NEW YORK (AP) - Since Brad Richards relocated to New York with a big free-agent deal, he has endured an earthquake and a hurricane.
Those might turn out to be the calm days if he and the Rangers stumble this season.
Richards was the big prize available when the NHL shopping season started on July 1, and the Rangers landed him with a nine-year, $60 million contract that was reminiscent of their big-spending ways before the salary cap. The money will be considered very well spent if the skilled playmaking center clicks with top forward Marian Gaborik, who is looking to get back to his 40-goal days.
“He’s one of the best players in the league,” Gaborik said. “You can see he’s good at making plays and handling the puck and, also, defensively, he knows where to go.”
Gaborik dipped to 22 goals and 26 assists last season during an injury-plagued campaign. In addition to his ailments, Gaborik also lacked consistent linemates and someone deft enough to get him the puck. Because of that, Gaborik often had to carry the puck on his stick instead of having someone set him up to be the finisher he has been during his explosive 11-year NHL career.
“I try to move (the puck) through some give-and-gos and get to some openings,” Gaborik said. “We created some chances on the power play and five on five. That’s how we’ve got to work. (Richards) handles the puck well. It’s better off with him carrying the puck and making that final play and me hitting the stride.”
Gaborik, the previous big-name Rangers acquisition before Richards signed on, had 42 goals and 44 assists two seasons ago in his New York debut when he played in 76 games. With Richards in the middle and health on their side, Gaborik could be poised for another offensive outburst.
He has had six 30-goal seasons and two of at least 40.
The big question is who will play on the left side of this trio. Enigmatic forward Wojtek Wolski, now on his third team since 2009, got the first shot in Friday night’s 4-3 exhibition win at New Jersey and performed well. He earned an assist on Richards‘ first-period goal.
They teamed up for a successful run in Tampa Bay that culminated in the Lightning winning the Stanley Cup in 2004 and Richards skating off with the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
While he found good times in the warmth of Florida and Texas, the Canadian native longed for more of a hockey setting once he hit the free-agent market. Toronto was definitely in the mix, but the excitement of New York won out.
“I am looking forward to getting back to the East. It’s a little easier on the body and you just feel like you’re playing in some bigger markets more often, which makes it a lot more fun,” Richards said. “Everybody is making a big deal of playing for Torts. I wanted to play in New York also. If he wasn’t here, they still would’ve been a very big option.
“It’s a great city, an Original Six team which is something I haven’t been able to play on. That was just a bonus, something that helped. Either way, it would’ve been a good fit the way things are going here.”