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(Ronald Martinez/2010 Getty Images)
(Ronald Martinez/2010 Getty Images)

NHL Notebook

Is Brad Richards the new<br> Ilya Kovalchuk?</br> Add to ...

Tom Hicks's sports empire, past and present, is in the news daily. He, along with former Montreal Canadiens' owner George Gillett divested themselves of their ill-advised investment in the Liverpool soccer team. Those lovable losers, the Texas Rangers, finally won a playoff series this past week and as a reward, get to host the New York Yankees for the American League crown and a chance to play in the World Series.

And over in the NHL, the once free-spending Dallas Stars - currently on the market, but with no closing deal or date in sight - have been forced to borrow a page from the Nashville Predators/Phoenix Coyotes' operating manual and are now trying to win on the cheap.

So far so good too - three wins in a row to start the season, putting them into that heady Toronto Maple Leafs territory.

Still, the downside of operating with the NHL's 20th highest payroll is that usually, you need to make difficult choices when it comes to re-signing top players and in the Stars' case, that offers up the question, what will they do with Brad Richards?

Richards is the $7.8-million per year player, signed to a five-year contract that expires following this season, by his former team, the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning gave Richards that generous extension in the first post-lockout season, when everybody was still trying to figure out this new salary cap thingy (some still are). Richards's contract eventually turned out to be too high for the 70, 62 and 48 point seasons he put up in the second, third and fourth years after the lockout ended. Eventually, Tampa handed him off to the Stars, back when they were still spending to the limit. Happily for Richards, he revitalized his career last season (91 points to finish seventh overall in the NHL scoring race) just in time to cash in once again at the bargaining table.

Only problem is, Dallas is no longer in position to offer what will be market value for a player that also produced a fast seven points in his first three games of the new season and at the age of 30, looks as if his career is nicely back on the rails.

So what to do? And more to the point, does Richards become in 2010-11 what Ilya Kovalchuk was last year - the most attractive potential unrestricted free agent out there?

You can be sure that Stars' general manager Joe Nieuwendyk is already exploring the parameters of a new contract with Richards's agents, so he knows exactly how things stand. You can be just as sure that if the Stars' ownership issues linger and Nieuwendyk's budget stays where it is, no amount of hometown discount is going to get a deal done.

So you have a situation where the Stars, even matter if their start is real, may look to dealing him at the trade deadline to max their potential return on Richards. The Stars might have been able to afford Richards if he'd settled in as a 70-point player. At 90 or more, and what could be another year in the top 10 in scoring? Probably not.

MORE FROM THE STARS: Nieuwendyk gave a pretty good idea of what's important for the franchise going forward when he appointed childhood buddy Gary Roberts as the team's player development consultant. Translation: Dallas's days of wading into the free-agent market and loading up on expensive players is over. The future lies in developing the next generation within - James Neal, Loui Eriksson, Jamie Benn and others. Neal worked with Roberts this past summer, as did the Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos, who is off to another fabulous start and gives Roberts much of the credit for teaching him what it takes to be a pro. Sometimes, a hire like this smacks of nepotism, but in this case, it looks as if the Stars got ahead of the curve. For whatever reason, Roberts's knowledge of fitness and nutrition - and his willingness to pass it on - strikes a chord with a new generation of NHL players. Roberts learned those lessons the hard way: He'd actually retired in Calgary after two neck operations, but eventually returned to play. According to the Stars, Roberts will be working with the team's young players at every level in the organization, from the NHL on down. Nieuwendyk said it: "Gary went through a lot in his years in the NHL ... He'll help our young players understand what it takes to be a true professional."

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