Newsflash, Brad Richards will not be returning to the Dallas Stars. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, it's time for to look at guys that could replace Richards. The draft is always a nice place to find future centers, but the emphasis is on the future. With the 14th pick, Dallas won't be getting an amazing, NHL-ready center prospect unless someone seriously starts dropping in the draft. I took a look at potential draft targets for the Stars in an earlier post.
Unfortunately for the Stars, they don't have a good pick of center prospects in their minor league affiliates. There are plenty of talented wingers and defensemen that are ready to help the team at the NHL level, some of which was seen last year in Tomas Vincour and Philip Larsen, but centers are another story. As a result, the replacement for Brad Richards will most likely come from free agency (although it's a really weak class) so here's a quick look at some of the top centers in this year's free agent class.
- Brad Richards 31-years-old, DAL: Ummm no, this isn't happening. For what it's worth, it was reported by the Star-Telegram that the Stars gave Richards some contract offers in the three and four year range worth about $7 million a year.
- Tim Connolly 30-years-old, BUF: Connolly is an very talented player and would do well as a Richards replacement, but he has been one of the most injury prone guys in the league the last few years. In the last six years, he's played in, per season: 63, 2, 48, 48, 73 and 68 games. His last contract put him at around $4.5 million a year.
- Jason Arnott 36-years-old WSH: Again, another guy who I highly doubt would come back to Dallas. The fact that he is among the top centers in this year's market shows how slim the pickings are.
- Tomas Fleischmann 26-years-old COL: Fleischmann is an interesting case. He can play wing or center, but like Connolly, he is a very talented, injury prone player. He was traded from Washington to Colorado last year and played only 22 games with the Avalanche before being diagnosed with pulmonary embolism. He was a point-a-game player while he was healthy though, and I assume that he'll be fine once the season starts up again. He made $2.6 million last year and a $3 million price tag looks to be his starting point for his next contract.
- Brooks Laich 28-years-old WSH: Another interesting case if the Stars choose to pursue him. He might be on the other spectrum from Brad Richards. While Richards is a smooth skating offensive machine, Laich is a tough, in-your-face two-way player. He can also play center or wing and would be here more to fill a role rather than to replace Richards. He would be a second/third line guy on the team and Mike Ribeiro would most likely be moved into the top center role. He made around $2 million last year but will probably be looking for a big contract.
- Tomas Kopecky 29-years-old CHI: Kopecky would not be a top-line guy for the team, but like Laich, he would fill a role as a second/third line center or wing. He's been steadily improving as he gets more playing time in his six years in the league, but I think he might have reached his plateau at the 15 goals, 25 assists marks. I don't think he can do much more than that. He made $1.2 million last year but will probably be looking for a big contract as he is coming off a career year with 15 goals and 27 assists.
The rest of the list is full of those bargain bin type guys or really old players that would be one-year stop gaps and nothing more for the Stars. They could be tempted to move Jamie Benn over to center and sign or move up a winger from the minors, but the draft and free agency comes first. The biggest problem was that Richards was an integral part of the power-play as one of the pointmen for Dallas, and there really is no replacement for him at that position. The next month or so will be a very interesting time for the Stars.