Free agent Brad Richards declines offer to return to Tampa Bay Lightning

When the Kings on Friday visited with free agent center Brad Richards, they came with eight people and a video the Los Angeles Times reported included Lakers star Kobe Bryant extolling the virtues of living in L.A.

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman had no such bells or whistles when it was his turn.

"Unfortunately," Yzerman said, laughing over the phone from Mississauga, Ontario, where the meeting took place. "I just showed up by myself."

And light in the wallet, as it turned out. Richards, the most coveted free agent forward on the market, declined Tampa Bay's offer to return to the team with which he began his NHL career and was MVP of its 2004 Stanley Cup run.

The hometown discount Richards had indicated he might be willing to give was not enough.

"I knew going in with the salary structure of some of the other teams that were potential suitors that this was going to be a little difficult for us," Yzerman said. "I went in and talked to him and explained our situation. 'This is what I can do. We'd love to have you.' I suspected full well what is potentially out there (financially), and it's just too big of a bridge to gap."

"All the respect in the world," Richards wrote in a text about the Lightning. "I have many offers, and they just couldn't be in that range. We had a great talk. No need for me to handcuff the team."

It was the second disappointment for Yzerman, who was unable to sign All-Star center Steven Stamkos, now a restricted free agent. Yzerman said he was not aware of any offer sheets that came Stamkos' way. And Stamkos' agent Mark Guy wrote in a text, "Our focus is on concluding a deal with Tampa."

That seemed to take some of the edge off the negotiations, and Yzerman continued to say he is optimistic a deal can be struck. He expects to meet again today with Guy and Stamkos' other agent, Don Meehan.

Tampa Bay did have some success on the first day of free agency. It signed goaltender Mathieu Garon to a two-year, $2.6 million contract to be the backup to Dwayne Roloson. It made official the signing of last year's top draft choice, Brett Connolly, and added organizational depth by signing forwards J.T. Wyman and former Lightning Michel Ouellet to one-year, two-way deals.

But it was the Richards saga that captivated fans and media across North America.

The whole day was a bit surreal. Yzerman's meeting with Richards and agent Pat Morris was in the same building outside Toronto as his meeting with Stamkos' agents. Both players are represented by Newport Sports.

Also bidding for Richards: the Maple Leafs, Flames and Rangers. The New York Post reported one team offered a contract that would pay $12 million in each of the first two years. The Los Angeles Times said the Kings' offer was seven to nine years for an average $6.5 million.

"I don't know what he's been offered," Yzerman said.

He does know that with Stamkos' contract likely to come in at $7 million to $8 million a year, Tampa Bay's budget would not allow him to compete.

Yzerman still has to fill a hole on his top two lines. Does he try to bring back left wing Simon Gagne, who reportedly is talking to the Flyers?

"What we're going to do," Yzerman said, "is kind of regroup and go over all the signing and see who is available and circle back and see what is the best fit financially and player-wise."

Free agent Brad Richards declines offer to return to Tampa Bay Lightning 07/01/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 2, 2011 12:30am]

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