The Brad Richards watch is really heating up.

Where will the veteran centre wind up? How much salary will he command? How long will he sign for?

In a year when there really aren’t many high-end unrestricted free agents, Richards is easily the best player available; a player who could help put a team that is close to being a Stanley Cup contender over the top. The 31-year-old Murray Harbour, PEI, native led the Dallas Stars with 28 goals and 77 points in 72 games last season and has been rumored to be on the way to New York to join the Rangers; possibly to Philadelphia and perhaps even back to Tampa Bay where he helped the Lightning win the Cup in 2003-04.

That said, there is an undeniable risk involved in signing him. Richards suffered a concussion last season and any team signing him to a long-term contract, which he will no doubt command, has to be wary of this.

As one general manager told, “We can insure players’ contracts for up to seven years, but it is very expensive. Also, you can’t get insurance for anything over seven years or on a body part that has a preconditioned injury. In Richards’ case, that would be his head, so it would be a risky signing.”

Richards has played 10 years in the NHL and has accumulated 220 goals and 716 points in 772 games. He also has a rich history of being a leader and a great teammate. A crafty player with great vision, Richards won the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the playoffs the year the Lightning won the Cup. He was traded to the Stars in 2006 along with Johan Holmqvist for Jussi Jokinen, Jeff Halpern, Mike Smith and a fourth round draft pick.

There is no question Richards can help any team he signs with. At the time of his injury last season, he was easily one of the best players in the league. But concussions are scary things. Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins suffered two nasty concussions and his career is in jeopardy. Who knows how Sidney Crosby will be when he returns from a concussion that cost him the second half of last season?

Originally Richards expressed an interest in remaining with the Stars, but the fact the team is looking for a new owner made it virtually impossible for them to re-sign him. It was also thought the Stars may trade his rights to a team that would then have exclusive negotiating rights up to July 1, when he becomes unrestricted, but Richards said he would not waive his no-trade clause.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Richards scenario is the term he will wind up with. We have seen numerous long-term contracts blow up in the faces of the teams that handed them out, but in a year when there are very few top-end UFAs, Richards will likely coax some team into giving him the term he desires.

It can be a very dangerous proposition for teams to sign players to long deals. Goaltender Roberto Luongo received a 12-year contract extension from the Vancouver Canucks, but even though he was a Vezina Trophy finalist this year and took his team to the Stanley Cup final, his popularity is at an all-time low with the locals. The 32-year-old has 11 years remaining on his contract. The Philadelphia Flyers signed Mike Richards to a 12-year contract extension and Jeff Carter to an 11-year extension, but traded both of those players away last week. Ilya Kovalchuk signed a 15-year deal last summer and then failed to make the playoffs.

It has been suggested the Rangers could get Richards signed to a deal as short as five years if the contract comes in at around $33 million and is front-end loaded to the tune of $11 million next season. Richards signing with the Rangers makes sense from the standpoint the team is led by John Tortorella, the coach in Tampa Bay when he won the Cup.

Rangers’ GM Glen Sather likes to make a big splash when it comes to signing free agents, but his choices haven’t always panned out. Wade Redden signed a six-year, $39 million deal, but spent last season in the minors so his deal would not count against the Rangers’ salary cap. Marian Gaborik signed a five-year, $37.5 million deal with the Rangers, but they were not enthralled with his play last season.

With only a few days to go before the opening of free agent season, expect the Brad Richards rumors to continue. Concussion concerns aside, he will be viewed as well worth the risk by many.