After becoming a fourth-liner for the New York Rangers late in 2012-13 and becoming a healthy scratch for the team’s final two games of the postseason, there was legitimate reason to wonder how much longer Brad Richards would be suiting up for the home team at Madison Square Garden.
At the time, Richards — once an All-Star who earned a nine-year, $58 million contract in the summer of 2010 — was viewed as a perfect example of a player who needed to become a victim of the amnesty clause, if only to get him away from head coach John Tortorella.
This is because when these struggles occurred, it seemed as if Richards and Tortorella were not seeing eye to eye, as the coach offered no public support for the immensely talented player when the media was making his life miserable. At the very least, one of the two had to go to make life tenable during the 2013-14 season for everyone within the Rangers’ locker room.
As it turns out, the Rangers decided to part ways with Tortorella, hiring Alain Vigneault as the new head coach. And after the Rangers’ first two games of the 2013-14 season, it appears they made the right decision.
Vigneault moved Richards to left wing prior to the beginning of the season and through the team’s first two games, it appears as if he is a different player. Richards, playing alongside Derek Stepan and Rick Nash, has played an average of 18:42 seconds per game, recorded two goals and taken six shots on goal, an impressive haul.
But equally impressive to the fact that he has been getting shots on nets and scoring goals has been the ability and energy that Richards has shown since moving to left wing. No longer is he the sluggish player that seemed to be skating with 50-pound dumbbells on his ankles during the postseason, or the guy who appeared as if he was using feet as hands.
Now Richards looks liable to either skate by a defender or make his head twirl around miserably as he stickhandles around him.
The reasons for this step up in play so far could be viewed as a direct result of having less defensive duties in the defensive zone, finally being paired with the immensely talented Nash, or just happiness at not playing under the grumpy Tortorella any longer.
Whatever the true reason is (likely a combination of the three), there is no doubting that Richards is once again playing like the the player that received the massive nine-year contract, in the process making any talk of using the amnesty clause on him seem far-fetched at best.
If he is able to continue this play throughout the entirety of the 2013-14 season, there is no doubt that the Rangers will be a much more dangerous team.