TAMPA - The Fantastic Four is no more.
The quartet of pillars the Lightning built their franchise around is down to a trio after cornerstone center Brad Richards was traded Tuesday to the Dallas Stars in a five-player deal. In exchange, Tampa Bay received what it hopes will be a No. 1 goaltender in 25-year-old Mike Smith.
"I think it's a good deal," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "And I hate saying that because Brad Richards is involved in it. But you put that aside and you think of the business part of it and how it helps your team."
Also in the deal, the Lightning sent goaltender Johan Holmqvist to the Stars and received veteran center Jeff Halpern, winger Jussi Jokinen and a 2009 fourth-round draft pick.
Just before the league's 3 p.m. trading deadline, Tampa Bay moved free-agent-to-be left wing Jan Hlavac to the Nashville Predators for a seventh-round pick in this summer's draft. That completed a two-day frenzy that included Monday's trade of Vinny Prospal to Philadelphia.
Late Monday night, after the Lightning re-signed defenseman Dan Boyle - who along with Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Richards made up Tampa Bay's big four - to a six-year deal worth $40 million, it became clear Richards would be dealt. The highest-paid of the four, Richards has three years left on a contract paying $7.8 million annually.
"It ends up, unfortunately, that Brad is the odd man out, and Brad has that big ticket," Lightning general manager Jay Feaster said. "It isn't that he's somewhat expendable. It's a very, very difficult thing to trade Brad Richards. There's a huge hole in the hockey team. There's a hole in the community to have a guy like Brad walk out the door."
Richards, who has a no-trade clause in his contract, gave the Lightning staff a list of teams he would consider joining. Dallas, he said, was at the top of the list and likely the only team he would agree to before the trade deadline.
"I think I need to get refreshed with a new beginning," Richards said. "When Jay Feaster started talking about different teams, Dallas is one I had my eye on. They've got a good chance to win right now. They've got some great players that hopefully I'll be able to play with."
Finding consistent wingers to play with the past two seasons proved to be a struggle for Richards. Since signing a five-year contract worth $39 million after the 2005-06 season, his numbers have fallen off. Richards no longer played with either of former linemates Fredrik Modin, who was traded to Columbus, or St. Louis, now on a line with Lecavalier.
Richards, the 2004 Conn Smythe winner as the playoff MVP when Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup, slipped to 70 points last season and had 51 points in 62 games this season. With a self-imposed salary cap of $44-$45 million the past two seasons, the Lightning have not been able to find an established winger to play on Richards' line, a big factor in the 27-year-old's lack of production.
Given Richards' impact on and off the ice, his presence will be missed.
"It's a sad day," St. Louis said. "Brad Richards is an unbelievable hockey player, and he's just as good if not better of a person, with everything that he has done here. I was lucky and fortunate to be around him and learn about him as a player and as a person. It's going to be an adjustment for a lot of us."
Feaster characterized trading Richards as "one of the most difficult decisions" he has made as a general manager. But with a new ownership group coming in and the team needing to address its goaltending situation, there were internal and external pressures at work that expedited the decision. The daily rumor mill also played a role.
"I don't know if there is a right or a wrong time to do this," Feaster said. "Certainly it was something that the new ownership group felt it was important to look at right now. So, we put him out there. ...And it's a crazy situation, because once you put it out there, it's out there. And that's something I deeply regret.
"I talked to Brad so he didn't hear about it from the media, but once you start talking to your colleagues in this league, I might as well call TSN television reporter Bob McKenzie myself. So Brad has had to deal with this for the past couple of weeks, and I think that's unfortunate.
"And yet, at the end of the day the end result was a good result."
That's because Feaster and his staff believe they have acquired a goaltender who is ready to take over the No. 1 spot in Smith, who has spent the past two seasons backing up Marty Turco in Dallas. At times this season, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound former fifth-round pick in 2001 pushed Turco for playing time.
One scouting report from Theforecaster.ca on Smith lists his assets as: "Has a huge frame, which helps him cover up most of the net. Doesn't usually hurt himself, or his team, by letting in soft goals," but reports his flaws as "still somewhat raw and needs to improve his coordination and flexibility. Doesn't own enough puck-stopping ability to be considered a future starter."
"I don't know him that well, and we haven't seen him play that much, but the people around us have done a lot of extensive work," Tortorella said of Smith. "I even had a couple of players contact me who have played with him and they spoke very highly of him."
Smith was on his way to the airport in Dallas with Jokinen and Halpern late Tuesday as the trio traveled from St. Louis, where the Stars were playing the Blues. After picking up clothes in Dallas, they planned to travel to Tampa in time for this morning's game-day skate. The Lightning play the Wild tonight at home.
"It's been a whirlwind day," said Smith, who will get his first chance to be a No. 1 goalie. "That's the most exciting thing for me, to know that I'm going to have the opportunity to play. It's tough to think about being traded at first, but when I had some time to sit and think about it and take it all in, I know I'm going to get the chance to play in Tampa Bay and get the chance at the No. 1 job."
