It was a career high and it matched a franchise record. The question now is, what does Brad Richards do for an encore after his five assists in his Dallas Stars debut?
“Might have made a mistake, eh?,” Richards said with a laugh Friday.
Talk about first impressions. His five assists in a 7-4 win over Chicago on Thursday night is one heck of a way to say howdy to Texas.
“You do want to make that first impression and you put a lot of pressure on yourself,” the native of Murray Harbour, P.E.I., told The Canadian Press in a phone interview. “It’s something that I never went through before. It was a lot tougher than I thought once it all settled in.
“But they’ve welcomed me with open arms. They’re great people here. The team is really talented. Just to fit in and do that, I can’t ask for a better start I guess.”
That would be a bit of an understatement. The five assists were the most by any Star since the team moved to Dallas from Minnesota and the most points in a game by a Star in five years.
“Pretty impressive,” Stars co-GM Les Jackson said Friday from his office.
Richards, acquired in a blockbuster transaction at Tuesday’s trade deadline, had butterflies before the start of the game but he added to his clutch reputation, having won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2004 as NHL playoff MVP.
“Nervous is not the word,” Richards said of his Dallas debut. “It was like Game 6 and Game 7 again in the Stanley Cup final. They’ve got such a good thing going here you worry about fitting in. You don’t want to disrupt anything. You want to make sure you help keep that winning going.
“It was just icing on the cake the way it started. Someone was watching over me and making sure I had a good night.”
It capped an emotional few days for the 27-year-old centre, who was asked to waive his no-trade clause because ownership in Tampa wanted to shed his contract which calls for three more seasons at US$7.8 million a season.
“I’m not sure I would have done it in the middle of the season if it wasn’t for a chance like this,” said Richards. “It’s a tough situation to leave the closest friends you have and a community that I really grew to love. It was a big decision.”
The Big Three in Tampa is no longer. They had their last moment together Tuesday when fellow stars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis showed up at Richards’ place in Tampa and took him out for lunch after the trade.
“That’s when it got really tough, saying goodbye to them,” said Richards. “It was weird to say the least. They’ve since been in contact and asked me how things are. I’m going to be in touch with them a lot. Vinny’s my best friend, we obviously go back a while (to junior).
“And Marty has become one of my best friends also. I will keep those relationships.”
He didn’t want to jump ship, but ownership nudged him out the door and in Dallas he saw a great chance to win again.
“That was the whole decision in waiving the no-trade to go to Dallas,” said Richards. “I didn’t want to leave my teammates at this time of year, I could have waited until summer to go to a different team. But I saw the opportunity here to not only win this year but to win every year and to be part of a great organization.
“I hope we can play right until June. We definitely have a chance and obviously a lot of things have to go fall into place but this is a solid team throughout the lineup.”
He joins a Stars team that’s second in the Western Conference and suddenly only three points behind Detroit before the Red Wings played Friday night.
“This is a reward to our fans and to our team,” said Jackson. “When you get a guy of Brad’s calibre you’re telling your team, ‘Hey, you’ve done a good job and let’s see how far we can go.’ Brad will certainly enhance that possibility.”
Vancouver, Chicago and Columbus also made pitches for Richards but the Stars were always his team of choice.
“I didn’t really know what the other teams were offering,” said Jackson. “To respect them, those organizations are good organizations and they’ve done their homework and I’m sure they made quality offers. But I think at the end of the day, Brad has made his choice that Dallas was his first place and I think without him saying that it would have been a little bit more challenging. He was really driving the bus and he chose our team.”
Richards hasn’t had a good season by his standards – 51 points in 62 games with Tampa – but the reality is that he didn’t have much to play with on the Lightning second line. He would never admit that though. But with the Stars on Thursday night, he opened between the talented Finnish duo of Antti Miettinen and Niklas Hagman – the latter producing his first NHL hat trick.
“Two Finns – I got to learn a new language,” joked Richards.