Perhaps the smallest but most intriguing piece of news that has come out of Ranger land in recent days is that of Brad Richards already spending significant time on the ice ahead of the up coming season. Last season Richards wasn’t prepared (at all) for the abbreviated, condensed season and it showed all year long. The Rangers did fine without a strong season from Richards but it goes without saying that a well rested, fully functioning Richards makes the Rangers much stronger and more dangerous.
The fact Richards has been skating for the best part of a month is fantastic news. It indicates he is aware of the necessity of being in top shape in a critical juncture in his career and it indicates he’s willing to do whatever it takes to rebound. Barring an MVP like season it is likely Richards is heading into his last year as a Ranger but a good year for Richards means he could make himself attractive to other teams. The free agency market is not looking strong next summer and a 70+ point season from Richards would likely give him another chance to cash in.
The incentives for both Richards and the Rangers are numerous as the veteran approaches the 2013/14 season. If Richards can be the Dallas vintage Richards – he of the 90 point seasons – then the Rangers are instantly a contender. With Lundqvist in net, with their defensive core in place and with Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan up front the Rangers would boast multiple assets.
So much could depend on Richards. An in-form Richards all of a sudden gives the Rangers a much more intimidating middle of the ice. A trio of the blossoming Stepan, an in form Richards and the talented Derick Brassard would be comparable to most of the NHL’s elite middle groups. Perhaps only Pittsburgh can really boast a better three – regardless of their form. Of course, all that depends on this aforementioned form.
Of course, Richards has previous when it comes to rebounding. A mediocre year in Tampa became a trade to Dallas and following a relative subdued start to his time in Texas it was followed up by a 91 point season to re-emerge Richards among the games elite centres. No one truly expects Richards to be able to return to the top table of NHL centers but a return to being a fine top six center would be welcomed with open arms by the Rangers. It could be a critical aspect of the Rangers immediate future.