With Richards, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, a central focus of the NHL’s trade deadline that expired at 2 pm Central time Monday, Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk determined he’d rather have the club’s leading scorer in the lineup helping them make a playoff push down the stretch than deal him for a possible bounty of prospects.
While there is still the risk that Dallas will wind up losing Richards to free agency for nothing in return, Nieuwendyk felt that was a gamble worth taking.
“I think in my mind, I wasn’t going to move him unless someone knocked our socks off with a deal we couldn’t refuse,” Nieuwendyk said. “We’ve said all along we want to sign Brad and we still feel that way. We want to sign Brad Richards to be a Dallas Star for a long period of time. We’re just going to keep going the way we are, and hopefully, Brad will help us get to the playoffs like we expect him to.
“I believe in this group and I’m about winning right now and making the playoffs. I think that is very important for this franchise and I think Brad Richards gives us the best chance of doing that.”
Richards, who has missed the last six games with concussion-like symptoms, essentially had full veto power over any deal because of the no-trade clause in his contract, but made it clear he didn’t ask for a trade and was happy here.
“I’m a Dallas Star,” said the dynamic center, who has 24 goals in 56 games, equaling his total from all of last season. “These are my friends, there are my teammates and I’ve said all along, there’s no one on my side demanding anything. I do understand Joe needs to do a job. He has to look out for what’s best for the franchise. That’s the business we’re in, there’s no hard feelings, we’ve been open, we know what’s going on. I’ve told him all along, if he has something, I’ll look at it and make a decision on it.”
It never got that far, according to Nieuwendyk, who is happy with the Stars as they are currently constructed and is glad the deadline has past.
“We’ve talked about this all through this process, he understands what needed to take place here,” Nieuwendyk said. “But he likes it here and he likes these guys and he’s going to play hard for us. His position hasn’t changed and ours hasn’t either. He likes it here and we like having him, so we’ll see where it goes. Those types of things are for down the road now. Our focus now is the games coming up here.”
As for the possibility of signing a contract extension with the Stars, Richards re-iterated his position that he’d like to see how the club’s ongoing ownership uncertainty unfolds before committing to staying here long-term.
“There’s nothing yet that has gained any traction or done anything that would change my stance on what we’ve said all along,” noted Richards, who currently represents a $7.8 million salary cap hit. “Until I see what’s kind of going on here, who is going to be the GM, who is running things, there’s a lot of questions. I have the right, in the situation I’m in, to ask those questions and I’m going to keep asking them. There’s no change here. I know people want to read more into it, but there’s not. It’s gone this long and we’re this close to the summer, so I see no reason to change that now.”
Meanwhile, his concussion-like symptoms have been gradually improving and Richards feels he might be ready to return relatively soon, although there is still no specific time-table. It was certainly a good sign that he skated for about 45 minutes Monday morning by himself and felt good afterwards.
“It’s the hardest I went and I pushed it a little bit at the end,” said Richards, who still sits eighth overall in the NHL with 63 points. “The last four or five days, I’ve been ramping it up a little bit. If I go home today and there are no setbacks or issues, I’ll try a little more tomorrow. But I’m very encouraged, it feels good just to get out there. The big test will be this afternoon, if I start feeling symptoms again, and if not, I’ll ramp it up tomorrow.”
While he will not initially join the Stars on their crucial four-game road trip that has them visiting each of the other Pacific Division teams, beginning with a date in Phoenix against Dave Tippett’s Coyotes Tuesday night (8 pm, FSSW+), there is a chance Richards could meet up with them later depending on how he feels.
“I think as he continues to improve, he’ll be an option for us,” coach Marc Crawford said.
“It would be different if we were home, but with the road trip, it might be better to stay here the first part of the trip and try to get some more work in here than traveling and trying to find ice and all that stuff,” Richards said. “I’ve got the gym here, I’ve got doctors if I need to see them.”
Another player who won’t start the trip with the team, but could join them later on depending on his progress is top-pair defenseman Nicklas Grossman, who has missed the past six games with a lower body injury.
“Nothing new today,” Crawford remarked. “I believe he will skate either tomorrow or the next day and I don’t think he’s accompanying us right away, but he’s got a chance to meet us on the trip. We’re hopeful that he’ll continue to improve, but there’s nothing new to report.”
Certainly, being able to add one or both of their injured players would be a big boost to the club as they continue their dogfight to get into the playoffs in the ultra-crowded Western Conference race. After stopping a 1-8-1 slide by winning their last two games, the Stars are currently one of four teams with 72 points ranging from spots 7-10 in the standings. They are well aware that they can really help their cause with a strong road trip, especially since all four of their upcoming opponents are also in the midst of the chase.
“I look at our team and I think we’ve played well lately and now we’re going to add Brad Richards and Nick Grossman (soon), so we’re pleased,” Nieuwendyk said.
“The race is so tight now, and I think it’s going to remain tight for the entire duration and every point that you can get is one that is going to be hard-fought,” Crawford noted. “You have to have the mindset that you’re ready to play in these hard-fought, battle-intense games. It’ll start in Phoenix and I don’t see it changing until the end of the year.”