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Return to Tampa Bay Lightning for less pay? Brad Richards says he will be flexible in free agency

ST. PAUL, Minn. — When it comes to his impending free agency, Brad Richards said he wants to be flexible.

That is why he will not waive his no-trade clause with the Stars — "The more I think about it, the more I want to see all my opportunities," he said — and why, when it comes to a potential return to the Lightning, he did not shoot down a suggestion he might be willing to take less salary than he could get elsewhere.

To be fair, Richards framed his reasoning in a broader context, saying every team's financial situation is different.

Still, that Richards, the MVP of Tampa Bay's 2004 Stanley Cup run, left that door open a crack is sure to stoke the imaginations of Lightning fans when free agency opens Friday.

"If you say only one thing, you're not going to give yourself any options," Richards told the St. Petersburg Times by phone from his Prince Edward Island home. "There's different ways to do things. … That's why it's important to have an open mind. I want to see that if a team is looking at me, I can make the right call."

The Richards drama is just part of what will be a busy week for Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman and what could be a defining one as well.

Center Steven Stamkos has said he is "close" to a new contract. And Yzerman on Sunday, after the draft at the Xcel Energy Center, reiterated he is "optimistic" something will get done.

But if Stamkos, who has a league-best 96 goals the past two seasons, is not signed by Friday, he becomes a restricted free agent open to offers from other teams. Yzerman has indicated he will match them, but that undoubtedly would jack up Stamkos' salary further than the $7 million a season most expect.

Yzerman also is negotiating with goalies Dwayne Roloson and Mike Smith, both of whom can be unrestricted free agents. Qualifying offers go out today to maintain negotiating rights with restricted free agents, of which Teddy Purcell is one. It already seems Sean Bergenheim is headed for the open market.

"We've got lots of work to do this week," Yzerman said. "I hope I'm really busy. It means we're talking and getting some contracts signed. I've been in touch with everybody's agent. We'll get back on the phones this week."

So much of this is intertwined that it is difficult to predict what Yzerman will be willing to spend, or need to, on available free agents. That is why what Richards, 31, said about flexibility is so intriguing.

"I know what's going on around the league; it's not just the Lightning," said the center, who in February 2008 was dealt to the Stars in the Smith deal. "You look at any team, the salary cap, there are different structures with different teams. So, as a player you'd be stupid not to be open-minded and flexible because you want to see what all your options are."

Not negotiable is going to a franchise with stable ownership.

"That's huge," Richards said. "After what I've gone through with Tampa (in the transition to Oren Koules and Len Barrie) and what I've gone through in Dallas, I'm sick of it."

He also wants a long-term deal "to get some security and settle into a place I want to go."

Certainly Tampa Bay, which in the summer of 2006 signed Richards to the five-year, $39 million contract that is expiring, is on that list, though the Rangers and Maple Leafs are expected to make a run.

"If the Lightning is going to talk to me, I'm going to listen, for sure," Richards said. "I'm not going to waste their time, but if they want to talk to me and be serious, it's going to be a team that catches my attention."

Around the league

Trade: The Kings sent wing Ryan Smyth to the Oilers for forward Colin Fraser and a seventh-round pick in the 2012 draft. Smyth, 35, who had 23 goals and 24 assists in 82 games last season, started his career with the Oilers in 1994.

Information from Times wires was used in this report. Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Return to Tampa Bay Lightning for less pay? Brad Richards says he will be flexible in free agency 06/26/11 [Last modified: Sunday, June 26, 2011 9:46pm]

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