There has been much talk about whether or not the Stars have cap space to make a big trade, and the answer to that question is yes. The problem is they probably don't have enough space in their budget to make a big move. Here's the difference between the two categories.
The Stars were very much up against the salary cap earlier in the year when they took on Sean Avery for way too much money ($3.8 million in cap hit). But, since losing Avery to behavioral therapy and then the minors, and losing Brenden Morrow ($4.1 million cap hit) and Sergei Zubov ($5.35 million) to long-term injury, the Stars probably have somewhere in the range of $6 million in cap exceptions (meaning they could go over the $57.6 milion cap by about that much. With Richards making $7.8 million a year (or almost $1 million per 10 games), the Stars will probably have the availability of another $2 million or so in the next six weeks.
So they can fit anyone they need under the cap right now. However, they have to pay all of these players real money, and they also have to pay real money to players such as Brian Sutherby and Andrew Hutchinson and Mark Parrish and Chris Conner who are taking their places. So, budget-wise, they are over what they were hoping to spend for the year. So my guess is they will be very cautious in making trades, and might not make any.
Mathieu Schneider, for example, is going to cost the Montreal Canadiens an additional $1.7 million in salary this season in addition the draft picks they surrendered to the Thrashers. The Stars don't want to do that kind of deal right now. They believe they have replacements within the system and will study those replacements. The trade deadline is March 4, so they still have time to change their minds. In fact, I believe the call up of Mark Fistric and the minor league goaltender shuffling of Tobias Stephan and Brent Krahn is all about finding out what this team has. If they really don't like what they see, they would look into the trade market as a last resort.
But I just don't see them taking on a big contract at the time. It's not because of the salary cap, it's because the GMs set a budget for themselves and they want to stay within that budget. As for the other questions: Steve Ott will probably skate on Wednesday and could play on Thursday against Edmonton. And Chris Conner was recalled this afternoon by the Stars and will be at practice Wednesday, as well. _Mike Heika