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.