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Pacific: Early returns have Richards doing Texas two-step in Big D

by Doug Ward

Brad Richards had five points in his first game with the Stars. Richards highlights
It's been a week since Dallas co-general managers Les Jackson and Brett Hull pulled off a deadline-day deal for Brad Richards and, if early returns are to be trusted, the Stars just might have found gold.

In Richards's Dallas debut, he looked like the NHL's answer to Pau Gasol, picking up five points in the Stars' 7-4 win against the Chicago Blackhawks. In doing so, Richards became the first Star to record a five-assist game since the franchise moved to Texas in 1994. Murray Oliver (1971) and Larry Murphy (1989) both had five-assist games when the franchise was based in Minnesota.

More importantly, the elite center gives Dallas a legitimate shot at its second Stanley Cup in franchise history.

The Stars have won 13 of their last16 games and sit atop the Pacific Division. With 87 points, they hold a four-point lead on the Ducks – who have one game in hand – in the race for the division title.

Richards was kept off the score sheet in his second game with Dallas, as Nashville handed the Stars a 3-1 defeat, but he could take the next three games off and still be playing point-a-game hockey for his new team. The fact Richards always has played at that pace in the postseason – he's picked up 47 points in 45 career playoff games – is what his new team likes most about him.

To get Richards, Dallas had to part with goaltender Mike Smith, and forwards Jussi Jokinen and Jeff Halpern, along with a fourth-round draft pick in 2009. The Stars also received goaltender Johan Holmqvist, who will replace Smith as the backup to Marty Turco.

Richards always has been more of a playmaker than a finisher, but will he help the Stars produce more goals? The Stars traditionally have focused on defense first, settling for a goals-by-committee approach to offense.

But this year, the Dallas attack has clear-cut committee leaders. Mike Ribeiro has 27 goals, Brenden Morrow has 26 and Niklas Hagman has 25. Mike Modano has 18, as does Richards, who has scored 20-or-more goals in five of his six previous NHL seasons.

Richards joked that his five-point debut might create unreasonably high hopes, but it might be too late for managing expectations.

After Richards and linemate Hagman combined for eight points against Chicago, Ribeiro couldn't help but fantasize about the results the pairing might produce.

"I imagine it's going to be great," Ribeiro told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Dallas coach Dave Tippett likes that Richards brings a reputation for being a solid two-way player who can contribute on special teams.

"(Richards) is just a good player in all situations," Tippett said.

Richards has always been a creative player, and now he'll create problems for the rest of the Pacific Division.

"You can really see what Richards brings to us," Ribeiro told the Dallas Morning News. "If we're down a goal late, (Tippett) can put him out there with (Modano) and they can do some damage. Or if he keeps them apart, then whose line does the opponent try to check? It's a pretty impressive situation."

Richards won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2004, when he had 12 goals and 26 points to help the Lightning win the Stanley Cup. He then posted a career-best 91 points (23 goals, 68 assists) in 2005-06, following the lockout. Since then, however Richards has faded. He slipped to 70 points (25 goals, 45 assists) last year, and is on a 72-point pace this season.

"Things were getting pretty stale for me in Tampa," Richards said.

With the Lightning owning the NHL's second-lowest point total (59), things have gone stale for most everyone in Tampa Bay. A change of scenery only can help, especially when the new view is from the top. Dallas is just five points behind Detroit for the League's overall lead.

By discarding Richards, the Lightning cleared the remaining three years of Richards' expensive contract off the books. Still, it's the Stars that appear to have struck it rich.

Chris Pronger

Around the Division -- While sidelined by a broken jaw, Chris Pronger of the Ducks helped behind the team's bench Friday. With coach Randy Carlyle home battling the flu, Pronger helped acting coach Dave Farrish by overseeing the team's defense. … Anaheim General Manager Brian Burke is believed to top the Maples Leafs' wish list to fill the vacancy in their general manager's office. … Before being signed by the Sharks last week, goaltender Brian Boucher had been with the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL, which means he will be quite content to caddy for ironman Evgeni Nabokov. "Being 31 years old," Boucher said, "you don't know if you'll ever get a shot at it and I certainly want to make the most of this opportunity. This team has got a chance to win a (Stanley) Cup and I'd like to be a part of that in any capacity."… Goaltender Erik Ersberg made his first NHL start Sunday for the Kings in Minnesota. With Jason LaBarbera sidelined by a groin injury, Ersberg stopped 33 of 35 shots in a 2-1 loss to the Wild.

Who's Hot -- Anaheim's Teemu Selanne has six points (four goals) in three games, while teammate Chris Kunitz has five points (four assists) in three games, and Ryan Getzlaf has six points (five assists) in three games. Ducks goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere has won his last five starts, allowing just a total of seven goals. … Mike Ribeiro of the Stars has eight points (five assists) in his last four games. … Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov is 5-0-0 with a 2.00 GAA and .917 save percentage in his past five starts.

Who's Not -- Mike York of the Coyotes is scoreless in nine games. … The Stars' Stephane Robidas has not scored in five games.

The Week Ahead: The Ducks have won 11 of 12 after beginning this week with a win against Ottawa in a rematch of last year's Stanley Cup Final. After a two-game trip takes them to Chicago on Wednesday and Colorado the next night, Anaheim hosts Montreal on Sunday.

Dallas will host Phoenix on Wednesday, and then a home-and-home series with the Avs begins in Colorado on Saturday and wraps up Sunday in Texas.

Los Angeles will conclude a four-game road trip Tuesday in St. Louis hoping to earn its first win of the trip. The Kings then host Ottawa on Thursday and Montreal on Saturday.

After a one-game trip takes them to Dallas on Wednesday, the Coyotes kick off a five-game homestand Thursday against Montreal. Ottawa visits two days later.

The Sharks began the week Monday by beating the Canadiens. They play Wednesday against Ottawa and then launch a three-game trip Friday at Chicago.


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