Having been around when Brad Richards got his shot at free agency, I learned a lot about the player's perspective in these situations.
Richards, who tallied 91 points with the Stars in 2009-10, did not approve a trade at the trade deadline in 2011 because he didn't want to feel commitment to a team that traded for him. He also did not want to remain with the Stars because the organization was battling financial problems, and couldn't afford to put a Stanley Cup contender on the ice.
Richards worked his entire career and was a good soldier, so he felt he earned the right to be a free agent. He felt he earned the right to pick the team he wanted to play for. He felt he earned the right to make himself happy.
And that might be the most important thought to keep in mind when the Stars have a meeting with John Tavares on Wednesday in California. Tavares, the Islanders center who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, has earned the right to pick his next team if he so chooses. He has earned the right to make himself happy. And it appears that one place that might make him happy is Dallas.
That's a pretty strong statement.
Tavares is 27. He tallied 84 points last season. Over the past five seasons, he ranks ninth in the league in scoring. He is a superstar.
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And he wants to talk to the Stars.
That's pretty neat. While you sit at home and ponder if the Stars can make a Tavares contract fit with Jamie Benn making $9.5 million and Tyler Seguin a year away from his own decision, the bottom line is they can if they want to go through the financial gymnastics. They can, because Tavares is that good.
Unofficially, the Stars are one of five teams that will get to sit down and talk with Tavares and his agents at their offices in Los Angeles this week. He then will have to make a decision whether he wants to sign back with the Islanders (who can give him eight years on his contract) or if he wants to sign with someone else (who can give him seven years when free agency opens July 1).
Why are the Stars in this conversation? That's maybe the most intriguing part of the process if you're a fan in Dallas.
The guess is because they have a team that is thick with talent. Tavares could join a group that includes Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, Ben Bishop, John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen. He could join a team that should be aggressive and relentless under new coach Jim Montgomery. He could join a team that could win now and possibly for several years to come.
If that's his thinking, it's encouraging for fans who want the same thing.
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The Stars would have to do a few things to make this work financially, and that might mean finding a way to move a contract, but they seem to have that ability.
Dallas also would probably not re-sign any veteran defensemen and would rely on players like Gavin Bayreuther and Dillon Heatherington coming out of the minors for depth. But the bottom line is they would add Tavares to an already deep group of forwards and would find a way to make the numbers work on defense.
That would still mean Seguin (who has a salary cap hit of $5.75 million next season) would get a big raise in 2019-20 and the salary cap crunch would get even tighter. But the Stars have some contracts that help make that work. Klingberg is a No. 1 defenseman with a cap hit of $4.25 million. Bishop is a No. 1 goalie with a cap hit of $4.9 million. You see that and think they can make all of the numbers work together.
The good thing is Tavares sees the same thing. He'll get a nice presentation from the Stars that lays this all out and shows how the team can be competitive even with his contract on the books. And then the gifted center will have to make a tough decision.
But the fact the Stars are even at the table says they are part of a process that makes the decision difficult.
And that says a lot about his perception of this team.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.