Brad Richards is well aware that last season was the worst of his career. But Richards is the perfect candidate to have a big comeback year for the New York Rangers.
Last season was the most tumultuous season Richards ever had to face. He did not play at all during the lockout and was suffering from the flu while the shortened training camp was taking place. He never got the chance to prepare himself for the grind that was going to be the shortened NHL season. Former Rangers coach John Tortorella was said to have a big problem with the fact that Richards did not play competitively during the lockout. Richards got off to an absolutely horrid start and end the season with just 11 goals and 23 assists for a total of 34 points. His decision-making was off and he looked slow on the ice. The most embarrassing part of the season came in the playoffs. Richards was demoted to the fourth line and was eventually a healthy scratch for the Rangers last two games. This was a clear sign that Tortorella had given up on Richards.
But there is a new regime in the big apple. Alain Vigneault inherits basically the same roster that Tortorella had last season, which includes Richards. The biggest question the Rangers faced all offseason was whether Richards was going to be the victim of a compliance buyout or not. But general manager Glen Sather decided to keep Richards for at least another year. Now a rejuvenated Richards is going to get a chance to prove he can still play.
Vigneault is going to want to push the pace and score. That has been his calling card over the last few years while coaching the very talented Vancouver Canucks. Analysts and beat writers rave that Richards is a player who has too much pride to let himself be remembered as the horrific player he was last season. While I believe I speak for most Rangers fans when I say that we all wanted to see Richards go, the fact of the matter is he is still here. He is going to play and he will have chances to play with talented players. Richards played his best hockey while paired with gritty forward Taylor Pyatt and Mats Zuccarello last season. This might be the Rangers third line this season. But I think Richards should be paired with Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider. Plugging the youth in with Richards might be the best way to get the man going again. Either way I think Richards is going to have a big year with over 70 points.
Richards is still wearing a blue and red sweater next season. While most of us Ranger fans are not happy about it, if he produces, he can regain the support of the fans and help the Rangers win the Stanley Cup.