Are the Stars Aligned for a Big Deal?

I’m keeping a close eye on tonight’s Dallas-Detroit game. The losses are mounting for the fast-falling Stars, and with them come extraordinary possibilities as Monday’s trade deadline nears.

A month ago, the Stars were the success story of the NHL, shining brightly atop the Pacific division in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year in Dallas. They lodged themselves in first in the Pacific for a healthy chunk of fall and winter. But February has been cruel: 1-8-1, and the losses often have been of the resounding variety. This morning the Stars are on the outside looking in at postseason qualification in the West — 10th, but that’s far from daunting; the fifth-seeded Wild (70 pts.) hold just a two-pt. edge over Dallas. Teams five through 12 out West are separated by just four points. Still, with a star-starved Stars’ lineup, and with their best player presently shelved, it’s easy to imagine the early upstarts falling out of playoff contention. And it’s easy to imagine another defeat for Dallas in Motown tonight. In short, it’s easy to imagine Dallas wearing a Cinderella’s skate, and midnight beckoning.

And so a pressing question increasingly emerges: if these are the real Stars, seriously slowing down after so hard a charge out of the gate, does the GM initiate a widely expected rebuild, belatedly, this trade deadline season? Second-year general manager Joe Nieuwendyk has already re-fashioned his roster in the last week, sending winger James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen to Pittsburgh for Alex Goligoski. Both Stars’ players had fallen on tough times, and out of favor. Goligoski is a coveted young puck-mover. A second huge question also confronts Nieuwendyk: what to do with free-agent-to-be Brad Richards, currently out of the lineup (since February 13) with a concussion? The answer to the first question, I think, largely determines the answer to the second. Or maybe not.

Does Richards’ concussion cloud his status altogether for the Dallas GM? Maybe Richards is back in 10 days and helping the Stars qualify for the postseason with still 15 games remaining. But what if he’s out longer? And for a team — say the Capitals — keenly interested in acquiring a difference-making man in the middle: how much in picks and prospects do you potentially part with uncertain of when — if — Richards could join your lineup?

Should he choose to, Nieuwendyk would be a seller in a thickly clogged market of bidders. And he possesses perhaps the market’s biggest prize. And it happens to be precisely the sort of player this Washington Capitals’ team should covet.

Who is Brad Richards? Well, first and foremost, he’s Dallas’ best player, in the prime of his hockey career (he’ll be 31 in May), and a former Conn Smythe winner (with Tampa, in 2004). Twice he’s been a 90-plus point player, and he’s on pace to come close to that again this season. His present injury notwithstanding, he’s been remarkably durable: five times in his NHL career he’s played all 82 regular season games. He possesses a fantastically accurate shot and a quick release; while not especially big he’s strong on his skates; he’d be an ideal jolt of offense to an offense-starved Capitals’ power play. Were he acquired by George McPhee in these final days of player movement he would turn a season-long question mark for the Capitals’ second line into a unit of strength. He makes $7.8 million in this final year of his contract, but at this point in the season most of that is already paid out.

As a pending free agent, of course, he’s a rental. Meaning: his price point in a trade is rather hard to forecast. And his injury makes it more so. Dallas, you wouldn’t think, would have much leverage in keeping him beyond Monday’s 3:00 trade deadline. With or without Richards they aren’t going to win a Cup this spring, and somebody will throw mean, large coin at him come summer. And if you haven’t noticed, the Stars aren’t filling seats at home with Richards.

The Capitals, it is the opinion of this blogger, need to be bold with one or two roster moves before mid-afternoon of Monday next. All teams above them in the East have recently fortified already strong rosters, while the Caps have stood pat. Even a first-round matchup with a brutally beat-up Penguins’ club wouldn’t be any cakewalk. (And Sidney might well be back for it.) All season long the Capitals have approached staffing the middle of their second line with a committee of auditioning, wet-behind-the-ears prospects, without durable success. Serious Cup contenders do not enter the postseason with gaping weakness within their top six forward pairings. And this weakness bears directly on the disheartening and dreadful power play (21st in the league, at an agonizing 16.8 percent success rate).

