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Could Brad Richards return to Tampa Bay Lightning?

It certainly is intriguing to think former Lightning star Brad Richards has a chance to return to Tampa Bay. And Richards stoked that fire a bit on Thursday when he said he never wanted to leave Tampa and would be willing to listen if the Lightning calls when free agency begins on July 1.

But can the two sides actually get together? A big hurdle was cleared last week when the Stars, in the midst of an ownership transfer, said they will not make Richards an offer.

But Richards, 31, who spent the past three-plus seasons with Dallas, will be one of the highest-profile players on the market. He has 52 goals and 168 points the past two seasons.

And if you consider his five-year, $39 million contract that is expiring, an asking price of about $7 million a season doesn't seem out of question; a price that seems prohibitive for Tampa Bay, which is looking at a $7 million a year contract for Steven Stamkos and perhaps a big contract for defenseman Eric Brewer.

Richards, a center, certainly has attractive assets.

His vision on the ice is uncanny and he is a terrific passer. He is a power-play quarterback, something Tampa Bay has lacked. Put him on a line with Stamkos at wing and Stamkos has someone who can consistently get him the puck.

Still, there is that money thing.

The Lightning already has $38.37 million committed to 11 players next season and buyout payments to Vinny Prospal and Todd Fedoruk. In addition to Stamkos, general manager Steve Yzerman's priorities are signing Sean Bergenheim, Teddy Purcell and goalies Dwayne Roloson and Mike Smith.

Owner Jeff Vinik is making Yzerman's job easier by increasing payroll from last season's $55 million cap hit.

And the puzzle would be easier still if Richards takes a little less to sign in Tampa, where he spends much of the summer and uses as a base for workouts at Saddlebrook. Yzerman also could trade to free up salary.

A wild card could be Simon Gagne. If the left wing, who had a terrific second half of the season and playoffs but was bothered by injuries, took a substantial pay cut from last season's $5.25 million, Tampa Bay would be more willing to sign him. If not, perhaps the Lightning applies that money to chasing Richards.

Brewer's demands after a solid season (he made $4.5 million), as well as those of Bergenheim ($700,000 last season) and Purcell ($750,000), both of whom made themselves much more expensive with ferocious playoff runs, also will be factors.

Look, plenty of teams with plenty of money — most notably, the Rangers and Maple Leafs — will be after Richards, who does not seem willing to waive the no-move clause in his contract and allow a trade before free agency. But there is no doubt he has a soft spot for the Lightning. Does that turn into a reunion?

Much has to fall into place and Yzerman would have to be creative with payroll, but it certainly is intriguing.

TICKET BUMP: The Lightning, enjoying a bump from a long playoff run and from holding the line on prices, has sold about 3,800 new, full season tickets, CEO Tod Leiweke said last week. Coupled with about 4,500 renewals on about 5,000 full season tickets from last season, the team, at 8,300, is closing in on its goal of 10,000 to 12,000. If it gets to that point, Leiweke said, and including partial season tickets and specialty packages such as 10-packs, "We're close to selling out every night."

A MAKEOVER: Renovations to the St. Pete Times Forum began last week, Leiweke said. The $35 million project was delayed because of Tampa Bay's extended playoff run. But Leiweke said with crews working at least double shifts six days a week, most of the project, except for the expanded west entrance, should be completed by the Lightning's October home opener. The first thing demolished was the Times Forum kitchen. "No staff lunch," Leiweke wrote in a text.

Could Brad Richards return to Tampa Bay Lightning? 06/04/11 [Last modified: Sunday, June 5, 2011 12:05am]

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