After months and months of speculation, the near-official news came down today that not only will the Dallas Stars not be re-signing Brad Richards to a contract for the future but that Joe Nieuwendyk won't even be able to make an offer for the free agent center.
It's a very somber, frustrating time for Dallas Stars fans as reality sets in that one of the top five forwards in the NHL is getting away. He's a fan favorite not only in Dallas but across the NHL and his work with charities in Dallas is legendary. He's one hell of a person and he's a great, great player on the ice and no matter what the Stars do this season or in the future, replacing him on the team is going to be impossible.
What makes me the most angry about this news is that there just never was an choice made, either by Nieuwendyk or Richards. Because of the ownership situation -- something that is completely out of the control of Nieuwendyk -- the Stars never had a chance to keep Richards, who won't entertain the possibility of signing with a team with no owner. You can't blame him, either, considering what's happened in Tampa Bay and then here in Dallas. Right now, there's no way that the sale of the team is final by July 1st and there's a good chance the sale won't be complete until August.
It's about as impossible a situation as you can get for the Stars, who were backed into a corner with Richards and were left with absolutely zero options with which to try and keep him. This has nothing to do with Nieuwendyk, or the coaching, or the players and it has everything to do with ownership and that is by far the most aggravating aspect of this entire ordeal. From the very start, Joe Nieuwendyk was operating with both hands tied behind his back.
``We have had talks with Brad throughout the year, and he's not going to sign with us unless we have the ownership situation resolved, and it doesn't look like that's going to happen by the start of free agency,'' Nieuwendyk said. ``So while we could have discussions, it just doesn't make much sense right now. So we would like to see if we could get something for his rights and allow another team to have a chance to sign him, but a lot of that is up to Brad and his agent.''
For any trade to go down, Richards will have to waive his NMC and there's no guarantees that a trade can happen. Right now, he has all the bargaining chips in the world and in just a month's time he's going to have a number of teams knocking down his door with contract offers. One team that won't be there however, is the Dallas Stars.
More after the jump.
The obvious and instant response to this news is the anger on Nieuwendyk's decision to not trade Richards at the trade deadline. Now, when the team is going to likely be scraping the bottom of the barrel in free agency, the Stars will be lucky to get a few decent draft picks (likely for next year's draft) in a trade that may or may not even happen before free agency begins. It's an incredible turn of events and the absolute worst scenario that could have played out once Nieuwendyk decided to keep Richards.
Before we bust out the pitchforks to run Nieuwendyk out of town, consider this:
There's more than a good chance Richards never would have passed a physical to make the any trade official anyway. It was after the trade deadline that Richards experienced dizziness and couldn't get on the ice for a few days. Richards was never the same after he returned and I have a feeling he was still feeling the effects of the concussion all the way until the final game of the season. He just didn't look right on the ice and he was far from the playmaker the Stars so desperately needed down the stretch.
Richards was playing and on the ice for all those games the Stars lost that could have given them a playoff berth and still the big difference maker that could have changed things was nowhere to be seen. Granted, he had 8 points in the final six games, but he just wasn't the same player.
Even if Nieuwendyk wanted to make a trade and actively sought one out, there's absolutely no way the return would have been good enough for Stars fans. There are many that expected a "Mark Texiera return" if and when the Stars traded Richards and many feel that such a trade would have been more than worth it. While Nieuwendyk was likely to get a top prospect and a few NHL players in such a deal, there's no way a team would have traded two or three top prospects, an NHL-ready defenseman and a current NHL player for a rental at the trade deadline.
The fact that Nieuwendyk was playing off any possible trades likely raised the offers, yet none came across his desk that even made him think about trading Richards. Consider the fact that Richards mentioned that the Stars not once ever contacted him about a potential trade or asked which teams he'd waive his NMC for; the Stars never actively tried to trade him nor did the get any desperate offers from other teams.
The Stars weren't in the basement of the West, the team still had a great chance at making the playoffs and the addition of Richards back into the lineup after the deadline was going to help be the catalyst that turned things around. It just never worked out that way, as the Stars floundered when they needed to win the most.
When you consider all the facts, it was just impossible for Nieuwendyk to make a trade that would have been worth giving up on the season at the time. It was as close to a lose-lose situation as you could get.
So now, the Stars are forced into a situation where keeping Richards just isn't an option. It looked as though the ownership situation was going to be resolved in time but as many suspected, the actual sale proceedings were going to be dragged through the legal channels which invariably stretches things out.
Before the season ended, we were hearing here at Defending Big D that Doug Miller was very, very close to purchasing the team and that it would be done much sooner than anyone expected. Yet, as we should have known would happen, things didn't go as quickly as hoped and now Gaglardi is the leading contender to purchase the team.
That the sale to Gaglardi appears to be going as smoothly as possible yet is still being dragged out speaks to just how entangled the finances of this team truly are in the mess created by Tom Hicks.
There's going to be anger with Joe Nieuwendyk and while it's going to be impossible to hold off, it's not fair to the Stars general manager. He's been operating in the blind for nearly two seasons and now the worst situation imaginable is happening right before our eyes. The ownership situation and the finances of this team are so bad he can't even attempt to keep Brad Richards.
This isn't something we ever expected.
There's also a good chance that even if he had the ability to talk to Richards and try to make an offer, he never would have been able to match the contracts that are supposedly going to be offered when free agency starts. With this free agent market, with just a handful of truly good players out there, Richards is going to pull in top dollar and will likely sign a contract that averages $8 million a year for over five years.
That's just not something the Stars were going to be able to match. That they never even had the chance to consider it -- that's what hurts the most.
It's going to be very, very hard to think of a future without Richards. He was the cornerstone of what was supposed to be a playoff-caliber team, providing the basis for an aggressive and offensively-minded team that Joe Nieuwendyk would build around one of the top players in the NHL.
Now, it's all about taking a step back and seeing how to fit the pieces back together and move forward. That's all there is to do now.