Brad Richards is a keeper for Stars

FRISCO, Texas -- Dallas Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk took the smart approach in not dealing Brad Richards at the trade deadline Monday.

"I think in my mind I wasn't going to move him unless someone really knocked our socks off with something we couldn't refuse," Nieuwendyk said.

That offer never came. Nieuwendyk didn't need to get something for Richards, even though the All-Star center becomes a free agent in July and might not return to Dallas after this season.

The Stars are fighting desperately to end a two-year postseason drought, and they need Richards to win that fight. He leads the club in points and anchors the top line.

Richards wears a letter as one of the team's leaders and has helped the Stars' young forwards develop. He's someone you want around when the pressure goes up in the final 20 games of the season.

"I get a kick out of watching all the media in Toronto saying, 'Who could use Brad Richards?' You know, our team could use him, too," Nieuwendyk said. "We're sitting in a playoff spot today. It's not like we're sellers."

Nieuwendyk never got close enough to a deal to ask Richards to waive his no-trade clause. He put a high value on Richards, and when no team could meet that value, Nieuwendyk was happy to stand pat.

Richards has been out six games with concussion-like symptoms. Nieuwendyk said he could play Friday in Anaheim, meaning he returns during a crucial stretch that will likely decide whether the Stars make the playoffs.

Dallas' next nine games are against Western Conference teams, including six against teams that are within two points of the Stars right now.

"The race is so tight and it's going to remain tight for the entire duration," Stars coach Marc Crawford said. "Every point that you can get is one that's going to be hard fought, and you have to have the mindset that you have battle-intense games. I don't see that changing until the end of the year."

It will be nice to have Richards to help in those tight games. Getting him back for March is almost like adding a player at the deadline. That made Nieuwendyk even more hesitant to trade him.

"I was not of the mindset that I should take what I could get," Nieuwendyk said. "That's not what this is about. I believe in this group. I'm about winning right now and making the playoffs. That's very much an important thing for this franchise, and Brad Richards gives us our best chance of doing that."

Richards said Monday morning that he still wants to know who the Stars' new owners will be before he signs up for a long-term deal.

"There's nothing that has gained any traction or would change my stance on what we've said all along," Richards said. "Until I kind of see what's going on here and who's going to be the GM, who's going to be running the team. There are a lot of questions. I have the right in the situation I'm in to ask those questions and I'm going to keep asking them.

"There's no change here. I know people want to read more into it and they think there's more to it, but there's not. It's gone this long and we're this close to the summer. So seeing who's going to be in charge of this makes sense to me in what I want to do."

Nieuwendyk wants Richards back next season and beyond and hasn't given up getting a deal done. The Stars have until July 1 to reach an agreement or Richards will become one of the biggest names on the free-agent market.

"We've said all along that we want to sign Brad, and we still feel that way," Nieuwendyk said. "We want to sign Brad Richards to be a Dallas Star for a long period of time. We'll keep going the way we are and hopefully Brad will help us get to the playoffs like we expect him to."

Richards' teammates came in from practice Monday with about 90 minutes left until the deadline, and most were catching a glimpse of the trade deadline coverage on television. Their focus, though, was on continuing to play like they have the past few games.

After an awful 2-10-1 span, the Stars have won two straight and played well before that in a loss to New Jersey. They are getting healthy, with Jamie Benn, Adam Burish, Krys Barch and Toby Petersen back in the lineup.

Once Richards and defenseman Nicklas Grossman return, a fully equipped Stars team can make a push toward the finish line.

"We're more healthy and our goaltending has been excellent and giving us a chance to win games," captain Brenden Morrow said. "We're backchecking hard and trusting each other that we'll be in the right position. We've limited chances and taken advantage of ours, and that's been the key the last few games."

The Stars' goal now is to put it all together with 20 games left to beat out a gaggle of teams for one of the final spots in the Western Conference. Can you imagine them trying to do that without Richards centering the top line? Neither could Nieuwendyk. It was the right decision. Now the Stars have to prove it.

Richard Durrett covers the Stars for ESPNDallas.com.