There's one guy and one guy only the Rangers intend to target when the free-agent market opens on July 1, and everyone has known it for months.

Brad Richards isn't just the elite talent the Blueshirts lack, isn't just the upper-echelon first-line center the team lacks, isn't only the power play quarterback the Rangers do not have, he is a true believer in John Tortorella, the coach with whom the pivot won a Stanley Cup (and the Conn Smythe Trophy) with Tampa Bay in 2004.

The problem is, it's risky business for the Rangers to wait until July 1 for the Dallas center to become available to the highest bidder when a feeding frenzy marks the opening hours of free agency, and prices soar beyond reason due to the extremely limited supply of difference-makers on the market.

The Maple Leafs, who likely fancy themselves an elite player from being players in the Eastern playoff picture and who have oodles of cap space, will be in on Richards. The Kings, whose GM, Dean Lombardi, has had top talents slip through his fingers almost annually, are unlikely to be outbid for Richards. There may be a dark-horse franchise looking to make a splash that will drive the price up on the center who turned 31 early this month.

Dallas, still ownerless, meanwhile, has no shot even if the Stars wish to continue to delude themselves the way they deluded themselves at the trade deadline. At some point though, it's up to GM Joe Nieuwendyk to accept reality and see what he might be able to get for Richards' rights before No. 91 walks out the door for nothing in return.