Healthy center filling Star role

BY DAMIAN CRISTODERO

Times Staff Writer

TAMPA – Ask Marc Crawford to describe what makes Brad Richards

so good, and the Stars coach sounds as if he is reading from a

prepared list.

“Very gifted offensively; a very creative mind. He’s a terrific

play-maker; sees the ice real well. He can see like a quarterback

the second and third options that are available. He has tremendous

vision, and he’s got great hands to go with it.”

Anything else?

“He has a great shot.”

Crawford could have added that Dallas’ star center is playing at

his highest level since the

Lightning traded him to the Stars in

February 2008.

Richards entered Sunday tied for the league lead with nine

points, seven assists and at plus-7. For the first time in two

years he is completely healthy, and the Stars, who face Tampa Bay

tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum, are 4-0-0.

“I’m having a great time here,” Richards said. “I’m probably in

the best shape of my life. I just feel great.”

That said, Richards, 30, and Tampa never really broke ties.

He still has a house on Davis Islands, where he spends part of

the summer, and he trains in the offseason at Saddlebrook Resort in

Wesley Chapel.

There also is no forgetting what he meant during the

Lightning’s 2004 Stanley Cup run,

when, with seven winning goals, he was awarded the Conn Smythe

Trophy as playoff MVP.

Perhaps that is why there is still some bitterness in his voice

when he talks about how his time in Tampa ended.

Richards was traded under the watch of prospective owners Oren

Koules and Len Barrie, who, though they had not yet bought the

team, were allowed by then-owner Palace Sports & Entertainment

to have input into its February 2008 trade deadline business.

Richards, dealt for goalie Mike Smith and forwards Jeff Halpern

and Jussi Jokinen, declined to address that specifically, but he

called the way it all played out “a debacle,” and the way the team

was being run “weird and unprofessional.”

“It was a frustrating time in my career,” he added, “because I

didn’t think it had to happen that way.”

Then came the injuries: a broken right wrist, then a fractured

left wrist for which he needed surgery in March 2009. And another

surgery around the same time for a shoulder problem. The result:

just 48 points in 56 games for the Stars in 2008-09.

More surgery in April repaired a hip labrum tear.

Even with the painful joint, Richards rebounded with 91 points

last season, seventh in the league, and has benefited from playing

consistently with linemates Loui Eriksson and James Neal, whom he

called “great young players who are getting better every day.”

“It feels like it did back in the early days of Tampa when I

knew every year I’d be playing with Marty (St. Louis) and (Fredrik

Modin),” Richards said.

Richards also is getting some much-deserved recognition, and at

the right time. With the five-year, $39 million deal he signed with

the

Lightning in May 2006 ending after

this season, Canada’s Globe and Mail said Richards might be “the

most attractive potential unrestricted free agent out there.”

“The fact of the matter is he gets it done,” said

Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier,

one of Richards’ best friends. “He’s got great vision. He’s a great

passer.”

Sounds like Lecavalier was reading from Crawford’s list.

VINNY UPDATE: Lecavalier, who during Saturday’s 6-0 loss to the

Panthers took a slap shot off the first knuckle of his right hand,

continued to have soreness Sunday, the team said, though no further

testing was done. His playing status against the Stars will be

determined today.

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