Brad Richards, who was scratched by John Tortorella from the final two games of the Rangers’ second-round playoff defeat to Boston after having been demoted to fourth-line center, said yesterday he believes both he and the team will benefit from the coaching change to Alain Vigneault.
“I haven’t talked to Alain yet in any detail about [his system], but I think his style of play will be a lot more fun for a player like me,” Richards said before hosting a golf tournament at the Scarsdale Golf Club for the benefit of his eponymous foundation in partnership with Mount Sinai pediatrics.
“I’m excited to have a difference voice [coaching the team] and a coach with a different view of how we should play that’s more focused on offense. It suits me and I think it suits everybody more on the whole team, to be honest.”
Richards appeared to be joined at the hip with Tortorella after winning the Conn Smythe Trophy during the Lightning’s Stanley Cup victory in 2004. Indeed, Tortorella’s presence in New York was a major factor — along with the front-loaded, nine-year, $60 million contract offer—in Richards’ decision to sign with the Rangers when he became a free agent in 2011.
But the relationship between the two men became strained last season. Tortorella made it known he believed Richards should have played in Europe during last year’s three-month lockout. The coach then reduced the alternate captain’s ice time as he struggled through the worst season of his career, which ended with him in street clothes and facing the prospect of an amnesty buyout.
Instead — though it was not an either/or — Tortorella was dismissed and Richards was invited back for a third season on Broadway. The two men have not spoken since the firing that took place three days following the club’s elimination.
“I reached out,” Richards said. “But there’s been no talking.”
Richards adopted a comprehensive new conditioning regimen this summer, working with Martin St. Louis’ longtime trainer, Ben Prentiss.
“I had time at the start of the summer to reflect on last year and develop a game plan going forward,” said Richards, who recorded 34 points (11-23) in 46 regular-season games and one point (1-0) in 10 playoff matches. “There were a number of things last year, starting with the uncertainty of the lockout, and there were times when a lot can snowball.
“Mentally, I can’t allow whatever struggles I’m going through to get to me. But last year’s in the past. I’ve dealt with that. I’m excited about this coming year and getting back to where I think my game can be and should be.
“I know I can play the game. Sometimes I might have to defend myself a little bit to people who think I can’t play anymore. I’m very motivated. [Last season] kept me very hungry all summer.”
The Rangers’ first day on the ice is Sept. 12. Players are expected to meet with Vigneault in the week leading up to camp.
“I know Alain a little bit and really like him as a person,” Richards said. “I don’t know him as a coach, but I’ve only heard good things about him from guys who played for him in Vancouver. I’m excited for this new chapter, this new voice and new view of how we’re going to play.”