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Modano happy to welcome Richards

by Larry Wigge

Mike Modano is first on the Stars all-time list for goals, assists, points, games played, game-winning goals, power play goals and shorthanded goals Modano highlights

For years, Mike Modano has been the No. 1 center, playmaker, goal-scorer and heart-and-soul leader on offense for the Dallas Stars. But earlier this season, the leading scorer among American-born hockey players was left pondering his role on the team he has helped win one Stanley Cup and get to the Final a second time.

The uncertainty came after Mike Ribeiro got off to a fast start, began taking over some of the quality offensive minutes Modano used to get and then was signed to a new five-year, $25 million contract.

You couldn't help but feel for the 37-year-old Modano, who is still one of the game's most effortless skaters, still a leader, stills shows an intense defensive reliability.

The Livonia, Mich., native, has points in six of his last nine games, but he had un-Modano-like numbers of 17 goals and 29 assists in 67 games after getting long-time linemate Jere Lehtinen back from an injury.

But Modano stands for much more than just offensive statistics. He leads Dallas in takeaways (68), is second in shots on goal (166), third in points (46), and fourth in goals (17) and assists (29). And he's done it without the kind of supporting cast that has helped make him so productive in the past.

"To tell you the truth, I wasn't really sure what my role on the team was back in December," Modano told me Tuesday. "I think it's changing."

Co-GM Brett Hull, who played on a line with Modano during Dallas' Stanley Cup years – when they won it all in 1999 and lost in the Final to New Jersey the following year – promised his old linemate he'd find him a new linemate he'd be happy with.

Do you think Modano got it wrong?

"No, that's what he said," Modano said with a straight face.

Modano could laugh now, because even if he has to shift to the wing, he's one happy camper after the Dallas Stars acquired center Brad Richards and backup goaltender Johan Holmqvist from the Tampa Bay Lightning for goalie Mike Smith and forwards Jeff Halpern and Jussi Jokinen.

Like Modano, Richards was one of those elite players looking around and not seeing the same surrounding cast that helped make him the 2004 Conn Smythe winner as playoff Most Valuable Player when the Lightning beat Calgary to win the Stanley Cup.

"It's pretty scary to think that Modano has someone like that to set him up," said St. Louis Blues defenseman Barret Jackman after hearing the news. "I just hope he doesn't get here for tonight's game."

Richards is 27 and he comes with a $7.8 million contract for the next three years. But the Stars could overlook that when you consider he's scored 489 points in 552 regular-season games and 47 points in 45 playoff games.

Forget the fact Richards had just 18 goals and 33 assists and a league-worst minus-25 in 62 games with the Lightning this season.

Coach Dave Tippett wouldn't comment on where he might play his newest forward.

"I honestly don't know," Tippett said of a team whose chemistry has been just fine of late, winning 12 of its last 14 games. "We feel one of our strengths is that we play as a whole – everyone has his role."

The Stars may have given up two terrific role players in Halpern and Jokinen, but given half a chance, I'm sure the Stars will find a nice offensive and leadership role for Richards.

"Our job is to fill the group," Tippett added. "Management's job is to enhance the group. Then we rebuild it into a team concept."

But Tippett, whose team is in first place in the Pacific Division, six points ahead of Anaheim, and second in the Western Conference, just five points behind Detroit, wasn't downplaying the acquisition of Richards. Not at all.

"What you know is that a player of the magnitude of Richards ... he's going to make an impact," Tippett said. "I remember we played Tampa two times in preseason games and he had fun against our youngsters. Just toyed with them. But in watching him in the Stanley Cup Final, what you noticed most was how hard he competed."

And that's what the Stars are getting. Production. Leadership. And a compete level that should lift Dallas to the next level.

Brett asked me what I thought about Brad when they started talking to Tampa. How could I not be happy to have a guy with that kind of skill-set up front with this team? - Mike Modano

Modano wouldn't be averse to moving to the wing at this point in his career if it meant playing on a line with Richards.

"Brett asked me what I thought about Brad when they started talking to Tampa. How could I not be happy to have a guy with that kind of skill-set up front with this team?" Modano observed. "You know ..."

Modano paused for a second to think about other teams he has played for in Dallas and quickly drew a comparison to the depth the Stars had up front when they beat Buffalo for the Stanley Cup in 1999, saying, "It's hard to say what chemistry will be like, but on paper, this deal looks special for us."

On paper the Stars may not look like they need more offense, since only Ottawa (210 goals), Detroit (203) and Montreal (201) have scored more than the 199 Dallas has.

But as Hull and Modano know, there's a knack players like Richards have for scoring and setting up players in prime scoring positions that makes offense so much easier.

And that offensive knack is what the Dallas Stars now have a little more of going down the stretch and into the playoffs after making their trade with Tampa Bay.


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