Brad Richards, due to become an NHL unrestricted free agent on July 1, would love a return to his old team, the Lightning. It's still something of a fantasy scenario, contingent on the Lightning's interest. Even when he refuses to prematurely consider the possibilities, inevitably, he will encounter someone who says, "Brad, when are you coming back?"

He can't answer that.

But Richards knows this — he never wanted to leave Tampa Bay.

"I don't know what they're thinking as an organization," said Richards, 31, who has played for the Dallas Stars since the Lightning shipped him away a few hours before the 2008 trade deadline. "If they're going to talk to me, I'd definitely be interested."

Richards, a center, captured the Conn Smythe Trophy during the Lightning's 2004 run to the Stanley Cup championship. He immediately became one of the NHL's biggest free-agent prizes when the Stars said they would not offer a new contract. Richards is completing a five-year, $39 million deal he signed in Tampa Bay before the 2006-07 season.

In February 2008, with incoming Tampa Bay owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie applying some payroll-reducing pressure, Richards was sent to Dallas for a package that included goalie Mike Smith, center Jeff Halpern, wing Jussi Jokinen and a draft pick.