Brad Richards could be seen as one of those free agent signings that didn’t live up to the massive contract he signed or someone that didn’t boast the talent level of a Stamkos or a Tavares. What he did offer was stability, leadership and talent down the middle, in a place where the Rangers needed it the most becoming one of the more impactful players the Rangers have boasted over the last ten years.
Going into the 2011-2012 offseason, the Rangers needed help at Center. The previous season, the team had Derek Stepan, Brandon Dubinsky, an aging Vinny Prospal a soon to be departed and oft injured captain in Chris Drury. Clearly, the Rangers were looking for someone to help anchor the center position.
Brad Richards posing with his Conn Smythe trophy in 2004
In his last season in Dallas, Brad Richards had led the Stars in points by posting up 77 points in 72 games. Richards was an important piece to many of the contending early 2000s Tampa Bay Lighting teams, including the 2003-04 Cup winning team, in which he was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy, along with a stellar regular season with 79 points along with 12 goals and 26 assists during the 03-04 Lightning Cup run which won him the Conn Smythe Trophy (pictured above).
It was known, that Brad Richards was an impact player in the NHL, who just also happened to be an Unrestricted Free Agent during the 2011-2012 offseason. The “stars” seemed like they were lining up in favor of the Rangers.
Offers from Los Angeles, Toronto, Philadelphia, Calgary (who apparently offered the kitchen sink with 65 million for nine years) and the Rangers were on the table. Ultimately, Richards decided to sign with the Rangers (kitchen sink offered, nine years, 60 million, frontloaded), citing familiarity with then coach John Tortorella, ownership stability and a desire to play for an Original Six team, in front of the faithful Madison Square Garden crowd.
But the Rangers offered quite a few intangibles. In a conference call with reporters, Richards mentioned the Rangers’ position among the league’s Original Six franchises and his comfort level with Tortorella as attractions. He said that he looked forward to going to work at Madison Square Garden and that he relished the opportunity to prove himself in a big market after playing for Tampa Bay and for Dallas.
“I find it easier to go to the rink every night when you know that type of atmosphere and fans are there to support you,” he said.
(Pat) Morris (Richard’s agent) had said “stable ownership” would be a main factor in Richards’s choice, and Richards confirmed that Saturday, using the same words.
Richards chose to leave (Dallas) because he said he saw a Rangers team that was young, hard-working and committed to winning. The Rangers have, at least on paper, lifted themselves from midlevel strugglers to contenders for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. “We needed somebody like this to take us to the next step,” Sather said. Jeff Z. Klein/NY Times
The Rangers, with their top center secured, were ready for war.
As a center, Brad Richards brought a lot to the table skill wise. Set up with great hands, a fantastic skater, solid on faceoffs and incredible vision of the ice, Richards added a ton of skill down the middle for the Rangers. Taking the role of the number one center and top Power Play quarterback, Richards elevated the offense to where they became a legitimate threat with him on the ice. The Hockey News describes Brad Richards as an…
Outstanding, savvy and creative scoring forward. Had incredible imagination with the puck and excellent playmaking ability. Had good anticipation and functioned expertly during pressure situations. Liked to shoot the puck often when playing the point on the power play. Was a leader by example. The Hockey News
Richards’ skillset was one that could be noticed many times on the ice for the Rangers. For many games during his tenure with the Rangers, you could always tell when Brad Richards was on the ice.
Richards knew what to do with the skill he possessed, as seen above. Being the top tier player he was, he also knew when to come up big. Richards had his hand in a few big moments for the Rangers over the last few years.
He scored the game winning goal in the 2012 Winter Classic
…assisted with a superb pass to Marian Gaborik in a marathon Game 3 versus the Caps in the 2012 East Semis
He scored the game tying goal with 6.6 left in the 3rd period of Game 5 of that same 2012 Semi Final round. Talk about being in the right place at the right time…
He even beat the clock against the Coyotes against the Coyotes earlier that season with a shot that went in with .1 seconds left on the clock.
He was always someone you could notice on the ice and was an integral part down the middle for the Rangers, but another thing that he did well for the Rangers was lead.
Captain Ryan Callahan was dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning with a few picks for Martin St.Louis back in March of 2014, leaving the “C” spot vacated.
Enter Brad Richards.
During the roller coaster playoff run in 2014, the Rangers fought through some tough battles, whether it’s dealing with the rough Flyers, superstar filled Penguins and a pesky Montreal team. Throw in a persistent LA Kings squad, an emotional moment for Martin St.Louis with the passing of his mother, as well as a satisfying Prince of Wales trophy win as best team in the Eastern Conference, Brad Richards was seen as the one keeping it all together in-house.
