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Brad Richards Line on Scorching Pace as Dallas Stars Visit Tampa

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The home and road splits for the Brad Richards, James Neal, Loui Eriksson trio were not kind last year. Despite 91 points for number 91 they were still victimized frequently (and brazenly) on the road when it came to their defense and other teams matching up their best players against them. They've all acknowledged it and have pledged to work harder this year on the road in those situations, but there's another way to beat it...

Just score at an obscene rate.

The three have a combined 20 points in 4 games and a +/- rating that also comes out to +20. Much of that came at the direct expense of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Nick Lidstrom last Thursday night in a 4-1 win at home.

Brad Richards
James Neal
Loui Eriksson

It's one of the most lethal combinations in the league this young season. Coincidentally, Marc Crawford has a history with top end, league leading offensive lines that someone just happened to write his first ever fanpost about a couple of seasons ago here. Mike Heika, I see, is getting similar ideas over at the Dallas Morning News.

I wrote at the end of the summer that months of James Neal contract talk might over-inflate expectations fans have for him. Never mind. He has six points in four games and will try to keep pace with line mates this year and show over the course of the next two years that he belongs in Loui Eriksson's pay grade. Neal joked with the Stars post game show (Bob and Dan) about moving out of Brad Richards house after a couple of years. Apparently if you get your first multi-million dollar contract you're expected to afford your own place.

Richards himself is averaging over two points a game to start the year and while it's completely unreasonable to expect that to keep up, the fact that he has nine points already suggests he could easily better his 91 points of a season ago in this, his contract year.

Ah, "contract year." That's where people start getting worried about this hot start. We said it last year when James Neal was putting the proverbial biscuit in the basket: "Those are expensive goals!" There are several ways to look at this going forward and there are some people asking about it so after the jump we'll look at some possible scenarios for the Stars next year when the (distant, distant) trade deadline approaches.

Follow the jump...

Tampa papers are writing addendums to their January 19th, 2009 stories: the last time the Stars visited St Pete Times Forum and "Brad Richards returns to Tampa" was all the rage. (Tampa won 4-2)

Brad Richards pub is only just starting to gain momentum, but the Canadian media in particular will be all over it come Christmas. They're starting already at the Globe and Mail: Is Brad Richards the new Kovalchuk?

Here are some thoughts I have had sent to me or heard at the games...

"Brad Richard's great year will push the Stars into playoff contention and there's no way they'll trade him if they think they can make the post-season."

That sounds good in theory, right? Why would you trade your best player if you're about to get your ticket to the dance? The NHL is the ultimate upset league as far as playoffs go.

If the Stars know they can't re-sign him before the trade deadline due to this protracted sale/ownership change, they might think they have to move him so as to not let him walk for free in the summer, regardless of playoff positioning. This decision could theoretically be made (or influenced) by whoever is in most direct financial control of the team at the time: Someone who owns a large chunk of that Hicks debt, for instance.

Either way, if this team is looking like a playoff team in late February, I'd say it's a nice problem to have.

"The ownership situation WILL get sorted out and by the time it does he'll be wanting an increase on his $7.8 million a season! OMG!"

I've had this one put to me and quite frankly, as I said before, I think those would both be wonderful problems to have at this point. What's not to like? The Stars have the cap space. If they get a new owner with some $$ and half a brain they can make something work if Brad is convinced they're building a team that can contend.

Joe Thornton signed a three year deal worth $7 million per over the weekend and some feel that is a good comparable for Richards. (Except one of them is a proven playoff performer and one is most definitely not.)

"If the playoffs are looking like a question mark (like last season) and they decide not to move him (like Marty last year) they could miss the post-season AND let him walk for free."

No one said any of this would be risk free. If that were to happen I believe there is still a scenario where they could trade his rights to another team before free agency starts and then that team could have an exclusive "wooing" window with the high scoring center prior to July 1st. Sounds hot.

"Why would someone want to buy the team WITHOUT Richards? What value do they have then?"

We've heard this one and I like to think that it makes sense, but the Dallas Stars brand, properties around the metroplex and the American Airlines Center probably make it a good buy regardless of on ice performance. If we should have learned anything by now it's that owners are looking at the big picture ($$$$) and not necessarily what's happening on the ice to determine value. Does that make sense to us? No, we ONLY value what's happening on the ice but have learned our lesson from Tom Hicks going forward.

That being said, Saturday's attendance (the lowest ever for a regular season Stars game at the AAC) might be a glimpse into the future this season at home, and if revenues are less than expected than it could affect the sale going forward. That building has never failed to fill less than 93-95% or so. If that plummets now it could provide interesting insight to both sides of the sale and affect how long the current funds can effectively keep the team running as well as decrease interest in purchasing the franchise. On the other hand, they could keep winning (like the Rangers were during their sale) and have a positive effect.

It's too early to worry about this.

The situation is surely more complicated than this feeble speculation so please don't put too much stock into my simpleton observations this early in the season. The important thing to remember right now is that the team is not fretting the situation and neither is Brad Richards. It's too early to start worrying about it so just enjoy what's happening on the ice.

This line has been unstoppable so far, and if they can get through two road games with moderate production, they can use the six game home stand starting on Saturday to REALLY boost those numbers and more importantly, boost the team's conference standing.