Dallas and Washington don’t often deal. You have to go all the way back to January of 1995 to spot a trade of note between the clubs: the Caps acquired Mark Tinordi for Kevin Hatcher then. Conditions today seem ripe for an important phone call between the managers.

It has been some while since George McPhee has gone really bold at a trade deadline. It has also been some while since his roster needed notable re-engineering in February. McPhee isn’t known for going big and bold at the deadline; instead, he prefers to tinker around his roster’s edges.

The Capitals need to rent Brad Richards this spring, and in doing so make a serious statement in an Eastern Conference offering little elite swagger at the top. This is a Capitals’ roster less in need of tinkering around the edges (like last year); it needs a jolt of difference-making. The Capitals desperately need help on the power play, and they desperately need help solidifying their top six, and adding a player in his prime boasting a Conn Smythe pedigree would do that and much much more.

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This entry was posted in Dallas Stars, George McPhee, Morning cup-a-joe, National Hockey League, NHL trade deadline, NHL Trades, Washington Capitals, Western conference. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Are the Stars Aligned for a Big Deal?

  1. The Peerless says:

    If Richards is the prize last year, then the starting point for a conversation about price might be the Kovalchuk deal last season. That was Kovalchuk and Annsi Salmela for Johhny Oduya, Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier, and a first.

    A comparable price here (a competent defenseman, a young forward, and a pick) might be Jeff Schultz, Marcus Johansson, and a first. The injury status of Richards might drop either the “Schultz” piece or the “Johansson” piece down a peg (perhaps to an Eakin, who is further down the development chain, for the “Johansson” piece). Dallas might want to hold out for a “Kuznetsov/Alzner” sort of package, plus a pick); I’d be shocked if any final deal involved that high a level of talent, either by the Caps or any other team. Dallas is in a hard place with Richards, similar to (if not in magnitude) to where Atlanta was with Kovalchuk

  2. You had me at parting with Sarge.

  3. OldPhil says:

    With the concussion, he’s too much of a risk to give up good young players or key prospects (esp. since he’s gone after the season and Wash. couldn’t afford to re-sign him). The Caps waited too long to solve the 2C problem…should have done it in the off-season.

  4. Justin says:

    I was in the “bold” camp and was really craving Richards but, like Oldphil, the concussion scares me and has softened my stance a bit. That’s the one injury that you have NO clue as to how the body will react to (ok, maybe Poti’s groin also falls into this category now). I haven’t seen any news about Richards’ expected return to the ice, so my question is how bold do you be for a player that had his bell rung?

  5. Squirrel91 says:

    Phil is 100 percent right. In no way is this a good deal. in modern sports…even golf anymore…31 is not “prime”. it’s beginning the downward trend. typically overpriced for not getting the best years. We can’t afford him. We’d be bargaining the future, which is developing well. Awful deal proposed here. We need a short term 1-2 year placeholder until MOJO claims the spot…a get’er’done type scrapper, not a gold plated salary cap buster…

  6. Bobby says:

    I’m no trading expert, but is there any kind of Richards deal that would make sense that includes the Caps sending Sasha to Dallas?

  7. Colin says:

    I think any deal for Richards would have a contingency, such as player #1, prospect #1 and a conditional pick based on if he plays x number of games or not this season.

    I say pass on Richards and make a good splash with Wiess or Vermette up the middle and take a run at getting Penner for extra scoring oomph on the wing.

    The reason I like Weiss or Vermette is they have a few years left on their contracts, and can serve as a bridge to Eakin or Kuz. Each of those guys could probably benefit from a year of development in Hershey.

    Look at the possible roster we could have next year. I pulled this from Cap Geek.