After the Callahan trade, Richards essentially took on the role of de facto captain for the Blueshirts. Richards’ previous Cup experiences and leadership resonated through to his teammates. In a piece about Richards in the New York Daily News after his departure, current captain Ryan McDonagh spoke on how Richards impacted him and the team as a whole…
He (McDonagh) recalled Saturday how much Richards enjoyed being at the rink, talking to players not just about hockey, but anything going on in their personal lives.
“He just really tried to show his passion for the game,” McDonagh said of Richards after practice in Greenburgh. “His love and his work ethic is something you definitely can’t teach a player. You either have it or you don’t, and he tried to spread that throughout the room so guys could all buy in and make sure they’re that much more prepared and that much more focused for the game.”
McDonagh said Richards helped him “a lot” in his career. Derek Stepan, 24, and Chris Kreider, 23, both expressed the same sentiment, appreciating Richards’ ability to connect with them in ways that transcended hockey. Justin Tasch/NY Daily News
In connecting with the players, Richards knew what to say to the team at the right moment. In the same Daily News article, McDonagh described what Richards told the team after falling behind three games to one to the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2014 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals…
But it was Richards’ keen sense for the waves of emotions players experience in the playoffs that helped the Rangers the most, particularly when they found themselves down three games to one against Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference semifinals last year.
Richards knew exactly what to say after a tough loss, McDonagh remembered delivering his message calmly while maintaining the focus of his peers.
“It only takes one game to get the momentum back on your side,” McDonagh said. Justin Tasch/NY Daily News
The Rangers could have folded and kicked themselves into oblivion that series. The opposite happened as the Rangers stormed back to win the series in seven games, with Richards scoring a goal in that same game seven that clinched the series. The leadership Richards’ brought to the team that stretch was evident on the impact he left on this team. The 2014 Cup run was not one anyone expected. The Rangers that season were seen as a middle of the road team, to be executed at the hands of the Penguins or Canadiens, but that’s not what happened.
Richards’ leadership, on and off the ice, pieced this squad together and created a run that many Rangers fans will never forget, albeit the result wasn’t what we wanted. The team rallied around Richards and around each other.
Unfortunately, after the Rangers fell at the hands of the Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, much speculation had been stirred that Richards’ contract was going to be bought out by the Rangers in order to gain cap space. This speculation turned out to be correct, as the Rangers used their second and final compliance buyout on Richards’, deeming him to be a free agent.
“Tough last few days,” Richards said. “I loved being a Ranger and living in New York and playing at MSG in front of great fans. I’ve met many new friends, excellent teammates and staff and I have memories that I will cherish for a lifetime.
“Glen Sather, the management and owner, Mr. Dolan, are all class acts,” Richards continued. “I want to thank them for letting me be a part of New York life and the Rangers family. With this decision finalized, I can now look forward to starting the next chapter in my career.” Pat Leonard/ NY Daily News
Glen Sather said in a statement regarding Richards’ buyout..
“We would like to thank Brad for everything he has done for our team on and off the ice during his time here,” Sather said in a statement. “This was an extremely difficult decision to make because of how much respect I have for him. Brad’s leadership and guidance for our young players was invaluable to the organization.
“We are grateful to have had the professionalism and experience he brought as an example for our team to follow,” Sather added. “Brad has been a very good player for us and an even better person. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors.” Pat Leonard/ NY Daily News
The respect was mutual. It seemed that the Rangers did not want to let Richards go, but due to the salary cap restraints , the Rangers’ hand was forced. Now, you may ask yourself..
“Was the Richards contract a waste?”
In what was one of the better signings the Rangers have had over the last fifteen years, Richards scored 56 goals and 151 points playing in 212 regular season games in three seasons, and he netted 12 goals and 28 points playing in 55 of 57 playoff games. This, along with many of the countless moments and strong leadership he provided for the Rangers, his contract was not a waste by any means whatsoever.
After a stop with Chicago (Stanley Cup Winning Stop) and a final go with the Red Wings, Richards decided to retire from the game in 2016. After his retirement, along with Brian Leetch, Richards was hired by the New York Rangers as Hockey Ops Advisors. Meaning both Leetch and Richards will have a say in hockey decisions on and off the ice as well as assisting in player/prospect development. The Rangers just couldn’t stay away from Richards long as they knew how valuable an asset he could be to an organization.
That just confirms everything about him that was evident when he was on the ice. Richards was an experienced vet when he came to New York and mixed his skill with his strong leadership to help steer the Rangers into some of the more fruitful times this organization has seen in quite some time. He may not have scored 50 goals or put up 150 points in a season, but what he did was provide skill at a position the Rangers needed it, stepped up when the team needed him the most and was a leader when it seemed like the Rangers had none and gave us many memories to look on. That is what Brad Richards meant to the Rangers.