It is almost certain Tampa Bay forward Brad Richards will be dealt before Tuesday's 3 p.m. trade deadline, especially with the Lightning reaching a new deal with defenseman Dan Boyle. Now, the question is where the former playoff MVP ends up.
Sources told ESPN.com Monday night that Chicago is believed to have made an offer for Richards, but the Blackhawks were told there was another team involved in trade discussions and the Lightning had to mull over the other offer before they could respond to the Blackhawks' interest.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are believed to have strong interest in Richards, looking to add a top-flight center to play with Rick Nash, but the NHL source said he believes it's another team. "I think it's Dallas," he said.
The Stars have established themselves as one of the top teams in the Western Conference, pulling within six points of Detroit although the Red Wings have two games in hand. Dallas has been rumored to be looking for a scoring winger to complement Mike Modano, but Richards would certainly give the team terrific depth down the middle.
While Richards has a no-trade clause, he has reportedly provided a list of teams to which he would agree to be traded. But the forward's fate with Tampa was pretty much sealed Monday night, when the Lightning announced they signed Boyle to a six-year deal worth $40 million.
Under new ownership (slasher movie mogul Oren Koules), it's believed the team will pursue a contract extension for captain Vincent Lecavalier in the offseason (he could become an unrestricted free agent at the end of 2008-09), as well as sign a top netminder. So, even with the salary cap set to go up next season, something has to give, and it appears it will be Richards.
Although Richards is having an off year offensively (51 points in 62 games), he remains one of the top two-way players in the game. Richards still has three years to go on a contract that pays him an average of $7.8 million annually.
Richards' numbers have scared off some suitors; but with the salary cap set to rise to somewhere around $54 million next season, that number isn't as onerous, especially if Richards plays with elite linemates, something that hasn't always been the case the past two seasons in Tampa.
While Richards would be expected to help the Stars this postseason, his expectations would be more long term if he ends up in either Columbus or Chicago as both teams have taken significant strides this season.
Tampa GM Jay Feaster wouldn't comment on the Richards situation, but he said the signing of Boyle was a major accomplishment as the Lightning try and return to the form that saw them win the 2004 Stanley Cup.
With the talent the Lightning have up front, "Danny's the engine that makes it run from the back end," Feaster told ESPN.com late Monday night. "There aren't many guys like him."
Feaster said he has no doubt Boyle could have earned more money on the open market in July, perhaps as much as $1 million a year more, but the defenseman wanted to stay with the Lightning and made that clear from the outset of negotiations.
Boyle's signing, along with the St. Louis' new deal with defenseman Barret Jackman, puts the squeeze on the potential market for defensemen heading into Tuesday's trade deadline.
There was considerable demand for Boyle's services, especially in New York, where the Rangers covet a puck-moving defenseman. San Jose was also rumored to be in the hunt for Boyle.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.