The Dallas Stars
finally got the piece they feel they need to emerge from the pack of contenders in the Western Conference, obtaining forward Brad Richards
from the Tampa Bay Lightning
in one of Tuesday’s blockbuster deals.
Dallas sacrificed young goalie Mike Smith, shootout specialist Jussi Jokinen, defensive-minded center Jeff Halpern and a fourth-round pick in 2009 to get Richards and goalie Johan Holmqvist, who will back up Marty Turco. Richards, who is under contract until 2011, waived his no-movement clause to join the Stars.
“I just want to say thank-you to the Dallas Stars for believing in me and giving me a chance to make the playoffs and hopefully make a run for the Stanley Cup,” Richards said.
Richards is the type of player who can help Dallas get through a rugged Western Conference field that spent Tuesday trying to upgrade for the postseason tournament.
“Brad is a difference-maker and one of the premier playmakers in the National Hockey League,” said Les Jackson, co-GM of the Stars. “At 27 years of age, he is in the prime of his playing career and a proven winner who has elevated his game to the highest levels in the playoffs. Johan Holmqvist is a reliable NHL goaltender and somebody that we will be confident in each time he is in net.
“It was difficult to part ways with Jeff, Jussi and Mike, since they are all consummate professionals who have done great things for our organization. Tampa Bay is getting a solid trio of players and we thank them for all they did for the Dallas Stars.”
Brett Hull, a game-breaker for the Stars during his playing days, is now the co-GM along with Jackson. He knows special players, and he believes that Dallas has obtained one of the best in Richards.
“We are thrilled to acquire Brad Richards, a top-line talent who can play with any combination of linemates,” Hull said. “His Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the 2004 playoffs shows he is capable of great things in the postseason. He is certainly a major addition to our group.”
San Jose, another top club in the West, traded for All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell earlier in the day. Detroit, six points ahead of the Stars, added defenseman Brad Stuart. Anaheim, in fourth place, added Teemu Selanne three weeks ago. Colorado, trying to get into the top-eight in the West, signed free-agent center Peter Forsberg Monday night and snapped up defensemen Adam Foote and Ruslan Salei.
Dallas answered by getting the best two-way center on the market, a player who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2004.
Richards has 18 goals and 50 assists in 61 games this season, but also has a League-worst minus-25 rating. However, there is a common believe that part of Richards’ struggles are the result of the problems the Lightning have suffered through in 2007-08. Tampa Bay has the second-worst record in the League and sits 12 points out of a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
Richards said Tuesday that he did not want to make excuses for his poor play, but he did admit that it was difficult to play in Tampa Bay since the team won the Stanley Cup in 2004 because of several outside influences, including a change in ownership and the stifling effects the salary cap had on the Lightning roster when it was instituted after the lockout ended.
“It’s kind of like getting let out of a cage,” was how he put it Tuesday afternoon.
Dallas believes that a carefree Richards could return to the form that made him one of the beset players in the game just a few years ago.
Just two years ago, Richards had a career-best 91 points. Plus, Richards has a proven track record as a big-game player. Not only has he won the Stanley Cup as the tournament’s MVP, but he was also named the MVP of the Memorial Cup while playing junior hockey for Rimouski in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Most important, Richards is a better than a point-per-game player in the postseason. In the NHL, he has 47 points in 45 games. In junior hockey, he put up 96 points in just 48 postseason games.
“I just want to have a chance to play like I know I can,” said Richards, who will wear No. 91 in Dallas — his preferred No. 19 is retired by the Stars franchise in honor of Bill Masterton. “If I can play like I did throughout my career and in the playoffs, I know I can help this team when I am on my game.”
Richards also believes Dallas has a solid chance at winning the Stanley Cup and that was the main reason he waived his no-movement clause. In fact, he said that Dallas was at the top of a very short list.
“I really respect the team and how they are playing,” Richards said. “They play as a team and they win and that is something that I miss doing. I can’t wait to be a part of that again.”
Plus, he will likely get a chance to play with Mike Modano, one of his childhood heroes, on Dallas’ second line. Modano, however, is a natural center, so one of those two players will have to move to the wing. Not a problem, says Richards.
”I’ve played the wing when I have been asked to play it,” he said. “I realize that I might have to play the wing or whatever they ask me to do. It doesn’t matter as long as I get a chance to play for a team that has a chance to win.”
For Tampa Bay, the Richards’ deal was the latest move in a busy 24 hours.
"Brad is a difference-maker and one of the premier playmakers in the National Hockey League." - Stars Co-General Manager Les Jackson
In fact, the dominoes began to fall last night when GM Jay Feaster was able to come to terms with puck-moving defense Dan Boyle on a long-term deal. Boyle signed for six years, and his hefty contract made Richards more expendable as Feaster tried to keep his salary cap under control.
Feaster then shipped off forward Vaclav Prospal to Philadelphia in exchange for promising minor-league defenseman Alexandre Picard and a conditional (second- or third-round) pick in next year’s Entry Draft.
Tuesday was the coup de grace for Feaster, who actively tried to accelerate his team’s rebuilding process with the trade of Richards.
Most important, the club believes that it may have finally gotten the starting goalie it has sought since Tampa Bay let Nikolai Khabibulin walk after winning the Cup in 2004. Smith, 27, was the backup in Dallas, but was pushing Turco for playing time.
“Trading Brad Richards was one of the most difficult moves I have made as manager of this hockey club,” Feaster said. “However, as we have discussed for some time now, we need to address our goaltending situation, and we have been targeting Mike Smith for the past two seasons.
“We would not have given up a player and a leader such as Brad unless we were getting outstanding value in return, and we feel that Mike, as well as Jeff and Jussi, certainly meet that objective. It is very difficult to say goodbye to Brad and Holmer; however, we feel strongly that we have improved our hockey team now and going forward with this transaction.”
Smith was 12-9 with two shutouts in 21 appearances, posting a 2.46 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. In 23 appearances with the Stars last season, Smith posted a 2.23 GAA and a .912 save percentage.
Jokinen is a depth scorer who has made a name for himself with his abilities in the shootout. Jokinen, 24, has 14 goals this season and could surpass his career-high of 19 set two years ago during his rookie season. He also has 17 shootout goals, tied with Atlanta’s Slava Kozlov for the most since the League instituted the shootout in 2005-06.
In Halpern, the Lightning get a 31-year-old who can center a checking line and win faceoffs. Halpern also has 10 goals this season, the sixth time in eight seasons that he has reached double figures in goals.