"Until I kind of see what's going on here and who's going to be the GM, who's going to be running the team. There are a lot of questions. I have the right in the situation I'm in to ask those questions and I'm going to keep asking them. There's no change here. I know people want to read more into it and they think there's more to it, but there's not. It's gone this long and we're this close to the summer. So seeing who's going to be in charge of this makes sense to me in what I want to do." — Brad Richards, Feb. 28, after the trade deadline.
The problem for Brad Richards(notes) was that he was only going to see these things with a crystal ball or the pre-cogs from "Minority Report," because the Dallas Stars still don't have a new owner in place three months later. Having gone through ownership changes before with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Richards wasn't keen on the uncertainty.
On Thursday, both Richards and the team confirmed he'll be on the unrestricted free-agent market, his time in Big D done. GM Joe Nieuwendyk said the team made him a "significant" contract offer at the trade deadline, but Richards took a pass. It's a significant loss: The 31-year-old had 91 points in 80 games in 2009-10 and 77 in 72 games last season. From ESPN Dallas:
With no Richards in the middle, Jamie Benn(notes) likely becomes a fulltime center and the club has Mike Ribeiro(notes) and Tom Wandell(notes). Gone is a guy that was top-10 in the league in points and a consistent producer. He led the team in points, was second in goals. He had the most average ice time of any forward and was second in power play points. That's a lot of scoring to make up.
Dallas Stars fans had been conditioning themselves for yesterday's revelation, with the understanding that no owner equaled no Richards (and there was no guarantee, as a premium free agent, he was going to re-up to begin with). Brandon Worley of Defending Big D had a great piece about the post-Richards Stars, and how this moment for the franchise "hurts like hell":
It's beyond frustrating to think of what might have been. I refuse to get caught up in "what if" and "if only", especially since revisionist thinking does zero good for anyone at all. Yet knowing that if the Stars just had an owner with an actual realistic budget in place, the Stars could have kept Richards as well as added that defensive help this team needs, on top of another winger.
Instead, I'm encouraged by the signs that say the Stars will at least be able to attempt to sign someone this summer despite the ownership issues. There's no easy way to really move forward after losing a player like Richards to free agency, but there are plenty of changes coming this summer that will provide us as fans with hope and positivity that helps to dull the pain of Richards' departure.
Richards is leaving Dallas … so where do you think he's going? A look at some of the potential suitors.
The first step in this process for Richards is whether he'll agree to waive his no-movement clause and have his rights traded by the Stars before free agency begins on July 1, but Richards' agent Pat Morris wasn't sure that was in the cards. From the Dallas Morning News:
"I'm not aware of another player in this situation who has waived his no-trade clause, and I think there is a reason for that,'' Morris said. "Accepting a move to another team creates an obligation, and you have to be pretty sure about that obligation. I think Brad has to do what's best for himself and keep his options open.''
What are the options when he goes to market?
Richards did little to downplay the Leafs' chances in signing him this summer when the Stars visited Toronto last November:
"When the time comes, if that's an option, Toronto's always a No. 1 hockey destination. It would be great being a Canadian playing in Toronto, but we're not even close to that bridge yet."
While not at the bridge, Richards and his agent are nearing the toll plaza. Before the salary cap is raised again, the Leafs have $21.2 million in space for next season (via Cap Geek) and have 14 NHL players under contract for 2011-12. They've got room for Richards; and if not, they'll find room.
As far as dealing for his rights before free agency, GM Brian Burke said on NHL Live that "I haven't ruled that out" but "I'm not sure if the League would permit that again," saying there was some instruction from the NHL about "jumping the queue."
Based on all factors, one has to believe the Toronto Maple Leafs are the prohibitive favorite for Brad Richards.
The Rangers have coveted Richards for some time, seeing as how he's a No. 1 center on a team that's the hockey equivalent of a doughnut offensively. They were in the hunt at the trade deadline; things got a little weird when Nieuwendyk wanted three of the Rangers best young players for what could have been a rental.
