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Dallas Stars Fans Should Expect Brad Richards To Test Free Agency

There's been a lot of interesting and potentially great news the past few days concerning the sale of the Dallas Stars, leading to some optimistic feelings finally surfacing when it comes to an overly disappointing few years in the world of the Stars fan. When there has been so much negativity, especially surrounding the financial situation of the team, it's impossible not to latch onto any notion of good news and start to look once more at the bright side of things.

Most of this positive feeling revolves around the hope that if a sale is completed in time, then Joe Nieuwendyk and the Dallas Stars can rush a contract over to Brad Richards -- who will then show barely a hesitation before he gladly signs on to five more years in Dallas, this time with a rich and enthusiastic owner. It's been the mantra all season long, when we realized the sale would take as long as many feared it would, that as long as the sale is done by July 1st then the Stars can sign Richards and move on with building what we all know will be one heck of a Stanley Cup contending hockey team.

Unfortunately, that's just not going to be how this is going to work out no matter what might happen with Tom Gaglardi and the potential court case. Instead, even if there is ownership is in place and the sale is final, we should expect Brad Richards to delay making his decision until at least a few hours after free agency has started -- if for no other reason than to at least get a taste of what other teams have to offer.

While this may be hard for Stars fans to hear, no matter what state the sale of the Dallas Stars is in we should all prepare to see Richards at least dip his toe in the pool of the free agency market and see just who comes nibbling...

There are two misconceptions that exist right now concerning Brad Richards: that he absolutely has to have a new owner set and in place to sign with the Stars and that it's nearly a lock for him to stay if there is an owner for this team wining and dining him in some expensive Dallas restaurant.

It's understandable to believe the first point, especially considering the situations that Richards has been in throughout his career. Yet after the season was over, he made some interesting comments regarding such situation that might exist when he hits free agency and the Stars have no owner:

There's been a little chatter but it's always came back to if I am going to sign and there's no ownership, I am still kind of hesitant. And there may not be ownership by the time I have to make a decision. Right now there's no rush, there's nothing that's pressing me. I am going to try to see what happens. If there is no change, it doesn't mean I am leaving. I'll have to make a different type of decision at that time.

--"For Brad Richards Stars Ownership Is Critical" 4-13-11

While it's not exactly encouraging, he does leave the possibility open that even if there isn't an owner actually in place he'd still be willing to talk to Nieuwendyk and discuss a possible contract. Of course, that equation also hinges on the probability of Nieuwendyk having the financial flexibility to actually offer a contract to Richards -- depending on exactly where in the process the sale is.

No matter what Richards may say, I highly doubt he even considers staying in Dallas unless there is a surefire expectation that the leading bidder on the team will in fact -- and this would have to be a guarantee -- become the team's owner, and all that's left is formalities and paperwork. Considering how the sale of the Stars has gone so far, and what happened with the Texas Rangers, it's tough to blame anyone for being suspicious until absolutely everything is done and the ink is drying.  Richards is looking for stability and he want's a guarantee that's what he'll get.

There's also the thought that with ownership in place, sale officially completed, he'll definitely stay in Dallas. This is far from a certainty and I can almost guarantee you that unless Nieuwendyk constructs a deal that is impossible to turn down -- Richards will venture forward out into free agency to test his worth and value across the NHL. More importantly than determining how much teams are willing to spend on him, Richards has stated time and again he's looking forward to completely controlling the direction his career takes and what franchise he'll likely finsh his career with. 

Perhaps this will be the contributing factor; Richards wants to go to a winning team where he knows he has the chance at postseason greatness once again.

I can't imagine how it must feel for Richards, to see his buddies Lecavalier and St. Louis tearing up the playoffs against Pittsburgh and Washington. The Tampa Bay Lightning have a new coach, a new G.M. and a new owner and suddenly that team has been completely turned around -- and he's not there to take part because he was a casualty of the ownership problems of the past.

Lightning needed to unload Richards' lofty contract, allowing them to move forward and eventually restock and rebuild. It took a complete overhaul of the front office to get things moving in the right direction again, yet while the Lightning are once again riding high he's in the midst of three straight years without playoff hockey in Big D.

Getting the chance to make the decision and have complete control over the team he plays for, absolute and complete control, is what will help Richards move from a period of six or seven years of absolute turmoil and disappointment. He's made it very clear that stable and competitive ownership is what he's after, teams that contend for Stanley Cups and have the potential to do so for at least the next few years while he's still in his prime.

If Tom Gaglardi owns this team and everything is set and in place, then I'm certain that Richards will have a copy of what the Stars are willing to offer and there will be an understanding that the Stars will have a fighting chance to match the offers that will fly in from around the NHL. Let's not forget that the coach that will be hired will have just about the same influence on free agents -- and Richards -- as the general manager.

Do the Dallas Stars have an advantage, even with limited time to prove the new owner is sincere and able to provide stability for this franchise? Richards is a big presence in local charities and he's said time and again how much he loves the city of Dallas and how much he enjoys playing on this team. Just how far that loyalty extends, we'll find out soon enough.

In the end, all of this is about Brad Richards doing what is absolutely best for himself.