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Good for Now, Good for Later

by J. Douglas Foster / Dallas Stars

The initial concept behind this column was to weigh all the trade deadline maneuvers and try and deduce, based solely on those moves, which of the Western Conference contenders helped themselves most with a key acquisition.

Rather than needlessly delving through that minutia, the purpose of this column has changed.

Instead, we’re going to tell you why, without a doubt, the Dallas Stars out-dealt all their Western Conference foes at the deadline.

For reasons present, and future, the Stars were the winners.

And it wasn’t even close.

Sure, the San Jose Sharks addressed a need that has been glaring since the lockout, adding a quality, established defenseman in Brian Campbell. Still, is he the kind of high-impact, minute-eating, game-changing defenseman worthy of comparison to Anaheim’s Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer or to Dallas’ Sergei Zubov?  Is he the kind of guy who can play 30-plus minutes, in all situations, and make a serious dent in the game both offensively and defensively like the Pacific Division stalwarts listed above?

Uh, no.

And while the Ducks and Red Wings made less newsworthy moves, the talk of the trade deadline day among Western Conference teams, as it should have been, was Dallas’ acquisition of Brad Richards.

The positives behind getting a player like Richards are two-fold. For starters, he can help you win now. And, he can help you win later. And that was obvious long before his five-assist night in his Dallas Stars debut.

What’s not to like?

As far as the “now” goes, you immediately look at what the Stars gave up. Mostly, they gave up a very talented, young netminder in Mike Smith, a man who will one day be a very good No. 1 goalie in this league. They also deal a solid role player in Jeff Halpern and a skilled forward in Jussi Jokinen, though neither of the two is going to bring to the plate what Richards does.

By adding Richards, the Stars now have something very few teams do – three legitimate, capable scoring lines. Mike Ribeiro, Brenden Morrow and Loui Eriksson have been borderline unstoppable of late as the Stars’ top line. If you put Richards with Niklas Hagman, who has well exceeded his career high in goals, and Antti Miettinen, and now you’ve got more worries for the opponent’s when matching lines.

But the real beauty of putting Richards with Hagman is that it means, for all intents and purposes, line number three includes Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen. How many third lines in this league have a center with 525 goals and more than 1,200 points, paired with a right wing who has three Selke Trophies and has led his team in goal scoring in three of the last four seasons?

Not very many, that’s for certain.

Add three legitimate scoring lines to a team with a solid defensive corps, one that will hopefully return one of the league’s top three defensemen in Zubov by the playoffs, and suddenly you’re talking scary propositions for opposing scouts. You also must not forget the presence of Marty Turco, whose goals-against average and win totals during his NHL career are nearly unequaled.

It goes without saying that Tuesday’s trade turned the Stars from a legitimate playoff threat into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Without question, they have to be one of the favorites coming out the West, based not just on Richards, but also on their play since the All-Star break.

Even more important, however, are the future ramifications.

Unlike Chris Therien, Willie Mitchell and Ladislav Nagy, Richards is not an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, brought in as a “rent a player.” After this season, he still has three more years left on his contract. Once you’ve swallowed that notion, take a bite out of this bit of information:

One could argue that Dallas’ four best forwards, right now, are Ribeiro, Morrow, Hagman and Richards. Richards turns 28 in May. Ribeiro and Hagman are 28 now. Morrow is the old man of the group, at 29.

Eriksson, who is playing right wing on the top line, is just 22. Miettinen, playing on Richards’ right, is 27. Steve Ott, playing with Modano and Lehtinen, is 25, and Krys Barch is a mere 27.

Add that group of eight youngsters to a defensive corps that includes two 21-year olds (Matt Niskanen and Mark Fistric), 23-year old Nicklas Grossman, 24-year old Trevor Daley and 30-year old Stephane Robidas, and suddenly, the once “aging” Dallas Stars (or so referred by much of the national media) are now the young, virile, talented Dallas Stars, with some very skilled, playoff-savvy veterans showing the way for this new crop of superstars.

For that, you can thank Les Jackson and Brett Hull. They came in during the fall with a purpose, that being to take what was here – already a very strong, incredibly competitive club – and turn it into a lethal one, without mortgaging the future just to achieve positive gains this season.

They’ve done just that. In fact, they’ve made this current team better. And in the process, they also made the future Dallas Stars look better as well.

Not as easy job.

Then again, it beats having to map out a game plan to stop this Stars team.

It should be a heck of a fun spring. I, for one, can’t wait for the postseason.

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