RICHARDS ON THE ICE
Three memorable moments in Brad Richards' career with the Lightning:
Nov. 15, 2002: Richards, then 22, set up 39-year-old Dave Andreychuk's 250th career power-play goal against the San Jose Sharks, giving Andreychuk the NHL record. ''When I came out of the corner with the puck, I thought about walking it in,'' Richards said that night. ''But it clicked right away that it was Dave in front of the net, so I sent the pass in.''
April 27, 2004: During the Lightning's run to the Stanley Cup, Richards scored the overtime winner in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Canadiens, bouncing the puck off the skate of G Jose Theodore to give Tampa Bay a 3-0 series lead. ''That's one I'll remember for a while,'' Richards said after the game.
June 5, 2004: The Flames needed one victory on home ice to win the Stanley Cup. Richards scored two power-play goals and assisted on Marty St. Louis' winner in Game 6, sending the series back to Tampa for Game 7 and an eventual Lightning victory. ''Brad's been our horse through the whole playoffs,'' former Lightning D Pavel Kubina said that night.
2005 Tampa Tribune People's Choice Award: The Tampa Sports Club's annual recognition of a local athlete whose contributions to the community have been exceptional.
2004 Conn Smythe Trophy: Earned the playoff MVP award with a league-best 26 points. His 12 postseason goals included an NHL-record seven winners.
2004 Lady Byng Trophy: The award given to the player who best exemplifies good sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct on the ice; teammate Marty St. Louis was a finalist.
2001-02 Young Stars Game: In his second season, was invited to participate during All-Star weekend en route to 20-goal, 42-assist campaign.
2000-01 NHL All-Rookie Team: Quickly emerged as a potential difference-maker with 21 goals and 41 assists as a 20-year-old rookie; runner-up to San Jose G Evgeni Nabokov for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
IN THE RECORD BOOK
Brad Richards ranks among the Lightning's best in several categories:
Games: 552, second (Vinny Lecavalier, 691)
Points: 489, second (Lecavalier, 588)
Goals: 150, third (Lecavalier, 265; Marty St. Louis, 200)
Assists: 339, first
Power-play goals: 49, third (Lecavalier, 73; St. Louis, 59).
Short-handed goals: 7, fourth (St. Louis, 25; Rob Zamuner, 14; Lecavalier, 12)
Game-winning goals: 18, fourth (Lecavalier, 40; St. Louis, 37; Fredrik Modin, 19)
IN THE COMMUNITY
Brad Richards has been a valuable member of the Tampa Bay community. In 2003, he initiated Richy's Rascals, reserving a St. Pete Times Forum suite for pediatric cancer patients. In 2007, he expanded the Brad Richards Foundation to include Task Force 19 to honor members of the military and their families, and Richy's Hot Shots, to boost youth hockey in the Tampa Bay area.
- Carter Gaddis
A FRANTIC DAY
Tampa Bay had a busy 24 hours leading up to the NHL trading deadline Tuesday at 3 p.m. A quick chronological recap of events:
Traded: LW Vinny Prospal to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for D Alexandre Picard and a conditional draft pick in 2009, either a third-round pick or a selection in the second round if the Flyers reach the Eastern Conference finals this year.
Signed: D Dan Boyle to a six-year contract extension worth $40 million.
Traded: C Brad Richards and G Johan Holmqvist to the Dallas Stars in exchange for G Mike Smith, LW Jussi Jokinen, C Jeff Halpern and a fourth-round pick in 2009.
Traded: LW Jan Hlavac to the Nashville Predators in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick in 2008.
Traded: D Jay Leach to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for RW Brandon Segal and a seventh-round pick in 2008.
Salary added for 2008-09: $11.5 million
Salary subtracted for 2008-09: $7.8 million
Players acquired: 5
Players dealt: 5
Draft picks acquired: 4
Players re-signed: 1
Of the players who will take the ice for Tampa Bay tonight, 15 are under contract for next season. A look at each player's salary and salary cap hit:
Player / Salary / Cap Hit
D Dan Boyle / $6,666,666/ $6,666,666
D Filip Kuba / $3,000,000 / $3,000,000
C/RW Jeff Halpern / $2,000,000 / $2,000,000
LW Jussi Jokinen / $1,875,000 / $1,812,000
C Vinny Lecavalier / $7,166,700 / $6,875,000
D Brad Lukowich / $1,650,000 / $1,566,700
D Mike Lundin / $737,500 / $687,500
D Shane O'Brien / $1,025,000 / $950,000
RW Michel Ouellet / $1,300,000 / $1,250,000
G Karri Ramo / $725,000 / $658,300
D Paul Ranger / $950,000 / $933,300
G Mike Smith / $950,000 / $950,000
RW Marty St. Louis / $5,000,000 / $5,250,000
LW Nick Tarnasky / $525,000 / $525,000
RW Jason Ward / $700,000 / $675,000
Salary committed for next season: $34,270,866
Salary cap committed for next season: $33,799,966
Source: Globe and Mail salary database