Is Brad Richards on the Montreal Canadiens' Shopping List?

Shaun McMahonContributor IFebruary 3, 2009

According to the French-language sports radio station CKAC, Bob Gainey is reportedly eyeing forward Brad Richards and defenseman Matt Niskanen of the Dallas Stars.

The Canadiens are in desperate need of a talented center following the potential season-ending achilles tendon injury to veteran Robert Lang last Sunday. Lang was cut by the skate of Boston's Stephane Yelle on a harmless-looking play along the boards.

Lang underwent a successful operation in the hours following the game.

Richards, not Niskanen, is the interesting piece to this puzzle. Not since his Conn Smythe performance, when he played for the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, has Richards played as well as his salary would suggest.

The 28-year-old native of Prince Edward Island, who played his junior hockey in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, has two years left on deal that pays him $7.8 million per season. Richards had a career-high 91 points with Tampa in the 2005-2006 season, but has tapered off in recent years. He's collected 42 points so far this season.

Those 42 points would make him the leading scorer on the Montreal Canadiens roster, but many feel Richards makes franchise-player money and fails to produce like one.

Keep in mind that the Canadiens have 11 pending unrestricted free agents. While some guys will certainly leave, others will be up for a hefty raise.

Hopes are high in the Dallas organization for Matt Niskanen, a 22-year-old Minnesota native drafted in the first round in 2005 (28th overall). He's making $635,000 this season, and is set to make $805,000 next season before hitting RFA status in 2010-2011.

While he may be an interesting prospect, he's not the No. 4 blueliner the Canadiens desperately need. Not yet, anyway.

Florida Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester should remain Bob Gainey's primary focus. However, it is clear that he'll have to find a talented center to pivot one of Guy Carbonneau's top two lines, before the season slips away.

The playoffs are far from a guarantee, and the time to act is now.