‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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In early July, Brad Richards sat in the Mississauga, Ontario office of agent Pat Morris faced with the biggest decision of his career.
One by one, representatives from the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs flooded the Newport Sports offices hoping to make the perfect pitch required to lure Richards to their franchise.
At 32, he was about to tie himself to a new team for the entirety of his career as bidders dangled nine-year contracts. Richards had to get this decision right or spend the rest of his career wondering what might have been.
The Flames’ offer was nine-years and $65 million dollars, $5 million more than the Rangers’ bid of $60 million. Joining the Flames would have teamed him with Jarome Iginla, who in a ‘down season’ scored 32 goals. A.K.A. instant production and a stable, experienced line-mate.
Signing with Toronto would have presented Richards the challenge of playing in the largest hockey market and he would be able to visit his Prince Edward Island home year-round.
The Kings offered Richards a talented young team to lead, sandy beaches and a laid-back hockey market. If that wasn’t enough, the Kings’ presentation video included messages from Wayne Gretzky and Kobe Bryant.
Richards ultimately put pen to paper on a nine-year pact with the Rangers that reunited him with the man who helped him lift his first Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, John Tortorella.
Had that not been the case, it’s very likely that the Rangers would be sitting at home at this stage of the playoffs instead of preparing to take on the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Richards’ Game 7 opening goal came just 1 minute and 32 seconds into the first period.
While Michael Del Zotto’s goal proved to be game-winner, it was Richards’ goal that solidified the Rangers’ belief needed to come away victorious.
In 12 career elimination games, Richards has put up remarkable numbers. He’s scored 7 goals and contributed 8 assists when faced with the prospect of elimination.
Richards joked with the New York media after Game 7 as he put on ‘The Broadway Hat’ for what seemed like the hundredth time.
“This thing doesn’t fit,” he quipped as he pulled on the deteriorating fedora that had been through the wash and dry cycle far too many times.
Even if ‘The Broadway Hat’ isn’t an ideal fit on Richards’ head, one thing’s for sure – Richards was born to wear the Rangers’ famous ‘Original Six’ sweater and was made to deliver on the big stage.
Few stages come bigger than Game 7 at Madison Square Garden. Under the bright lights, Richards never panicked.
“It’s a big goal. I don’t want to sit and talk about it because it’s my goal, but whoever scores that goal, the first goal for our team in this game on home ice, it’s a big goal. We kinda get the nerves out, you don’t exhale but you get the crowd in it,” Richards explained after Game 7.
Carl Hagelin described Richards’ goal to MSG Networks’ John Giannone.
“Richie did a good job deflecting the puck in. I was able to beat my D to the puck. I kept skating around the net and then Richie came in perfect there for a one-timer. It’s obviously a perfect shot,” Hagelin stated.
Hockey Night In Canada’s Elliotte Friedman spoke with Richards on-ice after the momentous Game 7 victory. When asked about his decision to choose the Rangers over other free agent suitors, Richards couldn’t hold back a wide smile.
“It’s pretty special,” he said. “No offense to the other organizations I played in… but being an ‘Original Six’ city, and a city like New York in front of this crowd, it’s great.”
Richards had indeed made the right decision last summer, much to the delight of the Rangers and their fan-base. His influence has Rangers fans believing this team is capable of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1994.
We all remember what happened that year, but Richards is in the process of making some history of his own.
How vital has Richards been to the Rangers’ playoff run? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.