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The concussion suffered by Brad Richards(notes) has complicated an already difficult situation for Dallas Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk, adding another obstacle to moving Richards before the NHL trade deadline at 3 p.m. ET Monday.
Then again, maybe it’s simplified things.
Nieuwendyk has said it would take a lot for him to part with Richards, because even though the Stars could lose Richards if he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1, they are fighting for a playoff spot and still hope they can settle their ownership situation and re-sign him.
And before he can even ask whether Richards will waive his no-movement clause, Nieuwendyk must find the answer to a key question: Can the Stars get enough value to justify trading Richards if there is uncertainty about his health?
“Well, I don’t know,” Nieuwendyk said Thursday. “Obviously I have some tough decisions to make, and that’s part of it. But I care about the player. … I think it’s important first that he gets healthy. I’ve talked to him about that, too. I care about the person and the individual and his injury more than the trade deadline.”
Richards, who ranks eighth in the NHL in scoring with 63 points, has missed four games and will miss the Stars’ final two games before the deadline – Thursday night against the Detroit Red Wings and Saturday night against the Nashville Predators.
Wings center Mike Modano(notes), a former Stars teammate, talked to Richards three or four days into his recovery and said Richards was “very drowsy at that point.” Modano talked about the tricky nature of concussions – how you feel lethargic, how the symptoms come back when you get your heart rate up. “So it’s kind of touch and go,” Modano said. “Obviously he’s a crucial piece of that team right now.”
Asked if he thought Richards would go anywhere before the deadline, Modano said: “Not right now. I don’t think so. If the symptoms are still lingering close to that deadline, I don’t think anybody’s going to take a chance, not knowing if he’s even going to play at all. Who knows?”
Nieuwendyk said Richards is feeling better and the Stars hope he will start skating soon. But Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby(notes) was supposed to be out about a week with a concussion; it’s been almost two months now and he’s still not symptom-free, let alone skating.
Unsure whether he would even be able to play as a rental, a team trading for Richards would need to take a long-term view, either signing him to an extension now or at least wanting exclusive negotiating rights until July 1. The Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers are logical suitors. Nieuwendyk denied a New York Post story that he had asked the Rangers for three young studs off their roster, saying: “I haven’t had that discussion.” Asked if he had talked to the Rangers about specific players, he said: “No.”
Other things to consider: Richards might not want to waive his no-trade clause unless it gives him a better chance to win the Stanley Cup, and he likely would be going to a team scrapping for a playoff spot like the Stars, not a top contender. And if he even thinks he’s going to sign with his new team in the summer, why would he want to weaken it now with a trade (costing the club players off its roster and/or prospects and draft picks)? He might be better off staying put, seeing how things develop and hitting the open market July 1.
If the Stars don’t trade Richards and lose him in free agency, they do get something in return – $7.8 million in salary cap space, a lot of money for a team that has been on a budget. What are the Stars’ hopes of signing him? Richards has said that he likes Dallas and his teammates. But he went through a tumultuous ownership situation earlier in his career with the Tampa Bay Lightning and doesn’t want to go through it again. The Stars, currently controlled by banks, are trying to work out a sale.
“I think from his standpoint, the big stumbling block is ownership, so that’s the difficulty in all of this,” Nieuwendyk said. “I’ve maintained from the very beginning we’d like to keep Brad Richards as a long-term player for us, and that’s still the goal.”
All we can do is wait – until Monday afternoon and maybe beyond.
“Would it be a blow to lose your best player? Of course it would,” Stars winger Adam Burish(notes) said. “But at the same time, you trust that Joe has a plan. His instincts are unbelievable. He’s been through winning teams. He’s been on championship teams. So I think whatever his plan is, you trust it and you believe it.”
The Stars were on the playoff bubble, and Modano was set to become an unrestricted free agent. But Modano had spent his entire accomplished career with the franchise, and Nieuwendyk had yet to tell Modano that he didn’t plan to offer him another contract.
“I figured, ‘There’s still a chance here, an opportunity,’ ” Modano said. “Certainly, I think if we were out of the picture, I may have thought of doing something like that. But I figured, ‘I don’t want to quit on this thing yet.’ ”
Modano stayed for the rest of the season. But instead of retiring after the Stars let him go, he signed with the Red Wings, his hometown team. The 40-year-old was admittedly out of shape and struggled early. Then, just as he was rounding into form 20 games in, a skate blade cut his right forearm and severed a tendon.
Now Modano is set to return Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres, and it’s almost like he has accepted a trade to Detroit at the deadline. “That was mentioned a couple times, that it feels like they’ve made a trade for somebody and hopefully it pays off,” Modano said, smiling.
After three months of seeing doctors and rehabbing and conditioning, Modano is going to need an adjustment period before everything returns – his legs, timing, hands, shot, positioning. But he’ll have time to do it before the playoffs.
“I think I just can’t get too discouraged and too frustrated too fast,” Modano said. “I think the fun part is starting to begin here now. Spring’s around the corner, and that’s the part that we’ve all been kind of gearing towards, and it seems like this team thrives on that part of the year. It will be fun to be a part of it. The timing worked out where I came back 20, 21 games left in the season. Hopefully that’s plenty enough to get where I want to be.”
