Commentary

Lure of old coach draws Brad Richards

Updated: July 2, 2011, 6:32 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

So, how was Brad Richards planning to celebrate his nine-year, $60 million deal with the New York Rangers?

Champagne?

Caviar?

Uh, how about a few sets of tennis?

"I didn't get to work out yesterday with all the stuff going on and I need to run around, sweat and get my mind off stuff," Richards told ESPN.com as he was headed to put his signature to a deal that, in theory at least, will make him a Ranger for life or at least until he's 40 years old.

Bowled over by the presentation from Los Angeles and blindsided by a lucrative offer from Calgary GM Jay Feaster, Richards decided in the end that he would take his considerable talents to Broadway and the familiarity of the man who helped Richards earn his one and only Stanley Cup ring, head coach John Tortorella.

[+] EnlargeJohn Tortorella and Brad Richards
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaBrad Richards and John Tortorella won a Cup together with the Lightning in 2004.

The entire process was an eye-opener for the quiet native of Prince Edward Island, where his dad is a lobster fisherman. He said he was flattered at the groups from various teams, including Toronto and Los Angeles, that showed up at the Mississauga offices of his agent Pat Morris of Newport Sports to woo Richards with extravagant, multiyear deals.

"That's not me," he said of the courting process. "That's not what I'm about. I understand it's a process that had to be done, but it's not something I really relish."

Although he thought long and hard about the offer from Feaster and the Flames -- "He's a great man, and I'm sure he's going to do a great job with that team," Richards said -- the lure of playing in the east with an Original Six franchise and a coach he knows well and who knows him well was too powerful.

"I was going back and forth every hour in my mind. That's the problem. They were all good fits," Richards said.

But make no mistake, this is no nostalgia tour for Richards, who hasn't played a playoff game since 2008 and hungers to get back to the big show. And his decision mid-day Saturday suggests Richards is convinced the path to that goal leads through Manhattan.

He and Tortorella spoke Friday, and Richards said Tortorella was in full coach mode encouraging Richards to join the Blueshirts.

"The transition should be very easy," Richards said of the move to Gotham. "Obviously with a guy you've won with, you feel very comfortable."

It is a gamble for Richards, as well as for the Rangers, who have not won a playoff round since 2008 and have not been to a Stanley Cup final since winning it all in 1994.

Is Richards, the playoff MVP when the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, the tipping point for a team that has been criminally thin down the middle the past few years?

Richards is certainly an upgrade on anything the Rangers have had since Michael Nylander and Jaromir Jagr were tearing it up post-lockout. He will help a power play that has struggled, especially when it's come to working the puck from the point.

This is a team that managed to score just eight goals in five playoff games in a first-round loss to the Washington Capitals this past spring.

Can the presence of one man change all of that?

The Rangers did have five 20-goal scorers and Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan both missed a quarter of the season to injury. There is a solid, young defensive corps and, of course, Henrik Lundqvist manning the pipes.

"I think the timing is just great," Tortorella told ESPN.com Saturday afternoon while noting that the Rangers have done a nice job of assembling and developing good assets in recent years. "Now we're at the next step we feel. Now we need to add.

"Richie fills a lot of needs for us."

Richards said he doesn't know the personnel all that well, but it all starts in goal, and he admires Lundqvist's attention to detail and his will to win.

His role, of course, will be different in New York.

In Tampa, Richards was part of a young group that followed players like Tim Taylor, Darryl Sydor and Dave Andreychuk.

Now with a decade of NHL play under his belt, Richards will be the guy that young pieces like Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Derek Stepan and others will look to in the Rangers' dressing room.

Richards quipped that he didn't feel all that old but conceded he enjoyed the mentoring role he took on in Dallas working with young stars James Neal and Loui Eriksson.

As for being a mentor to his young players, Tortorella said he has always felt Richards has been a player blessed with great leadership qualities, even as a young man in Tampa.

Does Richards then become that X factor that helps the Rangers best a revamped Philadelphia Flyers team or a Pittsburgh Penguins team that should return a healthy Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to its lineup next fall?

Does Richards make the Rangers a team that could knock off defending Stanley Cup champion Boston or a Tampa Bay team that took the Bruins to a seven games in the Eastern Conference finals?

It's a lot to place on the shoulders of a quiet young man who has never sought the spotlight but has rather sought to spread praise around at almost every turn.

Never mind that this contract will take Richards until he is 40 years old. This isn't a contract to make the Rangers winners in five or six years. This is a contract that is expected to pay play dividends immediately and for the next four or five years while Richards is still in his prime. The rest of the contractual white noise is a way to make the salary cap hit palatable for the Rangers.

In the end for Richards, there was the money and the players he will suit up alongside; but more important were the intangibles: the culture of winning he sees Tortorella building in New York, a culture he is familiar with and one which he feels he can help in creating.

"You look at what Torts did with us as a young group in Tampa. I can see that here," Richards said.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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