Right now, a trade makes no sense. Right now, Brad Richards(notes) is scoring, tied for sixth in the NHL with 38 points. Right now, the Dallas Stars are winning, with a three-point lead in the Pacific Division, one point out of first in the airtight Western Conference.
Why would Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk want to part with his best player, even if Richards’ contract expires after the season, the ownership situation is unsettled and he can’t offer him an extension? Why would Richards waive his no-movement clause?
“Right now, I’m playing for a first-place team,” Richards said. “Obviously, what’s the sense of leaving that and going to a lower team? But that’s what everyone thinks is going to happen. ...
“They just assume that because I’m not signed, I’m going to be traded. That’s not necessarily how it all works.”
But that doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t work out that way, either. There is a big dilemma in Big D, and the drama is going to play out day by day until the Feb. 28 trade deadline. Perhaps beyond.
Owner Tom Hicks has defaulted on his loans. Lenders have taken over the team. Will there be a new owner? What will the budget be in the future? No one knows. Nieuwendyk and Richards speak about the situation often. All they can do is wait and see what happens in the coming weeks.
So much can change between right now and late February. What is the ownership and financial picture then? Where are the Stars in the standings? What are other teams offering? Might they give up more if they receive permission to sign Richards to a new contract?
“Brad likes playing here,” Nieuwendyk said. “There’s no doubt about it. He likes playing with the young kids he’s playing with, and we’d like to sign him. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that.”
The more Richards scores, the more fans can dream in places like Montreal and Toronto and New York. Richards is on pace for career highs in goals (37) and points (94). Maybe he can go to the Canadiens and return to the province where he played junior hockey. Maybe he can join the Maple Leafs and give them the No. 1 center they need so badly. Maybe he can hit Broadway and reunite with Rangers coach John Tortorella, with whom he won the 2004 Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But the more the Stars win, the more this is a shame for fans in Dallas and the Stars themselves.
In the short term, Richards is already a key cog on a contending team. All you have to do is look at the past two games. He scored both goals in the Stars’ 2-1 victory Saturday night over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Then, after the Stars fell into a 2-0 first-period hole the next night against the Detroit Red Wings, he didn’t let them fold in a back-to-back situation on the road. He followed the Wings’ second goal with one of his own 1:31 later, and the Stars came back and won 4-3 in overtime.
“That’s the type of player he is,” Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas(notes) said. “He’s not the type of player who’s going to score the sixth or seventh goal in a 6-1 or 7-1 game. He’s going to score that game-tying goal, that goal that’s going to put you over the top.”
In the long term, Richards could be the face of the franchise now that Nieuwendyk has made the hard decision to part with longtime Stars center Mike Modano(notes). Coach Marc Crawford compared Richards to Joe Sakic(notes) – the superstar captain with whom he won the 1996 Cup with the Colorado Avalanche – in terms of meticulous preparation, offensive creativity and overall professionalism. Robidas envisioned Richards helping the Stars win a championship, the way he helped the Bolts when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs’ most valuable player in 2004.
“He’s in his prime,” Robidas said. “He’s only 30 years old. He has a lot of good years ahead of him. We want to win the Stanley Cup. I think he’s a guy that you need on your team if you want to win the Stanley Cup.”
Captain Brenden Morrow(notes) mentioned that the Stars held training camp in Richards’ home province of Prince Edward Island. “The plan is to go back there next year,” Morrow said, smiling. “So I think we’re trying to work different angles and do everything we can to keep Mr. Richards happy and a part of this team.”
But Richards knows there is nothing Nieuwendyk can do right now, other than keep him informed. He knows he has that no-movement clause, too.
“I’m old enough and professional enough to know his hands are tied,” Richards said. “If you were left in the dark and all that and you could be traded at any time, it would be a lot harder to play. You’d be wondering what you’re doing night in and night out. But I’m in total control.”
Richards’ best play might be to stay put this season. He can see how the Stars’ situation develops, both in the owners’ box and on the ice, knowing he can always become a marquee free agent on July 1.
Though he no doubt wants to end up on a team with stable ownership – after going through similar problems in Tampa Bay – he also remembers how hard it was to leave the Lightning on a personal level. He spent almost seven seasons with the Bolts before being traded to the Stars on Feb. 26, 2008. He became entrenched in Tampa, and he values what he has built in Dallas. “This is where my relationships are, my buddies, my teammates,” Richards said.
Would Richards like to stay in Dallas ideally? Is that even a fair question, under the circumstances?
Right now, it’s hard to say.
“You do,” Richards said. “But then, at the same time, if they come to you at some point and say the ownership – or lenders or whoever – doesn’t want to keep you, then that’s a little different, you know? There’s too many variables to answer that one question.
“In a perfect world, yeah. We’re in first place. Everything’s going good. But it’s a unique situation. We’ll see how all that shakes out. It might not happen till the summer.
- Joe Nieuwendyk