With the Stars ownership situation still sorting itself out, TSN's Bob McKenzie tweeted
that Richards would not be signed before the deadline for teams to sign their unrestricted free agents, allowing Richards to test the market and see who the highest bidder is.
Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk turned heads this past trade deadline when he opted not to trade Richards, who will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and the thought of many was that neither Richards or the Stars management would be entirely keen on renewing his contract with the team. Richards made $7.8 million this year in the final season of the five-year, $39 million contract he signed with Tampa Bay prior to his trade to Dallas, which includes a no-trade clause.
Nieuwendyk faced tough questions going into the trade deadline as he was pressured to get some sort of high draft pick or top prospect in return for Richards, in a move that would no doubt be a forfeit of the season in the eyes of Stars fans, but also contribute to the rebuilding process that has seen goaltender Marty Turco and Stars' legend Mike Modano shipped out of Texas.
As the 3 p.m. trade deadline closed, Richards remained a member of the Stars, and Dallas was not yet out of the playoff picture. Nieuwendyk took some heat on what most would call a gamble, keeping Richards for the remainder of the season and risk losing him to free agency for nothing. The center's point production (he was ranked 10th in league scoring with 77 points this season) made him a valuable asset, and one that will garner a large amount of interest when free agency begins.
The issue with the Stars is their unstable ownership situation, as the team is in the process of being sold to Tom Gaglardi, a Vancouver businessman who also co-owns the Kamloops Blazers in the Western Hockey League. Until the sale of the team is complete, no one is willing to step up and commit the kind of money that Richards will be looking for. If Gaglardi does buy the team, it will give the Stars a lot more financial room to maneuver, and maybe even lure Richards back to Dallas.
Another option the team has would be to trade Richards' negotiating rights and receive at least something for compensation, but any trade would be dependent on Richards waiving his no-trade clause. Richards has said he would welcome a deal that would compensate Dallas, but that it would have to make sense for both sides.
In an interview with ESPN
, Richards seemed ready to move on to a new city:
"Obviously, I have to move on," Richards told ESPN.com. "I had fun in Dallas, and I like the city. But the [ownership] situation is unclear, so I really didn't have a chance to stay there. I will move on and look forward to the opportunity to [be] a free agent. I've never had that chance in my career. It's a real big moment in my life to say the least."