When the Devils traded their captain back to Dallas on Jan. 7, they were 10-28-2 while the Stars were 24-13-4. Since then, the Devils have gone 16-2-2 while the Stars have gone 7-10-2. The Devils beat the Stars on Tuesday night, 1-0, handing Dallas its fifth straight regulation loss.
“It hasn’t been perfect, but I’ve been pretty fortunate to be on a lot of good teams my whole career,” Langenbrunner said. “Obviously this is a little bit the other side of it so far this year, but we feel we’re going to come out of this.”
Langenbrunner said he is not surprised the Devils have turned things around, though he has been surprised by the extent of it.
“Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong in the first half for the team in Jersey, and it was a good hockey team that just lost its way a little bit,” Langenbrunner said. “Having talked with some of the guys and seeing them the other day, not much has changed other than the fact that they’re believing again and finding that confidence.”
The big change – other than the Langenbrunner trade – was Jacques Lemaire returning to coach after the firing of John MacLean on Dec. 23. But Langenbrunner didn’t give all the credit to Lemaire.
“That would be the obvious, easy choice, but it’s never just one thing that makes something not work or makes something work,” Langenbrunner said. “He brought back some structure to the game that got away a little bit, but players are playing better. Guys are playing with more confidence. Those things I think have a lot to do with it, too.”
The Florida Panthers have a funny way of promoting 2011-12 season tickets: On their website, they show Dimitry Kulikov and Jack Skille(notes) with the pronouncement: “IN OCTOBER 2011: WE’RE GUARANTEED TO PLAY.” To the right, they show an NFL football and an NBA basketball resting in lounge chairs on the beach with a reference to those leagues’ looming labor problems: “THEY’RE NOT!”
First reaction: The Panthers didn’t show guys like Chris Higgins(notes), Bryan McCabe(notes), Cory Stillman(notes) or Tomas Vokoun(notes), because they’re pending unrestricted free agents, and as general manager Dale Tallon tries to sell before the deadline, there’s no guarantee they’ll play for Florida in March 2011.
Second reaction: What about October 2012? With the NHL’s own labor agreement expiring that September, there are no guarantees about that, either.
• No wonder Buffalo Sabres fans swoon over new owner Terry Pegula. His introductory press conference was a fan’s dream – tearing up about buying the team, calling a former player (Gilbert Perreault) his hero, promising to spend money, daring to speak about Stanley Cups. Yes, Cups. Passion, deep pockets and high expectations don’t guarantee success, but they’re a heck of a start.
• Now that Pegula has removed the financial shackles, general manager Darcy Regier has a chance to make a splash instead of being conservative. The Sabres are only three points behind the eighth-place Carolina Hurricanes in the East, and they have two games in hand. Regier has said he isn’t looking for rentals, however. If he makes a deal, it will be part of a long-range plan.
• One is enough. Two outdoor games are fine – as long as one is the Winter Classic, promoting hockey in the United States, while the other is the Heritage Classic, satisfying the core audience in Canada. But the NHL needs to draw the line there when it comes to these events. They have generated great demand from sponsors and fans, but if you hold more than one or two a season, they will cease to be special. More supply could lead to less demand.
• If the Los Angeles Kings underwhelm at the deadline, general manager Dean Lombardi might echo Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, explaining that he could have traded Schenn and made the playoffs but wouldn’t. Only instead of Luke Schenn(notes), he’d be talking about brother Brayden, the prized prospect.
• The Red Wings are reluctant to part with their draft picks, especially those in high rounds. They know they need to restock their system. Unearthing late-round gems like Pavel Datsyuk(notes) (sixth round, 1998) and Henrik Zetterberg(notes) (seventh round, 1999) helped keep them among the elite, but that isn’t a sustainable strategy.
• If only Ilya Bryzgalov(notes) could start every game. The Phoenix Coyotes finally gave their No. 1 goaltender a break Wednesday night in the second of a back-to-back road set, only to watch Jason LaBarbera(notes) struggle in an 8-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Bryzgalov had started 19 straight, winning his last eight. “I feel good, especially when we’re winning,” he said. “You don’t feel too tired. Physically, I feel great, but mentally, I’m starting to get a little bit tired.”
• Look for Alexei Kovalev to contribute to the Pittsburgh Penguins now that he has left the Ottawa Senators. He’s on a better team, in a place where he once had success and should be motivated to land another contract.
• It would be a great story if Ottawa defenseman Chris Phillips(notes), instead of waiving his no-trade clause to be sold off before the deadline, signs an extension with the Senators and becomes part of the solution. We want loyalty from athletes – until it doesn’t suit us (see Kaberle, Tomas).
• @cotsonika tweet of the week: “Need to go grocery shopping, and I’m confused by the brewers’ brouhaha with NHL. Am I supposed to buy Molson or Labatt?” (Several great responses, including Detroit’s Atwater Beer. But the best ones all included the same word: “both.”)