    FORWARDS
    Alexander Ovechkin ($9.538m) / Nicklas Backstrom ($6.700m) / Dustin Penner ($4.250m)
    Eric Fehr ($2.200m) / Antoine Vermette ($3.750m) / Alexander Semin ($6.700m)
    Jason Chimera ($1.875m) / Marcus Johansson ($0.900m) / Andrew Gordon ($0.600m)
    Matt Hendricks ($0.825m) / Dave Steckel ($1.100m) / Matt Bradley ($0.900m)
    Jay Beagle ($0.512m)

    DEFENSEMEN
    Mike Green ($5.250m) / Scott Hannan ($4.700m)
    John Carlson ($0.845m) / Karl Alzner ($2.000m)
    Jeff Schultz ($2.750m) / John Erskine ($1.500m)
    Tyler Sloan ($0.700m)

    GOALTENDERS
    Michal Neuvirth ($1.150m) /Braden Holtby ($0.637m)

    SALARY CAP: $59,400,000; CAP PAYROLL: $59,384,572; BONUSES: $80,000
    CAP SPACE (22-man roster): $95,427

    Of course this is based on saying good bye to Brooksie and Gordo and finding a way to bury Poti’s ill-advised contract.

  8. DIRT says:

    I think a trade for Richards would be a game-changer. If the caps could give up something like Perreault, Eakin, Schultz, and a first for him, I’d be all for it. I do not want the Caps to give up Kuznetsov (future superstar) or Johannson for a rental player, but Richards, if healthy, fulfills all the Caps needs. He’s a veteran, has won the cup, and can give the Caps two solid powerplay lines. He can dish and score with the best of them. I just don’t know how much the Caps are willing to part with for one Cup run, because there’s no way he would be re-signing here next season.

  9. Dirt,

    Your thoughts are perfectly aligned with mine here, from the package you put together to the dynamically altering impact Richards would have here to his stature as merely a rental. And you hone in on the most intriguing aspect of this discussion: where is George McPhee’s soul as it relates to going for it in a season in which his conference seems distinctly unimposing?

  10. Geo says:

    Nothing GMGM has done in the past suggest he’s going to go after any big fish this year. My advice is stop torturing yourself. đŸ™‚

    Last year blogs and people on comments threads must’ve speculated 50 players they wanted the Caps to get, none of whom were named Joe Corvo, Scott Walker or Mark Belanger. I suspect it’ll probably be the same thing this year.

    More than likely nobody’s going to give the Caps a star player unless the Caps want to part with someone named Carlson, Alzner, Varlamov or Neuvirth, which just ain’t gonna happen.

    Chances are, they don’t want an erratic winger with a bum shoulder (Fehr), an engimatic winger who can go weeks producing nothing and then get a hat trick, and then go back to doing nothing (Semin) or solid but unremarkable defeneseman (Schultz).

  11. Dave says:

    Wow. Giving up that much for a rental player with a concussion? What? There are no guarantees that, even if healthy, Richards works with this team, or puts this team over the edge to a cup. Then what? If they lose in the first round, how quickly will everyone want Eakin back? And give up schultz? I understand that he’s not this blogs favorite, but do you really think giving Sloan more ice time makes this team better? I think everyone needs to pump their brakes, and maybe consider the possibility that this team isn’t ready to contend for the cup yet, and that maybe it’s going to take more than a rental big name to put them over the top.

  12. Tre Kronor says:

    The Flyers are “distinctly unimposing?” There is little “elite swagger at the top?” What is is it that makes us so cocky? Don’t be fooled – respect your opponents. Last I checked, I’m looking at 3 teams ahead of us that have recent Stanley Cup run pedigree that the addition of one rental player can’t possibly match. If you think the Caps can match the Pens, Flyers and even the Lightning now – just by adding Richards for a steep price, I beg to differ. No way GMGM pays this price.

  13. OvieTracker says:

    Rolling the dice with Brad Richards is so wrong it shouldn’t even be a topic of discussion. Going “really bold” is one thing, going really crazy is another.

    And TRE KRONOR is correct. How dare we diss the EC as “distinctly unimposing” with little “elite swagger at the top”? Did we learn nothing from last season’s ouster by the Canadiens? Are we so cocksure of ourselves that we now have the divine right to dismiss our opponents?

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