 63 points in 56 games this season.  He would clearly be the best available commodity on the market and his Conn Smythe history would only make him more valuable to acquiring teams.  The question now is whether he will be made available before the deadline comes?
When the 2010-11 season began it was all but assumed that come the deadline Brad Richards would be on the trading block and teams would be lining up to sign him.  The rumors started early in the year, but what the rumors did not account for was the surprising start the Dallas Stars would get off to, led by Richards, and their ability to sustain it. 
Last month, with the Stars competing for the top spot in the West and with a comfortable lead in their division, they went out and made a buyers type move when they acquired Jamie Langenbrunner from the Devils.  When that move was made I said that the trade rumors surrounding Richards would come to an end because Dallas was making a statement that they were all in for this year.  The team responded beautifully following the trade, with a five game winning streak, but since struggles have hit their performance and with the Western Conference as tight as it is, maybe it is time to rethink whether Richards will be available after all.
With the tight race in the West and the uncertainty regarding ownership, along with uncertainty if Richards would stay, can the Stars really risk losing Richards for nothing this summer and not making the playoffs?  Would the better move for the long term health of the organization be to deal Richards to the highest bidder and set up the team with players, prospects and picks for the clear prime target that would be on the trade market?  That is the delicate decision that now awaits Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk.
Currently Dallas still sits in first place in the Pacific Division, but they have lost seven of nine games which has left them tied in points with Anaheim, but ahead due to having played one less game.  The team is also a mere three points over last place Los Angeles.  Their standing in the West Conference is similar as they are currently third with 68 points, but only three points from being out of the playoffs altogether.
ESPN’s Pierre Lebrun took on whether the recent slide might make them move him instead of risking getting nothing this past Friday in his Crosschecks Blog:
But if the Stars are only one or two points clear of the danger zone come Feb. 28, do they not at least seek out what kind of package is out there for Richards, something that potentially could set up the Stars for five years?
Richards has a no-movement clause, but I'm guessing if the right team calls, he might be willing to waive it. Take Boston, for example. The B's now are armed with the Marc Savard cap savings and could offer him a chance at a Cup run.
Boston, as used in Lebrun’s hypothetical, certainly has the potential to offer a huge package for Richards as they might have the best trading chip out there right now; Toronto’s first round pick, acquired in the Phil Kessel trade.  A package that included a likely top 5 if not certainly top 10 selection in the draft would go a long way to meeting the price tag that LeBrun said Dallas would require to move him. 
Obviously Boston would not be the only team interested in the services of Brad Richards as New York, Toronto, Los Angeles and possibly even Pittsburgh would inquire among others in the asking price for the former Conn Smythe Award Winner.  His inclusion would also have a domino effect on the entire rest of the market both in terms of price and interest.  If you are a team that is looking to buy to make a run this season, Richards is the only elite player whose acquisition can take a team to that next level of contention.
The next week will likely define how available the Stars and general manager Joe Nieuwendyk make Richards because he is unlikely to get caught flat footed by waiting until the last day to see what is out there to be had.   When players like Mike Fisher, who is a good player, but more of a second line type player, receives a return of a 1st round pick in 2011 and conditional 2nd or 3rd in 2012, the amount that the Stars could get to build their future might be too tempting not to move him before the deadline on February 28. 
The decision will not be entirely Nieuwendyk’s to make because as Lebrun points out Richards has full control of whether he wants to go and where he would accept the move to.  This is one of those decisions that shapes a franchise for years to come because you either roll the dice and hope you come up lucky or in essence you fold the cards on this year to better control the cards you will have to play in the future.  While they decide in Dallas the trade market really lacks that game changing target for everyone to go after.