Latest on Mike Richards, Dion Phaneuf, Ryan O’Reilly, plus updates on the Sabres, Sharks and Canucks. 

Calgary Flames reportedly had interest in Mike Richards.

Calgary Flames reportedly had interest in Mike Richards.

CALGARY SUN: Eric Francis reports a source claims Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving spoke to LA Kings management about acquiring center Mike Richards prior to his demotion to the Kings AHL affiliate. Francis notes the Flames are among the few NHL teams with sufficient cap space to absorb Richards’ $5.75 million annual cap hit through 2019-20, but only if the deal made sense on other levels. In other words, if the Kings include a good young player like Tyler Toffoli or Tanner Pearson, or a first-round pick and a top prospect, or pick up a portion of Richards’ salary.

Francis follows up by also suggesting the Kings would have to take back a bad contract in return, citing “Matt Stajan ($3.12M cap hit, three more years), Dennis Wideman ($5.25M, two more years), Ladislav Smid ($3.5M, two more years) and Deryk Engelland ($2.917M, two more years).” He believes Kings coach Darryl Sutter would be thrilled to add a rugged defenseman like Engelland, while noting Sutter traded for Stajan and re-signed him while GM of the Flames.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: There’s only three good reasons for the Flames, or the Maple Leafs (who were also rumored interested in Richards) or anyone else to acquire a fading, overpaid center like Richards. One is to see if Kings GM Dean Lombardi is so desperate to shed Richards’ contract that he’ll include a good young player as part of the return. Another is hoping he’ll take back a toxic contract or pick up half of Richards’ remaining salary.

I think it’s apparent Lombardi won’t part with one of his good young players, he’s reluctant to give up a first-round pick or a top prospect, and not keen on taking back a bad contract or absorbing part of Richards’ deal. Lombardi needs cap space to re-sign key players like Toffoli, Pearson and Justin Williams this summer, and Anze Kopitar before next summer. A buyout in June appears the only logical choice, but ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun claims a source said that’s not in the plans.  

There’s a perception among some observers that Richards merely needs a change of scenery to improve. I disagree. The Score’s Justin Bourne last April wrote a great piece explaining that the wear and tear of Richards two-way style of play is taking its toll. That’s not something which a change of scenery will improve. NHL GMs who believe Richards will improve with a trade are allowing themselves to be blinded by his accomplishments. 

SPORTSNET: Nick Kypreos reports the Toronto Maple Leafs are working the phones trying to trade team captain Dion Phaneuf. He said an attempt to ship Phaneuf to the LA Kings for Mike Richards failed to materialize. Kypreos claims two or three Western Conference clubs have interest in Phaneuf. The Leafs could move him at the deadline if they get what they want but are willing to be patient and wait until the summer. Doug MacLean claims Phaneuf’s $49 million salary is a stumbling block and doesn’t expect the Leafs can get full value for him.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’ll be shocked if the Leafs get a good return for Phaneuf at the trade deadline. In today’s salary cap world, players in the first year of an expensive, long-term deal aren’t moved during the season. The prospect of a lower-than-expected salary cap could make Phaneuf the target of teams with lots of cap space,  but I think teams will wait until this summer when they know for sure what the cap for next season will be and how much they’ll have to work with. 

THE DENVER POST: Terry Frei, responding to reader e-mail, believes the Colorado Avalanche will try to swing a major deal by the March trade deadline and Ryan O’Reilly could be among the possible trade candidates. Despite the solid play of young Calvin Pickard, Frei doubts the Avs will shop starting goalie Semyon Varlamov.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: If the Avs can get what they want (a top-two defenseman) for O’Reilly at the trade deadline they could jump all over it. Still, I think they could be patient and wait until this summer to make that move. 

NBC SPORTS: Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray bemoans the fact it’s currently very quiet in the NHL trade market. Referring to his unrestricted free agents, Murray’s promised that he’s not going to lose a guy for nothing if he can help it. Murray also admitted to have internal discussions with his staff regarding Kings center Mike Richards before he was sent to the minors.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Though Murray seems keen to deal, his comments suggests he may have misjudged the trade market, anticipating some early movement. I believe he could have had a trade for Stewart had his rumored asking price (first-round pick and a top prospect) not been so high. Teams are aware Murray’s willing to deal, but there’s more attractive names currently kicking around the rumor mill. He’ll get something for Stewart and perhaps one or two of his other remaining UFAs (Drew Stafford, Torrey Mitchell, Andrej Meszaros, Michal Neuvirth or Jhonas Enroth) but probably not as much as he hoped. 

CSNBAYAREA.COM: Kevin Kurz speculates potential moves by San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson could depend upon the club’s performance leading up to the March trade deadline. Wilson has some UFAs (like James Sheppard, Tyler Kennedy, Andrew Desjardins and Antti Niemi) who could be attractive to rival clubs at the deadline. Neither Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau are expected to be dealt at this point.

THE PROVINCE: Jason Botchford believes the Vancouver Canucks need to make a trade if they’re to improve any of their current roster weaknesses.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The problem is the Canucks don’t have depth in potential trade bait. Zack Kassian’s poor play has hurt his trade value. GM Jim Benning doesn’t want to sacrifice the future for a quick fix. Whatever moves he makes isn’t likely to significantly address their need for size, second-line scoring, a power-play quarterback or grit.