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Sunday, February 27, 2011
A look at the Brad Richards situation

By Mark Stepneski

The Dallas Stars will be center stage as Monday’s 2 p.m. (CT) NHL trade deadline approaches because of center Brad Richards. Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk must decide if he wants to try to trade his No. 1 center or risk losing him via free agency later this summer.

The situation is complicated by several factors, including that Richards has a no-trade clause, the Stars are right in the middle of a tight playoff race and there's a couple of question marks: In the short term, there’s Richards’ health (he’s missed the last six games with concussion-like symptoms), and in the long term, there’s the status of Dallas’ ownership situation. And there’s the question of  just how much a team should give up to get Richards when it could possibly land him on July 1.

Here’s a look at some of the issues surrounding Brad Richards before Monday’s deadline.

The Richards factor: It usually takes just two teams to make a trade, with both teams getting something they want or can use out of a deal. In this case, it’s going to take two teams and Richards, who has a no-trade clause and ultimately has final say over whether two teams can finalize a deal.  In other words, Richards is in control.

Richards is in a good position now and he can be patient. He’s on a team that he likes and it is a team in the middle of a tight playoff race. He can let the season play out and go from there.

It’s just a hunch, but chances are Richards would like to see the Stars’ ownership issue get resolved before committing to a long-term deal with Dallas. There's nothing wrong with him wanting to know who's going to be running the show and what the plan is before he decides to commit to putting his name on what could be his last big, long-term contract.

There’s a chance Dallas’ ownership situation gets resolved and the Stars are in a better position to work out an extension prior to July 1. If that doesn’t happen, Richards hits the market on July 1 as the most coveted free agent and will be in a position to work out a great deal that will take care of him over the next several years.

The Stars: The Stars are in a situation teams face every season at this time of the year. They have a player in the final year of a contract, approaching unrestricted free agency and, for whatever circumstances, are having issues signing the player to an extension. They have to decide whether to try to get something for him now via a trade or risk losing him for nothing in free agency.

It’s a tough call for Nieuwendyk because his team is right in the middle of a tight playoff race, and after going through a lot of injuries (including one to Richards) and a recent slump, his team has started to get healthy and is starting to get its game in order again.

Richards isn’t just any player. He is, after all, the team’s top forward and leading scorer.

Adding to the dilemma is that Richards is only 30 years old, has a lot of good years ahead and can be a big part of the future if the Stars can find a way to keep him long-term.

Still, a Richards trade can bring a lot in return and if Nieuwendyk can work out a deal that would benefit the Stars, and Richards agrees to the deal, he’d have to consider it. But it would have to bring a lot in return and set the Stars up for the future.

The health issue, etc: Those teams that could be pursuing Richards at the deadline -- the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings have been hot in the rumor mill -- have their own issues to consider.

The short-term one is Richards’ health. He’s missed the last six games with concussion-like symptoms and, while he is skating and his condition is said to be improving, there is still no timetable for a return. It’s not exactly the kind of injury in which you can pencil in a target date for a return.

A second issue is how much a team should give up for a player when it could possibly land him on July 1, when the free-agent market opens. It’s going to take an impressive offer for Nieuwendyk to approach Richards about waiving that no-trade clause. And chances are any team that lands Richards would have to think it has a good chance of re-signing him prior to the deadline.

The Dallas ownership situation: If there’s no deal to move Richards by Monday’s deadline, there’s no guarantee that he’ll ever hit the free-agent market. There’s still a chance he could end up staying in Dallas. A lot will depend on what happens with the still-unresolved Dallas ownership situation. The financial boost from a new owner puts the Stars in a better position to sign Richards, who, again, would probably be more inclined to re-sign with new ownership in place.

If there’s no trade on Monday, that leaves four months for the ownership situation to get resolved. That’s a lot of time and a lot can happen. From all indications, the situation with the sale of the team is moving along. How long it will take to get it resolved is an unknown. If something gets done in time to put the team in a better position to re-sign Richards, that’s great, and if it doesn’t, Richards likely hits the market. Or the Stars could always trade his negotiating rights and get at least something in return.