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COLUMBUS -- The Tampa Bay Lightning might dangle a big prize in a bid to reach the top of tomorrow's NHL entry draft.

League sources say Tampa GM Jay Feaster might be willing to offer centre Brad Richards and his $7.8-million salary (all terms US) for each of the next four years to the Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers and Phoenix Coyotes.

Those teams hold the first three picks in the draft, to be held at Nationwide Arena.

The 27-year-old Richards is one of Tampa's top forwards with 25 goals and 45 assists for 70 points in 82 games last season.

But he could be expendable after the Bolts acquired centre Chris Gratton from the Florida Panthers last week and Feaster needs to clear some salary to find a way to bring in a goaltender.

The salary cap is forecast to fall between $48-$50 million next season, but the Bolts are expected to hold their payroll at $44 million.

The Blackhawks want a player who can make an impact right away and Richards would fit the bill. Still, surrendering the top draft selection would be a big price to pay.

Assistant GM Rick Dudley said his boss, Dale Tallon, has had two serious calls about the No. 1 pick, but Chicago will likely hold on to it.

If so, the 'Hawks are expected to select right winger Patrick Kane of the OHL's London Knights, but they are also considering left winger James vanRiemsdyk of the U.S. development team and centre Kyle Turris of the BCHL's Burnaby Express.

"It's not a done deal that we're going to keep it, but we're not going to be the ones who decide what we're going to do with it either," said Dudley, who drafted Richards when he was the Bolts' GM. "The teams that want that No. 1 pick are going to have to decide how they value it.

''We know what we think it's worth because we know we're going to get a strong player."
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