Under the current cap, the Rangers have 13 players signed for next season and $18.4 million in cap space. They also have one more year on Chris Drury's(notes) ridiculous contract, so that'll open more room in 2012-13.
Richards would also make Marian Gaborik(notes) that much more dangerous. Although Gaborik had an off year last year (in which he still scored 22 goals), I fully expect him to bounce back next season and find his own form. Imagine what 2009 Gaborik would have done with Richards as his center?
Richards is a top center in this league because he knows where his line mates like the puck on the ice, and he's talented enough to get it to them there. Everyone on the ice with Richards becomes more dangerous, and that's a very good thing. Richards would also add a tremendous boost to the stagnant power play. Richards scored 29 of his 77 points last year on the power play.
The John Tortorella connection with Richards is an important one, as he's already lobbied for free-agent help offensively. But coaches come and go, and one expects this Richards contract will be long-term. It's not about the man behind the bench — it's about the city and the franchise.
The Rangers are there with the Leafs as far as frontrunners.
Expect them to make a run at Dallas center Brad Richards, an unrestricted free agent who scored a career-high 28 goals last season, despite missing 10 games because of a concussion.
The Kings were interested Richards at the trade deadline, but the Stars were still in the hunt for the playoffs and didn't want to part with their star.
The Kings have the cap space to sign Richards, especially if they don't re-sign Handzus and Ponikarovsky. The question is, would Richards want to come West?
The Kings have solid ownership, they're a team on the rise and Richards would be a stellar piece to a championship puzzle. But his eyes seem to drift East.
The Sabres have a spiffy new locker room and a spiffier new owner in billionaire Terry Pegula, who said upon taking over that "starting today, there will be no financial mandates on the Buffalo Sabres hockey department."
The Sabres have 12 players under contract for next season and $18,557,976 in space under the current cap.
Is Richards the right player to pursue? Scott Michalak of Buffalo Sabres Nation opined:
The Sabres have said that one of their main priorities right now is developing their defense, and creating a true shutdown pair again. If they're smart, they'll stick with that plan — there are plenty of top defensive names on the market after all.
Let's not forget that Buffalo is already dealing with the contract of Drew Stafford(notes), who is due a hefty raise after this year's breakout performance — and Stafford is just one name on that big ol' list of RFA's that Regier and Co. is working on fitting under the cap. Next year, Buffalo will need the room to resign Tyler Myers(notes) and Tyler Ennis(notes) as their contracts expire and put them in the RFA market.
It's one thing to sacrifice an asset or two just to land the rights for Richards — it's another thing to pay for an inflated contract that could cost you the leverage to sign the new stars on your team. Like I said, Richards impact on a new team could be one that actually sets it back.
Or he could be the splash Pegula makes as the new Daddy Warbucks in town.
Yes, it's true: The Lightning, whose former owners previously traded Brad Richards because of his rich contract, could be in the market to make him richer. The team with Stamkos and Lecavalier up the gut could add a third elite center.
Why? Because Richards loves Tampa. From Lightning Strikes:
Neither Brad Richards nor his agent said the Lightning will have an edge if it wants to pursue the former Tampa Bay star in free agency. But both indicated Thursday that Richards, who has spent three-plus seasons with the Stars and will be an unrestricted free agent July 1, will listen if the Lightning comes calling.
"I never really wanted to leave Tampa," Richards told the St. Petersburg Times. "So, obviously, on July 1, if they talk to me, it's going to be something I'll listen to because of my history there."
Remember when the Lightning were a capped out mess of a team? They have 11 players under contract for 2011-12 and $22,853,084 of space under the current cap. Stamkos needs a new deal; would the ownership and Steve Yzerman be willing to bring on Brad Richards, too? Is that the need?
Richards is a No. 1 center in his prime. He made $7.8 million against the cap this season; one imagines some massaging of salary and years — within the NHL's limits, of course — will bring that down number. There are plenty of teams that can afford him, but few teams he'd opt to play for; who lands this year's big free agent catch?