NEW YORK, N.Y. – Brad Richards and John Tortorella are together again.
The two spent six-plus seasons together with the Tampa Bay Lightning—winning a Stanley Cup title in 2004. Richards reunited with Tortorella on Saturday after agreeing to a nine-year, US$60-million contract with the New York Rangers, the team Tortorella currently coaches.
Richards, 31, said his familiarity with Tortorella played a role in his decision to head to the Big Apple.
“I’ve seen how Torts operates and it has worked, I know that firsthand,” Richards said during a conference call. “I can see how he’s bringing that young team along in New York.
“It kind of reminds me of what he was doing with us (in Tampa Bay).”
But Richards said more important to him was joining a long-established franchise with solid ownership like the Rangers as well as returning to the Eastern Conference to be closer to his Prince Edward Island roots.
“The huge thing all along was going to a hockey market with stable ownership,” he said. “A big thing in my mind that I never said openly was getting back East, it was important to me.
“I grew up on the East coast, my family still loves to watch me play and it’s a lot easier for them out here. I’ve got a grandfather who is 93 that watches every game on TV and he wasn’t too happy about the West coast games. You add up all that stuff, it’s just an easier transition to get back East.”
Richards and Tortorella spoke Friday evening and Richards said Tortorella didn’t try to sweet-talk him into coming to New York.
“He’s the type of guy (who says) ‘If you want to come play for me that’s good, if you don’t, don’t both talking to me,”’ Richards said with a chuckle. “We have a good enough relationship that I know what he’s doing there, I know what he expects.
“That wasn’t a big deal of what he had to do or what he had to sell me on.”
Tortorella said Richards will fill some huge needs for the Rangers on the ice, but more importantly off it in terms of mentoring the club’s young, upcoming stars.
“Forget about what the stats are, forget about what on-ice is,” Tortorella said. “It’s some of the mentoring and just teaching kids what it is to be a pro with such a young crew that we have.
“I think that’s going to be very important and he certainly fits the bill there.”
Richards, 31, was considered the top prize in this year’s NHL free-agent pool after registering a career-high 28 goals and 67 points last season with the Dallas Stars. Richards became an unrestricted free agent Friday and spent the day in the office of his agent, Pat Morris, going through the various offers for his services.
Both the Los Angeles Kings and Toronto Maple Leafs made their pitches in person at Morris’s office.
Another team that pushed for Richards was the Calgary Flames while both Wayne Gretzky and Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant made video messages to Richards.
Now that he’s arrived at a decision, Richards said he’s looking forward to merely concentrating on hockey now.
“You have to respect the process but I’m not a person who likes to wait around and wait for something to happen,” Richards said. “It’s kind of been like that for 60, 70 days now knowing that nothing could happen until July 1.
“You’re just kind of in limbo and your mind doesn’t really relax like it would in a normal summer. I’m excited to move on.”
Rangers GM Glen Sather said Richards turned down more lucrative offers in deciding to come to New York.
“I know he left a lot of money on the table by accepting the offer we made to him,” Sather said. “There were people that were offering a lot more than we were.
“I’m happy that he has decided to come here and I’m happy he has decided to come here at a reduced rate in comparison to what he would’ve got somewhere else.”
Richards missed a month last season after sustaining a concussion. He was hit in the jaw by a check against Columbus on Feb. 13 and missed 10 games before returning March 9.
But Richards said his health is not an issue.
“I finished the season feeling great and have been training now for six weeks, way ahead of any training schedule I’ve been on, to be honest with you, because I was healthy at the end of the season,” he said. “My body felt great, my head felt great so I got at it pretty quick and took that time to get a head start on it.
“I know there’s a lot of talk about those things but, really, that’s in the past. I’ve got a good summer of work ahead of me and still another two months. I’ll be 100 per cent, for sure.”
Two seasons ago, Richards had 16 goals and 48 points in 55 games before missing 15 games with a broken wrist. But in his first game back, he suffered a season-ending broken left hand.
Richards has 220 career goals and 496 assists in 772 career games over 11 NHL seasons with Tampa Bay and Dallas.
Richards had 12 goals and a NHL-best 26 points, seven power-play goals and seven game-winning goals during the 2004 post-season to win the Conn Smythe Trophy with the Lightning as playoff MVP. He was dealt to Dallas during the 2007-08 season after six-plus seasons with Tampa Bay.
“We made an awful move trading him to Dallas,” Tortorella said. “It’s funny, when we went in and played Dallas this year, it was strange for me to see him over there with a No. 91 on his back.
“It was weird for me because I had coached him for so long at such a young age early in his career. In talking to him (Friday), you can see where he has matured, he has done some great things in this game. I’m really anxious to see him every day now, we’re fortunate with the New York Rangers to have him every day, both on and off the ice.”
— With files from The Associated Press.