Brad Richards, meanwhile, was available for a one-on-one interview, which was a subtle but yet telling sign of how things have been going for him this season. It’s not that he’s having a bad year, far from it, but the 26-year-old star centre from Murray Harbour, P.E.I., expects more than the 25 points (11-14) in 30 games he carried into Tuesday night’s meeting the Maple Leafs.
“Well it hasn’t been that great at all,” Richards said of his season. “Very inconsistent right now. The good thing is, I know there’s a lot more there and I know I’ll find it and get more consistent and that will also help this team. I’m working on that every day and trying to find it.”
One of the things that makes Richards such a likeable guy is his honesty. Most players in his position would try to paint a different picture, blame other factors, but not him. It’s why he’s a leader in the Lightning dressing room and why it’s a good bet he’ll be turning things around.
“He’s always been a slow starter, I’m not concerned,” said his agent Pat Morris of Newport Sports. “He’s contributed, wants to contribute more and will contribute more. …
“Brad Richards has gotten better, statistically, every year that he’s played,” added Morris. “I’d be optimistic that he’ll be that improved player, statistically, again. But you are measured by what you make and he wants to do better. You know what? Given what his history has been, he will be better as the season goes on.”
Richards led the Lightning last season with a career-high 91 points (23-68) in 82 games and also led them with eight playoff points (3-5) in their five-game, first-round loss to the Ottawa Senators.
All of which landed him a whopper of a new deal, US$39 million over five years, the team’s highest-paid player at $7.8 million per season.
Is the contract weighing on him?
“It creeps into your mind sometimes when things aren’t going well,” admitted Richards. “I think it adds a microscope … sometimes when your game is going all right but you’re not getting done what you need accomplished, sometimes it gets overblown because the expectations are higher. That’s fine. I’m not trying to hide from that. It’s something I knew going into that contract.
“We’re only two months into it, there’s lots of time to right this ship and I plan on doing that.”
Fact is, said Richards, contract or no contract, he’s never roared out of the gates in his six-year NHL career.
“It seems like I’ve been doing this every year, since my rookie year, struggling through the first couple of months,” said the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner. “It’s frustrating. But hopefully it’s going to turn soon.”
Lightning head coach John Tortorella says he’s not worried.
“He’s fought it for a bit here, but he’s beginning to work himself out of it,” said Tortorella. “But he’s still done some very good things for this team.”
Some things, the coach says, that other people may not notice.
“Brad Richards is a guy that continues to fall under the radar,” said Tortorella. “Brad is never going to be a real flashy guy. A lot of people who watch him play don’t understand some of the subtle things he brings into the game of hockey. He’s never going to stand out with electrifying plays.”
Richards would never point to this but another factor could be the loss of Fredrik Modin, who was dealt to Columbus in the off-season for goalie Marc Denis.
Modin, who had 31 goals last year, was on the receiving end for many of the career-high 68 assists Richards put up last season.
Tortorella has shuffled the deck repeatedly this season trying to find a fit for his forward lines, which has left Richards with new linemates almost every game.