When you think about it, Brad Richards’ two homes couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.
Certainly, the NHL is packed with stories of small-town Canadian boys making it big under the bright lights of the city. But Richards takes it a step further. He comes from Prince Edward Island, which, with fewer than 150,000 residents, is Canada’s smallest province and easily one of its most charming.
Contrast that with Richards’ current Dallas home, in the state where everything is bigger, and it’s tough not to crack a smile at the undeniable dichotomy.
It’s also difficult to deny Richards finally looks truly comfortable in his new surroundings.
The center came to Dallas in a 2008 deadline deal, but other than scoring 15 points in 18 playoff games as Dallas pushed through to the West final that spring, things haven’t quite taken in Texas the way both team and player envisioned – until now.
Richards was limited to 56 games during a miserable, injury-riddled 2008-09 campaign in which Dallas failed to make the post-season.
But the playmaker has come back strong in the first quarter of this season, posting six goals and 22 points through 18 games. That puts him on pace for 97 points, the highest total of his career.
Richards is anchoring the Stars’ top line and the only downside to the assignment is the 29-year-old probably suddenly feels a little more veteran than he’d like. That’s because he’s flanked by 22-year-old James Neal on the left side and 24-year-old Loui Eriksson on the right.
Neal in particular has been a revelation, firing 11 goals this season as a sophomore. But Eriksson, with nine, isn’t far behind as both youngsters are clearly benefiting from the middle man’s setup skills.
Richards’ career trajectory is an interesting one to follow because it takes a sharp downturn after he signed a five-year deal with an average salary of $7.8 million in the summer of 2006, right on the heels of a career-best 91-point campaign. At that point, he was 26 and just two years removed from being the Conn Smythe winner on a Cup-winning team with the Bolts.
Richards’ production dropped to 70 points the following season as Tampa started heading down the toilet. Then the injury bug fluttered onto the scene, further complicating matters. In all, Richards put up a fairly unflattering 110 points in 130 games over the previous two seasons.
Obviously improved health is a big reason for the renaissance, but coaching is playing a factor, too. Richards cut his teeth under John Tortorella’s ‘Safe is Death’ system in Tampa, before coming to Dallas, a place that in many ways had become like New Jersey with cacti instead of swamps.
Enter Marc Crawford, who’s turned up the tempo and allowed the attack to drive things in Big D, provided nobody forgets their defensive roots.
For Richards, he’s literally and figuratively about as far from his roots as he could get on this continent, but the P.E.I. boy’s game sure is showing its old charm.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
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