Brad Richards looked to be on his way out of New York in 2013, when former Rangers coach John Tortorella not only demoted the veteran centre but scratched him in the playoffs.
A year later, coach Alain Vigneault started down the same path by putting the 34-year-old on left wing of the Rangers’ fourth line in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final. Richards played just nine minutes 22 seconds at even strength and a total of 13:20 including power-play time.
Vigneault said he met with his lines individually, including Richards, Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett. He wanted to spell out his reasoning and assignments.
“I talked to Brad’s line. I talked to Brad about the decision I made,” Vigneault said Wednesday night after the Rangers’ 2-1 victory that staved off elimination. “I mean, at this time of the year it’s only about one thing: It’s about the team. You guys know how Richards has been this year, the ultimate pro. He’s fine with whatever I do.”
Richards, a strong candidate to be bought out of the final six years and US$27 million left on his contract, has no points in the Cup final and just four goals and four assists in 23 games since a strong opener against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Vigneault said his line shuffling had to do with giving forward Dominic Moore a bigger role. As a result, though, he put Richards in a tough spot to be effective on a checking fourth line.
Richards skated just 13 shifts. The 34-year-old managed a couple of quality scoring chances on the power play and was on the ice for a strong five-on-five shift that ended with a Kings penalty.
Still, though, longtime friend Martin St. Louis knows what a demotion can mean to any star player’s ego. Richards was once a Canadian Olympian and 90-point scorer in the NHL.
“Richie’s a pro and a tremendous leader,” St. Louis said. “I’m sure it’s tough for him. He’s a pro and a great teammate.”
Richards isn’t expected to be a teammate of St. Louis’ for much longer. The Rangers have one more compliance buyout to use and just one more off-season window in which to use it, and these playoffs have done little to dispel the notion that he’ll be playing elsewhere next season.
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