Brad Richards is as frustrated as you are.
He'd love it if Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk and Richards' Toronto-based agent Pat Morris could sit down today and tomorrow and hammer out a contract extension while the Stars are on this road trip. He'd love to stay in Dallas and help the team build for the long-term. But because of the ownership issue, it just isn't going to happen.
``I'm not going to lie to you, the situation is what it is,'' Richards said when talking to the media in Toronto this morning. ``It's not something that isn't talked about, and it's not something that Joe and I haven't talked about. We know a trade's not ideal for this time being ... but obviously, we're open and talking about it and giving the chance for ownership to come in. But I'm a Dallas Star, and that's where my focus is right now."
It was a bit of a confusing answer, but what Richards was saying is that he knows there could be trade talk, he knows that the ownership situation is unsettled, and he's just trying to deal with it day to day. Nieuwendyk said it's just as frustrating for him.
``For my part, I have tried to keep open communication with Richy,'' Nieuwendyk said. ``I know he likes it here, I know he likes playing with the young wingers he has, and I know he likes the core we have and he wants to build on a winner. And I also know that he understands the situation and where we are financially, and he understands we have to be patient.''
The Stars still are being financed by the lenders and being run financially by their three executive vice presidents with assists from the NHL. They have people who are trying to buy the team, but the difference between asking price and offers from potential buyers appears to be huge. That means they can't really start talks with Richards about a contract extension. Richards is one of the highest paid players in the NHL at $7.8 million per season, but he also is one of the top 10 scorers in the league for the past two seasons.
That means if the Stars could start up extension talks, they might be in the ballpark of seven years at $7 million a season or more. That's just speculation on my part, but it's something Richards could probably command as an unrestricted free agent in the summer (which he will be if he does not sign an extension). Would Richards give the Stars a hometown discount? Would the Stars be open to a long-term contract (10 years?) to lower the cap hit and salary hit? It's impossible to know, because they can't even get into serious negotiations with the ownership situation what it is.
Nieuwendyk said he has talked to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman about the situation, and was told that both the NHL and the lenders understand the situation and could possibly open the door for discussions once they sort through whether or not the lenders want to keep the team for the rest of the season and whether or not they might name an interim president.
``I've talked to Gary Bettman about the issues, and I did ask that if the lenders are carrying us to summer time, then we have some important things we need to talk about with them,'' Nieuwendyk said. ``He is well aware of everything, and I think the lenders are also aware how important this could be for our team.''
Decisions will have to be made in the next couple of months, so we'll have to see where all of this goes.
Richards seemed to deal with everything in stride, and there's good reason for that. He has an air-tight no-trade clause and would have to approve any trade the Stars might make. He did it before to get out of Tampa, and he would probably do it again, but it gives him peace of mind that the phone won't ring and he'll be told to pack his bags and get on a flight to an unknown destination.
``I don't really care (about all of the questions), because I'm in total control of what can happen,'' Richards said. ``I can sleep well at night with that. It would be different if I didn't have control, and I'd be wondering every day if I was going to be traded or not. But Joe and I have talked about everything, and if there was a trade I would have to be aware of it. We're just trying to make the playoffs and do the best we can.''
One of the interesting things that came out of the media crush this morning was that Richards sort of joked around about the Tampa Bay situation and how he has been involved with two teams that have had financial troubles. And while he was joking, you could tell it bothered him. The reason the Lightning traded him was because of his contract and their financial struggles. The reason the Stars could trade him is because of his contract and their financial struggles. I believe he will think very hard about signing with anyone before free agency, and he will weigh heavily whether or not that team might have future financial problems.
That would be a good sign for Toronto fans, who keep wondering if they could make a trade for Richards. Toronto might be the most financially stable franchise in the NHL.
"When the time comes, if that's an option, Toronto's always a No. 1 hockey destination,'' Richards said. ``It would be great being a Canadian playing in Toronto, but we're not even close to that bridge yet. And like I said, I'm focused here. I have so much respect for Joe Nieuwendyk, and to even talk about other teams is not even close to being fair."