The Stars landed one of the most coveted prizes available by acquiring center Brad Richards from the Tampa Bay Lightning in a blockbuster five-player swap. Dallas also picked up goaltender Johan Holmqvist in exchange for goaltender Mike Smith, center Jeff Halpern, winger Jussi Jokinen and a fourth-round draft choice in 2009.
It was a bold move by the Stars’ two co-General Managers, Brett Hull and Les Jackson, who were determined to improve the club even though Dallas is currently riding a 11-2-0 hot streak that has propelled them into the Pacific Division lead and second overall in the NHL.
“This is a big deal to complement the Dallas Stars and the organization that has been put together,” Hull said. “Anytime you can get a player of Brad Richards’ quality, not only on the ice but off, that is something you have to do.
“Les and I came in and we said we wanted to make the team better and we were going to do it the right way. We fortunately had the pieces here at the Dallas Stars that Tampa Bay was interested in. We put a lot of time in trying to do this, and we are very happy it came through. We felt that with this deal, we have made our team better, we have made our team more competitive, and that was our goal.”
Richards, in the prime of his career at 27, is in his seventh NHL season - all with the Lightning - and played a crucial role in Tampa’s 2004 Stanley Cup championship, scoring 12 goals and a league-leading 26 points in 23 post-season games, and setting an NHL record with seven game-winning goals, to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. So far this season, he has accumulated 18 goals and 51 points (which ranks him third on the Stars) in 62 games, with nine power play goals and four game-winners.
The 6-foot, 192-pound native of Murray Harbour, Prince Edward Island (Canada), a five-time 20-goal scorer, is currently in the second year of a five-year, $39 million contract and had to waive a no-trade clause in order for the deal to go through. But despite the roots he’d set down in Tampa, where the Lightning were floundering on the fringes of the playoff race, Richards was eager to join a contender.
“If I was going to go now, I wanted a chance to win, and also, I still have three years on my contract, so I wanted a city and an organization that I’d be happy in, so that’s why the Dallas Stars were a team I would agree to waive my no-trade,” explained Richards, who missed Tuesday night’s game in St. Louis and will join the Stars in time for practice Wednesday back home at the Frisco Dr Pepper StarCenter. “I just didn’t see the sense in leaving a non-playoff team to another non-playoff team, so when Dallas showed interest, that was my number one choice because of those reasons. I think with what they’ve done there, I really respect the team and how they’ve been playing. They play as a team and they win, and that’s something I miss doing and I can’t wait to be involved in it.”
A solid two-way center who excels at both ends of the ice and posted career highs of 68 assists and 91 points in 2005-06, Richards also won the Lady Byng Trophy in 2004 for combining sportsmanship, gentlemanly conduct and a high quality of play.
“He is a very talented guy and is a great playmaker,” said Stars center Mike Modano. “He is dependable and can check and defend as well. We’re happy to have him and look forward to getting him in the lineup.”
His new coach wasn’t quite sure yet where exactly Richards was going to play or who it would be with, but was excited to find out.
“We know Richards is a top player, won a Conn Smythe and a championship,” Dave Tippett said. “It will take some time to see where he fits in. We play a game where everybody does their part, so we’ll have a little adjustment. Our hope is that Richards, as a top player, will push us to higher standards. He’s a very good player and will enhance our top nine, but it will be a process in figuring out where he fits.”
“He could play anywhere he wants, that’s the type of player he is,” Hull added. “He could play left wing with Mike (Modano), he could play center and throw Mike on the wing, he could play center and we could have three lines, and you could merge them. Dave Tippett has got has got a lot of things he could do.”
For his part, Richards, who is primarily a center but could play either wing also, is not very choosy and will line up wherever Tippett tells him to.
“I’ve played wing when I’ve been asked to play it - obviously I’m a centerman - but I realized when I wanted to come to this team, that this was going to happen, that I might have to play wing or whatever they’re going to ask me to do,” Richards said. “Right wing, left wing, it doesn’t matter, it’s a chance to play on a team that has a chance to win. I don’t know what the coaching staff wants, but I obviously knew that coming in. Whatever they need me to do.”
