I tend to have a habit of delving into the past, immersing myself in old games and players, and trying to transport myself back to the moments when certain players donned the Rangers’ jersey. This time around, There are times when I view them through rose-colored glasses, often overestimating their impact on the Rangers due to my fondness. But I think we are all thankful for what Brad Richards meant to the Rangers in his short time in New York.
Richards could be perceived as a free agent signing who didn’t quite meet the expectations of his substantial contract, unlike players of the caliber of Stamkos or Tavares. What he brought to the table was stability, leadership, and valuable talent in a position where the Rangers needed it the most, making him one of the most influential players for the team in the past decade.
Entering the 2011-2012 offseason, the Rangers were in need of help at the center position. Their roster included Derek Stepan, Brandon Dubinsky, an aging Vinny Prospal, and the soon-to-depart and injury-prone Chris Drury from the previous season. Clearly, the Rangers were searching for a strong presence to anchor their center position.
In his final season with the Dallas Stars, Brad Richards led the team in points, amassing 77 points in 72 games. Richards had previously been a vital component of several competitive Tampa Bay Lightning teams in the early 2000s, including the 2003-04 Stanley Cup-winning squad. He was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy that season and played a significant role during the Lightning’s Cup run, earning him the Conn Smythe Trophy.
It was common knowledge that Brad Richards was an impact player in the NHL, and he happened to be an unrestricted free agent during the 2011-2012 offseason. The stars appeared to align in favor of the Rangers.
Offers from various teams, including Los Angeles, Toronto, Philadelphia, Calgary (who reportedly offered an enticing nine-year, $65 million deal), and the Rangers, were on the table. Ultimately, Richards chose to sign with the Rangers, enticed by his familiarity with then-coach John Tortorella, the team’s ownership stability, and the opportunity to play for an Original Six franchise in front of the passionate Madison Square Garden crowd.
With their top center secured, the Rangers were ready for action.
Brad Richards, as a center, brought a wealth of skills to the table. He possessed exceptional hands, was a superb skater, excelled in faceoffs, and had remarkable vision on the ice. Richards not only became the team’s number one center but also the primary quarterback for the power play, elevating the Rangers’ offensive capabilities to a new level. The Hockey News described Brad Richards as…
Outstanding, savvy and creative scoring forward. Had incredible imagination with the puck and excellent playmaking ability. Had good anticipation and functioned expertly during pressure situations. Liked to shoot the puck often when playing the point on the power play. Was a leader by example. The Hockey News
Richards’ skill set shone through every time he took the ice for the Rangers. Throughout his tenure with the team, he consistently made his presence felt. Richards knew how to capitalize on his skills, as evidenced above. He wasn’t just a top-tier player; he knew how to rise to the occasion when it mattered. Richards played a significant role in several key moments for the Rangers in recent years.
He scored the game-winning goal in the 2012 Winter Classic, delivered a brilliant pass to set up Marian Gaborik in a marathon Game 3 against the Capitals during the 2012 Eastern Semifinals, and tied the game with a goal in the final moments of the third period in Game 5 of the same series. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. He even beat the clock with a shot that found the net with just 0.1 seconds remaining in a game against the Coyotes that season.
On top of his on-ice contributions, Richards excelled as a leader. After Captain Ryan Callahan was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Martin St. Louis in March 2014, the captaincy was left vacant. Enter Brad Richards.
During the roller-coaster playoff run in 2014, the Rangers faced tough opponents, including the gritty Flyers, star-studded Penguins, and resilient Canadiens. Along the way, they dealt with an emotional journey for Martin St. Louis following the loss of his mother and the emotional victory of securing the Prince of Wales Trophy as the best team in the Eastern Conference. Brad Richards was the glue holding it all together internally.
After the Callahan trade, Richards effectively assumed the role of de facto captain for the Blueshirts. His experience, leadership, and previous Cup wins resonated with his teammates. In an article about Richards in the New York Daily News after his departure, Ryan McDonagh spoke about how Richards influenced him and the team as a whole…
He (McDonagh) recalled Saturday how much Richards enjoyed being at the rink, talking to players not just about hockey, but anything going on in their personal lives.
“He just really tried to show his passion for the game,” McDonagh said of Richards after practice in Greenburgh. “His love and his work ethic is something you definitely can’t teach a player. You either have it or you don’t, and he tried to spread that throughout the room so guys could all buy in and make sure they’re that much more prepared and that much more focused for the game.”
McDonagh said Richards helped him “a lot” in his career. Derek Stepan, 24, and Chris Kreider, 23, both expressed the same sentiment, appreciating Richards’ ability to connect with them in ways that transcended hockey. Justin Tasch/NY Daily News
Richards knew exactly what to say to the team at the right moments. In the same Daily News article, McDonagh described Richards’ motivational words after falling behind three games to one against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2014 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
But it was Richards’ keen sense for the waves of emotions players experience in the playoffs that helped the Rangers the most, particularly when they found themselves down three games to one against Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference semifinals last year.
Richards knew exactly what to say after a tough loss, McDonagh remembered delivering his message calmly while maintaining the focus of his peers.
“It only takes one game to get the momentum back on your side,” McDonagh said. Justin Tasch/NY Daily News
The Rangers could have easily crumbled during that series, but instead, they mounted a remarkable comeback, winning the series in seven games, with Richards even scoring a crucial goal in Game 7. Richards’ leadership during that stretch was evident and left a lasting impact on the team. The 2014 Cup run was unexpected, as the Rangers were perceived as a middle-of-the-road team that was expected to be eliminated by the Penguins or Canadiens.
Richards’ leadership, both on and off the ice, brought the team together and created a memorable playoff run, even though it didn’t culminate in the desired championship. The team rallied around Richards and each other.
Unfortunately, after the Rangers fell to the Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, speculation arose that Richards would be bought out by the team to alleviate salary cap constraints. This speculation turned out to be accurate, as the Rangers used their second and final compliance buyout on Richards, making him a free agent. Thus abruptly ending his time in New York.
You might wonder, “Was the Richards contract a waste?”
One of the Rangers’ better signings in recent history, Richards scored 56 goals and tallied 151 points in 212 regular season games over three seasons. He also contributed 12 goals and 28 points in 55 of the 57 playoff games. Considering his countless memorable moments and the strong leadership he provided, Richards’ contract was far from a waste.
After brief stints with the Chicago Blackhawks (where he won a Stanley Cup) and the Detroit Red Wings, Richards chose to retire from professional hockey in 2016. Following his retirement, the New York Rangers hired him, along with Brian Leetch, as Hockey Ops Advisors. Although he is not employed by the team anymore, at the time, the Rangers recognized the value Richards could bring to their organization and couldn’t stay away for long.
Richards arrived in New York as a seasoned veteran and combined his skill with strong leadership, helping guide the Rangers through some of their most successful periods in recent memory. While he may not have scored 50 goals or recorded 150 points in a single season, he provided skill where the Rangers needed it, stepped up when the team needed him most, and became a leader when it seemed the Rangers had none. Brad Richards left us with countless memories.
That’s what Brad Richards meant to the New York Rangers.