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Richards among intriguing free agent forwards

by Adam Kimelman
Brad Richards has tasted winning, and is ready for another helping. Before he signs his next contract, he said that will be one of his biggest considerations.
If Richards gets to July 1 without a new contract and becomes an unrestricted free agent, he'll have no shortage of suitors telling him just how close they are to winning the Stanley Cup.
Richards, who had 28 goals and 49 assists in 72 games this past season, led the Stars in scoring for the second straight campaign despite missing 10 games with a concussion. However, he's been to the playoffs just once in his four seasons in Dallas, and it's been a long time since 2004, when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy while helping the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup.
"It's been too long since I had that chance to win the Stanley Cup," he said during a recent appearance on NHL Live. "I kind of thought we'd have a couple more cracks at it by now. That will be the main focus."
Richards is far and away the best offensive player available in free agency. Ducks star Teemu Selanne -- if he plays next season -- almost certainly will do so only in Anaheim.

"It's been too long since I had that chance to win the Stanley Cup. I kind of thought we'd have a couple more cracks at it by now. That will be the main focus." -- Brad Richards

While the free agent market might not be overflowing with superstars, there likely will be numerous useful players that could fit a number of team's needs. Here are a few categories:

Andrew Brunette --
There's two things to know about the 37-year-old left wing -- he scores goals and never gets hurt. In 15 seasons, Brunette has 256 goals, most scored within a stickblade's length from the net. Hanging in that area opens a player up to numerous injuries, but Brunette has missed just three games in nine seasons. He played all 82 games for the second straight season in 2010-11.
Erik Cole -- The 32-year-old right wing had a nice bounce-back season after an injury-plagued 2009-10. Playing all 82 games for the first time in his career, he had 26 goals and 52 points, his best season since 2007-08. He's played all but 63 games of his nine NHL seasons with the Hurricanes, but Carolina has been getting younger over the last few seasons, and his return could be a question.
Simon Gagne -- The two-time 40-goal scorer has had some injury problems the last few seasons, including a neck problem that limited him to just 63 games this season. But when he's healthy, he can be an elite goal-scorer.
Jussi Jokinen -- The Hurricanes' left wing slipped from a career-best 30 goals in 2009-10 to 19 last season, but he's just 28. The added benefit comes in the shootout, where Jokinen is the all-time leader with 28 goals.
Scottie Upshall -- The 27-year-old right wing picked the right time to have his first 20-goal NHL season. He had 16 goals in 61 games with the Coyotes, and then kept scoring after his late-season trade to Blue Jackets, and he finished with 22 goals in 82 games. Upshall has speed to burn and isn't afraid to get to the dirty areas to score.

Tim Connolly --
There's no questioning the 30-year-old center's talent -- just his durability. He's played more than 70 games just once in the last six seasons, but Sabres coach Lindy Ruff spoke highly of him during Buffalo's first-round playoff series loss to the Flyers.
Ville Leino -- When Philadelphia placed Leino on a line with Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell during last season's playoffs, it helped the Flyers reach the Stanley Cup Final. That strong play carried into this season, as the 27-year-old left wing had 34 assists and helped Briere score a career-best 34 goals.
Brendan Morrison -- Cut after a training camp invitation by the Canucks, the Flames took a chance and were rewarded with 34 assists, the 35-year-old center's best season since 2006-07.
Brad Richards --
How important was Richards to the Stars' success? They averaged 2.74 goals per game with him in the lineup, 2.50 per game without him. A premier offensive player, he's had more than 40 assists nine times in 10 seasons, and more than 50 four times.

Pascal Dupuis -- Dupuis' play was a major reason the Pens were the League's best team when playing a man down. He also added the element of goal-scoring -- his 4 shorthanded goals led the team, and were the most among any player heading into unrestricted free agency.
Adam Hall -- The 30-year-old right wing helped the Lightning improve from No. 22 last season to No. 8 killing penalties. The 6-foot-3, 213-pound right wing led the Lightning in hits and he also won 55 percent of his faceoffs.
Michal Handzus -- The 34-year-old center is big (6-foot-4, 219), durable (he's missed one game in four seasons with the Kings) and fearless -- he's led Kings forwards in blocked shots each of the last four seasons.

Ben Eager --
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound left wing skates well for a big guy, and he's certainly not afraid to engage on the forecheck. As he's gotten more experienced, he's toned down his physicality the last few seasons, but he isn't afraid to mix it up. He also can chip in offensively -- he had 7 goals and a career-best 17 points this season, split with Atlanta and San Jose.
Zenon Konopka -- The Islanders tough guy led the League in fighting majors, but he was more than just a designated puncher. He was outstanding on faceoffs, winning a club-best 57.7 percent; was second among the team's forwards with 52 blocked shots; and was one of the club's most popular players.
Michael Rupp -- As a rookie, Rupp scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Devils in 2003. He still has a bit of a scoring touch -- he had 9 goals this season, 13 the season before -- but his role with the Penguins has been more of the physical variety. He's had more than 120 penalty minutes the last two seasons, but also was third on the team in hits in the regular season and won more than 50 percent of his faceoffs.

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