Of course, as a Cup winner and Conn Smythe winner, Richards is also expected to have a positive impact on the Stars in the playoffs. He sports impressive career numbers in the post-season, having collected 18 goals and 47 points in 45 contests.
“When you see those numbers it jumps out at you,” Hull said. “It shows the character is there, because a lot of players during the regular season can do it but come playoff time, when the intensity and pressure get ratcheted up, he’s obviously a guy that can handle it, and his numbers have proven it.”
“I can’t wait to get back in them, I love that time of year, I’m very excited,” Richards said of playing in the post-season. “It’s kind of like getting let out of a cage. I felt hand-cuffed (in Tampa) and I’m excited just to get a new start and play with some players that are really great players and have done a lot in this league, and it’s kind of like Christmas morning for me right now in one way.”
As for the other guy coming over from the Lightning, goalie Holmqvist joins a growing Swedish contingent on the Stars. Holmqvist has registered a 20-16-6 record this season in 45 appearances as Tampa’s number one guy in the crease, with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .890 save percentage. Now 29, he spent some time in the minor leagues and as a top goaltender in Sweden - winning the ‘top goaltender’ award while leading the Swedes to a gold medal in the 2006 World Championships - before signing with the Lightning in July 2006. He will also join the team Wednesday and comes highly recommended.
“Johan’s an unbelievable person, he’s a good friend of mine also, he’s a good guy to get along with and he’s a really good goalie,” Richards said. “He battles like no one else. Obviously, we know what Marty Turco is to the Dallas Stars, but I think Holmer is a perfect fit to come in and support Marty in his role and he works real hard in practice. It’s going to be great, I think, for both of us to come in together and make this move.”
“Johan has proved himself over the last couple years,” Hull said. “He played in the minors, realized he didn’t have what it took, so he went back home to Sweden to work on his game and develop where he is. He came back and became the starter for Tampa Bay. We have watched him over the years, he’s played some great hockey. Like Brad Richards, we are lucky to have him.”
While the Stars’ players were sad to see such good teammates as Smith, Jokinen and Halpern leave, they were excited to see how the new additions will impact the rest of their season.
“We’re going to miss our guys that left, but Johan and Brad are coming in and we are looking to get on the same page as them,” goalie Marty Turco said. “Brad’s experience and knowledge of the game is his trademark. We’ve seen the success he has had in the playoffs and we’re looking for him to help guide us there.”
“We are very excited to have the new players, but at the same time, the three players that have gone to Tampa have put their heart and soul into the Dallas Stars,” Hull said. “We appreciate everything they have done, and we wish them the best of luck in the future in Tampa.”
Both new arrivals are expected to make their Stars’ debuts on Thursday at home against Chicago (7:30pm start, FSN). Holmqvist will continue wearing his jersey number 40, while Richards will wear uniform number 91. After wearing 19 in Tampa (in honor of his boyhood idol, Colorado’s Joe Sakic), that number is not available in Dallas because it is hanging in the rafters of the American Airlines Center, in honor of former Minnesota North Star Bill Masterton, the only player ever to die from injuries incurred in an NHL game back in 1968.
“19 was always the number and obviously that’s not there, so I figured that was an easy solution,” Richards said of choosing to wear 91. “I always want to try to have a 9 in my number. That’s basically as far as the thought that went into it. I tried to always be 9 or 19, so 91 will be perfect for me.”
Whatever number is on his back, the Stars’ crest will be on the front, and that is evidence that Dallas has upgraded its team this year and into the future, and that’s what this deal was all about.
“I’m glad it’s over with and I’m really excited that it’s the Dallas Stars,” Richards said. “They were a team that showed interest and I told my agent that if they did show interest, they’d be number one on the list. I’m just so fortunate and so grateful that they did show interest and took me on. At times, it was really tough, but I think now that it’s over, I can’t wait to move forward and get this going.”