Before the trade deadline, Brad Richards looked like he was playing the final days of his tenure with the Rangers in slow motion. His gigantic contract often came up in discussions and conjecture regarding the second of the Rangers available amnesty buyouts. Even this writer was a skeptic, and having been a fan of Richards the player since he came into the league, through the Cup win in Tampa, the departure to Dallas, and his eventual signing in New York, his play has been shockingly bad.
If there were ever a player that had been “snake bit” by the lockout, it seemed to be Brad Richards. Pucks weren’t sitting down for him, most of his shots were just wide or off the post, and then there were the passes. Blind passes to nowhere would regularly result in the Rangers getting trapped and the opposition scoring. That’s not to say that his team mates weren’t often guilty of the same infractions, but for the first 3 months of this lockout truncated season, it seemed like there was a black cloud following Brad Richards around.
Then the trade deadline came. The seemingly unthinkable happened. Marian Gaborik, the silky handed mainstay of the Rangers offense for the last few years, was traded away.
Brad Richards may have seen this move, and realized that no player on this team is fully protected, not even Richards, who’s reunion with John Tortorella was heralded with golden trumpeting when Richards was signed during the summer of 2011. Richards was invisible on most nights going into April, and he looked as if he were in a state of decline.
Since the trade deadline, Broadway Brad has been a different player. In the 12 games the Rangers have played in April, he has 5 goals and 8 assists. He has become a productive player, and aside from a terrible penalty in Tuesday’s effort against the Florida Panthers, a 3-2 loss in which Richards assisted on a Derrick Brassard goal in the final minute of play, has had superb play in both ends of the ice.
Not only that, Richards overcame an odd personal milestone, collecting his first career hat trick against the Sabres in an 8-4 laugher. Yes, the Rangers were on the winning side of a laugher this season. It’s no surprise that 8 of Richards 10 goals on the season, as well as 22 of his 31 points, have come in Rangers wins this season.
That’s not to say that this team goes the way Richards goes, but he has been a major factor in the Rangers 8-3-1 record in the last 12 games. If there has been any player that benefitted from the depth the Rangers have been rebuilding since the Nash trade and free agency sent most of the Rangers depth away in the off season, it’s Richards. Playing mainly on a line with Mats “The Hobbit” Zuccarello and Ryane Clowe, Richards finally has some space, some focus, and the ever elusive John Tortorella patent pending bite to their game.
With the post season fast approaching, if the Rangers are even going to come anywhere close to the lofty expectations that were placed upon them at the beginning of this season, Richards will need to continue to bring his top shelf game. Richards is former Conn Smythe winner, and in 83 playoff games, has collected 27 goals and 77 total points. However, in 20 post season matches last season as a Ranger, he collected only 6 goals and 15 points. What Richards does is score clutch goals on the biggest stages, and brings a great deal of leadership to any squad. Although he’s only been a part of 6 playoff runs during his 11 year career, a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe are nothing to sneeze at. Can he take some of the momentum that he’s built up into May’s playoffs? Although he still needs to help the Rangers clinch, look for Richards to continue playing like he’s scared to lose his job. And if he continues to produce, look for Sather to keep Richards in Broadway Blue.
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photo credit: Robert Kowal via photopin cc