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Richards making quite a first impression on Stars

by John McGourty

Brad Richards had five assists in his first game with the Stars. Watch Brad Richards highlights
Brad Richards admits to being torn about having to file change-of-address forms with the Post Office.

On the one hand, his move to Dallas puts him in a position to win another Stanley Cup. On the other, leaving Tampa Bay means leaving behind close friends and plenty of memories.

Richards was traded at the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 26, along with goaltender Johan Holmqvist, to the Dallas Stars for goaltender Mike Smith and forwards Jeff Halpern and Jussi Jokinen.

Richards got off to quite the start with the Stars. In his first game with Dallas, Richards had five assists, including assists on all three goals in teammate Niklas Hagman's first career hat trick. Talk about making a good first impression!

"Two years ago, I didn't think I'd leave Tampa ever and now I get a new start here," Richards said. "That's nothing against Dallas. I'm very happy to be here. It's going to be great. It was just the initial shock when it finally hit in. It was a stressful few days. Obviously the best part is just getting out with your teammates and playing hockey again."

Richards waived his no-trade clause because he was told Dallas was interested. He also was told the Columbus Blue Jackets made inquiries, and that intrigued him because of his friendship with former teammate Fredrik Modin and the chance to play with Rick Nash.

"You never know if you're making the right choice and you never know how it's going to be on the other side," Richards said. "I was always told by older players that the guys are always good guys, no matter where you go, once you get to know them, and that's the case here. They've welcomed me with open arms. I had three or four calls right off the bat from some of the players on the team. They've been nothing but helpful for me and Johan since we got here; the whole organization has been great."

Richards felt a strong bond with Tampa Bay General Manager Jay Feaster and coach John Tortorella, but he said the impending change in ownership led to his departure.

"(Feaster) told me right from the start that if this is going to happen and we're going to do anything, we're going to do what's best for you," Richards said. "That was comforting. That makes things a lot easier. You definitely do your homework and you definitely see what the Lightning can get back and take all that into consideration, and this was a perfect fit.

"As far as Tampa goes, obviously they're in a rebuilding stage and they'll probably make more changes in the summer. It's unfortunate because we had such a good thing going there in '04. ... I only wish them the best, but I don't know exactly what's going to happen down there."

Richards' present is to help the Pacific Division leaders win the Stanley Cup. On a long-term basis, he's expected to be an important part of team leadership. The Stars won a club-record 12 games in February, but now two newcomers have to do the work of the three departed players.

"What I've heard is this team is very close, and you could tell that when I got here," Richards said. "The biggest thing we wanted to do is fit in properly, not be a distraction. There're always two sides to a trade. They lose good guys and hopefully they're getting good guys. We want to be that and help the team. It's just good that we didn't mess anything up. ... There's still a lot of work to do, and it's going to be fun to be a part of it."

Richards said he contacted Holmqvist immediately and they traveled together to Dallas. They're living in a hotel for now, but Richards said soon he would be looking for a condo. After what he did for Hagman in their first game, Richards was told he should be living in Hagman's house and Nik should sleep in the garage.

"No, I hope not," Richards said with a laugh. “(My teammates) are just bugging me that they expect it again tomorrow. That's the funny part. I don't expect myself to do that and I'm sure I'll get bugged if something doesn't go right again next game. But they've been great. They've welcomed me. It was just fun to get that under my belt, and obviously it was one of those nights that everything kind of went the right way."

Richards said he watched Hagman, a former Florida Panther, carefully when they were Southeast Division rivals. They weren't the best of friends back then.

"He was always one of those in-your-face, pain-in-the-butt type of players," Richards said. "He plays the game the right way. He's going to be hard-nosed. He's not going to give up on pucks and you saw the first goal he scored (in that game). He just went like a bullet to the net. Those are hard areas sometimes that people don't like to get into and he's a guy that's going to get into those areas."

Richards played five years for Tortorella, the 2004 Jack Adams Award winner as the NHL's best coach. Now he's playing for Dave Tippett, who has succeeded by combining multiple defensive strategies and excellent special-teams play with a demand for accountability. That is, he's smart, creative and brooks no nonsense.

"What I've heard is this team is very close, and you could tell that when I got here" - Stars center Brad Richards

"He's been great so far,” said Richards. “I really believe things got a little stale for me in Tampa, unfortunately, for whatever reason. It's good to get a new mindset and new players and new ideas. That's what's so exciting about a change. Obviously these guys are doing a lot of things right, so it's good to come in and get those fresh ideas. I know I'm going to learn a lot. I still have a lot to learn, and it's going to happen every day here. It's going to be great."

Forty-nine of Richards' 150 career goals have come on power plays, but he said he hasn't had a discussion yet with Tippett about his special-teams roles.

"That's totally out of my hands" Richards said. "Hopefully, we just keep doing what we did. They spread it out here so nice. I think we've got three of the best lines in the League if we're all going. It's pretty fun."

The first trade is the hardest for a professional and it hasn't been easy for Richards, who listened to trade rumors for most of this season. He finds comfort in recognizing a similar attitude in the Dallas dressing room to that in Tampa Bay when they won the Stanley Cup.

"It's very similar,” Richards said. “There's a lot of young, talented players, and then you've got a couple older, veteran players, great goaltending, and I think it's spread out through the lineup. There's a lot of different areas that the team can beat you. That's always exciting."


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