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The Stars and Brad Richards - A Deadline Dilemma

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The franchise defenseman is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent July 1 and, while contract talks with Florida are ongoing, there's no indication from the Bouwmeester camp that a deal will be made in the next week.

If a contract extension doesn't happen soon, Bouwmeester has to be traded. It's that simple.

The Florida Panthers are a good young franchise, with a good young coach. But they're not going to win the Stanley Cup this season. Heck, they might not even make the playoffs. Letting Bouwmeester walk for nothing -- or for a mid-round pick acquired this summer for his negotiating rights -- would seriously stall the progress the Panthers have made this season.

"I think the priority for us right now is to move forward to improve our club, to make the playoffs this year, and I don't want to disturb that," Martin said. "So depending on what's available, if it's a good transition, if we feel we can improve certain areas of our hockey club, then (a Bouwmeester trade) would be a possibility. But I think there's also a possibility that we retain Jay, then we see where we're at after the season."

That would be a huge mistake.

That's Craig Custance talking about the Panthers' looming decision at the 2009 NHL Trade Deadline. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Jacques Martin chose poorly and decided to keep Bouwmeester for a last gasp run at the playoffs.  Bouwmeester, of course, didn't sign with Florida, his rights were traded to Calgary and Florida was left holding an empty bag.  Rumors from that time had the two final offers from Vancouver and Philadelphia.  Vancouver's offer reportedly consisted of Mason Raymond, Kevin Bieksa and a first round pick.  Philadelphia's offer reportedly consisted of Joffrey Lupul, a first round pick and a third round pick.  While Bieksa and Lupul have been disappointments, the other pieces would have meant a great deal to a franchise mired in a ten-year playoff drought.

This is all relevant because the Dallas Stars are heading into the playoff homestretch and like the Florida Panthers from 2009, the team's most important player is getting set to walk.

The once mighty Stars have played some miserable hockey lately, tallying a 3-6-1 record in their last in their last ten games.  The source of the miserable play could be injury woes or it could be simple reversion brought on the mass failure of a bunch of lucky talismans.  While the Star are better than a 57 point team, their performance this season is more indicative of a lottery team than a playoff team.  When I handicapped the Pacific Division race, I noted that the Stars are the worst team in the division by the shots data and C&B regular Passive Voice noted they are the worst team in the division by the Fenwick events as well.  What this means is without consistent good bounces, fantastic luck you might call it, and without career-best goaltending from Kari Lehtonen, the Stars would be the worst team in the Pacific. To capture how thoroughly dominated the Stars have been thus far, their Fenwick percentage with the score tied is .457 - good for 26th in the league and 13th in the Western Conference. 

As the Pacific race tightens, the Stars are faced with an ugly reality - without the early and mid-season luck, they're about to be run over and around as the Kings, Coyotes and Sharks move into playoff position.  Dallas is limited by an internal salary cap, and thus unable to add significant salary at the deadline, though it's unlikely that one or even two deadline additions would rescue this team.

This is why Joe Nieuwendyk must trade Brad Richards.  Though it will be a hard sell to the fans in Dallas, to "give up" on such a promising season, the near-term future of the Stars would be damaged by hanging on too long.  If the Stars are given similar offers to those that the Panthers were given in '09, those deals would look something like Eric Tangradi, Robert Bortuzzo and a first round pick or Marcus Johansson, Dmitri Orlov and a first round pick - not overwhelming returns, but significant enough to contribute to the future of a young team and with Richards' $7,800,000 cap hit off of the books, the Stars could sign an adequate replacement in his stead.

While Richards piles up points, he's doing so by beating up on second and third minutes.  A look at the last couple of years of his qualcomp rankings at shows Richards playing second and third minutes while Mike Ribeiro handles the tough minutes.  Finding in a center to replace those minutes is much easier than finding a center to play tough minutes.

Assuming the Stars cannot come to some agreement on an extension with Richards, it's time to find a new home for the centerman.  This isn't like the Oilers situation, with both Hemsky and Penner available, but still under contract for another year - the Stars are in danger of losing their most marketable asset for nothing and still missing the playoffs.