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Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Refocused Richards back among NHL elite


You've got to do something pretty special to get on the Canadian Olympic radar if you weren't invited to its summer camp.

Brad Richards is doing just that through the opening two months of the NHL season. The 29-year-old Dallas Stars center is among the league leaders with 32 points (7-25) in 25 games, on pace at this juncture to eclipse the 100-point plateau for the first time in his career. He entered this season as motivated as ever.

"The last couple of years of my career haven't been where I wanted it, for various reasons," Richards told ESPN.com this week. "I think last year I just wasn't good, and the injuries compounded all that. Going into the offseason, I had no idea about the Olympic camp and that stuff. I was just focused on bearing down and getting a good summer of work in, getting healthy and getting really focused on my game again."

Last season, well, that was a nightmare. While he still produced 48 points (16-32) in 56 games, his season was marred by both a broken right wrist and broken left hand. He suffered the latter in his first game back after recovering from the first injury. He's healthy now and looking about as good as I've seen him play. This is vintage Brad Richards -- you know, the guy who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2004.

And he's hungry, about as hungry as he's been. He downplayed the Canadian Olympic camp snub, saying he understood where they were coming from.

"You obviously have your thoughts on why you think you should be there, but there's probably a reason why you weren't there," Richards said. "If you play good enough to give them no choice but to invite you, there would have been no problem. But that wasn't really what drove me this summer. Olympics or not, I wanted to get back to where I think I can play in this league."

Will he make the Olympic cut? That's hard to tell right now, but he's definitely on the radar.

"He's played very well," Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "He was in Detroit last night. You know, you look back now at who we brought to the camp and we had great debate on many players. It wasn't like we completely ignored Brad Richards. He's had a tough couple of years with injuries, so we went in another direction.

"But again, you look at Brad, and also guys like Steve Stamkos, Patrice Bergeron, Mike Fisher -- these guys weren't at the camp, but they're playing very well and deserve for us to be watching them very closely and they deserve to be considered."

Canada is deep at every positions, but especially at center, where you can choose from the likes of Sidney Crosby, Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards, Patrick Marleau, Derek Roy, Vincent Lecavalier, Stamkos, Jeff Carter, Bergeron, Travis Zajac, Fisher and so on.

But the reason I think you'd have to think seriously about adding a guy like Richards is because he has also played wing during his career. He's versatile.

"I have no problem playing anywhere; I've played different places," Richards said. "If you're on that team, you do whatever it takes. The success of Team Canada over the years is guys taking on different roles. Whether I'm on it or not, players will be asked to play different roles, and that's just the way it is. ... I know I could help that team, but there's probably 40 guys that have that feeling. It's a tough team to crack."

Richards was a member of the Canadian team that captured the 2004 World Cup of Hockey just before the lockout. But he was also at his first Olympics in 2006 when Canada stunk up the joint in Torino, Italy. That's just one of many reasons he'd love to have the chance to play in Vancouver -- to help erase the memories of 2006.

"Our World Cup team played very well and it was kind of basically the same team going to the Olympics," Richards said. "So, we were excited going to Torino and it just didn't happen. It was very disappointing. When you're Canadian, it's not a good experience unless you're competing for gold."