The Verdict: Richards receives warm Chicago greeting
|Brad Richards is greeted by the fans at the 2014 Blackhawks Convention (Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks).|
Brad Richards, a decorated 34-year-old center, joined the Blackhawks as a free agent early this month.
Last season, Richards played all 82 regular-season games while serving as alternate captain with the New York Rangers, who fell to the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final. Richards earned the 2004 Lady Byng Award with the Tampa Bay Lightning, whom he led to a Stanley Cup in 2004. Richards recently attended the 2014 Blackhawks Convention, where—between standing ovations—he sat down with chicagoblackhawks.com for an extended interview.
You’ve played 13 seasons in the National Hockey League, and just completed a strong run toward the Stanley Cup in New York. We’re guessing you aren’t awed by too much anymore, but what about your introduction to Chicago fans?
I could tell right away that these people are passionate about hockey. I came in a couple nights before the Convention, went to dinner, and already fans are recognizing me. Since I signed, I don’t know how many invitations I got to play golf here, which is great because I love golf. And then, I finally get to the hotel for the weekend, and thousands of fans treat me like I’ve been here forever.
My first eight or so years, when I came here to play against the Blackhawks, there was nobody in the United Center. Now everybody wants to talk about the Blackhawks. There’s a lot going on in New York. When the Rangers are winning, it’s big. But when it’s over, it’s over. There’s a lot going on in Chicago too, but it’s the middle of July and the Blackhawks are relevant. What’s happened here is remarkable.
Chicago fans think that. Does the same feeling exist elsewhere in the NHL?
If it wasn’t for the salary cap, half the league would want to play here. For a long period of time, Detroit was the destination point for veteran free agents who wanted to go play with great players for a chance to win the Cup. Now that place is Chicago. Great city, great organization, Original Six franchise.
Original Six still means something to you? You’re still young.
Absolutely; it means a lot. Growing up in Prince Edward Island, I loved to watch the Blackhawks. They had great teams in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Best jersey, and I was a big goalie fan growing up. Really liked Eddie Belfour. I always wanted to be a goalie, but my dad, Glen, would never let me. He played goalie a bit himself, but he wouldn’t have it. I liked all the equipment, the gear, and whenever he wasn’t around, I was a goalie in street hockey. But he wouldn’t allow it, and I cried my eyes out when he said no.
Specifically for you, why did you choose to join the Blackhawks?
A few days after the Final, after I settled with the Rangers, I got a call from my agent, Pat Morris. He said, “Guess who?” The Blackhawks had expressed interest in acquiring me. I suspected I would be bought out by the Rangers and thought about staying relatively close out East. I have a house in the Hamptons on Long Island, family still in P.E.I., including a 95-year-old grandfather who likes to watch my games, depending on the time zone. I had earlier tossed the idea about Chicago to Pat because I heard they might be interested in a center. He always told me, “Don’t think so… They don’t have enough [salary cap] room.” But when he told me that [Vice President/General Manager] Stan Bowman called, my first reaction was, “Oh, let’s get this done if we can.”
No secrets here. You received a substantial amount of money so the Rangers could clear salary cap space, not an uncommon occurrence in the NHL now. Did that figure into your decision to sign with Chicago for one year at $2 million?
I’ve been fortunate to make a lot of money, and as you say, a lot of teams are up against it with the salary cap. The general manager in New York, Glen Sather, was great to me. We had a good relationship. But it’s a business thing. And the upside to me is that I can afford to be picky. I had other options beside Chicago, maybe for a longer contract and more money, but as soon as I heard from Stan, and later talked to [Head Coach] Joel Quenneville, there was no doubt for me.
That was part of it. In New York, after we beat Montreal, I was packed for a trip either to Chicago or Los Angeles. I was thinking, how cool would it be for two Original Six franchises to be in the Final? New York vs. Chicago. The Blackhawks had a great series against the Kings, and losing to Los Angeles was nothing to be ashamed of. That’s a heck of a hockey team they have out there. The Kings will also become a destination point now, not only because of the weather. Lots of talent, but they’re up against the salary cap like every other team.
Will you be by yourself here?
No. Rechelle Jenkins, my fiancée, will be with me here, of course. She’s from Australia, we met a few years ago, and we’ve got a baby boy on the way in late September. He’ll be born in Chicago.
Things really did happen quickly.
Yeah. During the week of the Convention, we found a place to live. And as we speak, she’s out looking at furniture.
Why No. 91 for your jersey?
I had No. 19 in Tampa. Then I went to Dallas, where it was retired for Bill Masterton, who died while he was playing for the North Stars when they were in Minnesota. So I wore No. 91 in Dallas. When I went to New York, I got 19 back with the Rangers. It had always been my number. Obviously, it’s taken here by Jonathan Toews.
He might be the last player ever to wear it for the Blackhawks.
An amazing player. There are lots of them in Chicago. People are talking about how I’m coming here to be the No. 2 behind Jonathan, centering for Patrick Kane. But July is a bit early to be making out lineups. The thing about playing in Chicago—if you do your job and get ice time, you know you’re going to be playing with talented players.
You went to dinner with about 10 of your new teammates at the Convention. Did you pick up any vibes about the Blackhawks?
It’s early, of course, but since I got here, I have a sense that this is really a “together” atmosphere. Not just the players, but right from the top, from the front office down. Almost like a family. Everybody’s friendly, helpful and pointed in the same direction.
As a veteran with the reputation as a leader, can you fill that role here?
Obviously, they have pretty good leadership here already. In the room, and upstairs. Brent Seabrook, for instance. He doesn’t have a letter on his sweater, but he’s obviously a presence. I think I’ll probably watch and listen for a while. Take a pulse. There’s an established core group here that’s done a lot of winning together, so it’s not like they need to hear my voice right away. There’s no void here. I really don’t know any of the guys here. Never played with any of them, except in All-Star Games. The good thing for me is that I’m not dropping in during the middle of the season after a trade. I don’t look at myself as a “rental” because I’m not coming here for a month or two. I’ll be there at the start of training camp, which makes a difference. Stan and I talked. If things go well and I can play here beyond this year, great. If it works, it works.
You have some history with Tony Esposito, the Blackhawks’ Hall of Fame ambassador.
Tony was general manager of the Lightning when I was drafted by Tampa Bay in 1998. Second round; Vincent Lecavalier, who I played with in juniors, was their first-round pick.
You must have great recollections from Tampa Bay?
It was tough at the start, but they built a really good young team. And we won the Stanley Cup in 2004.
And in 2004, you won the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the postseason.
Lots of good memories. Then we had the lockout that cost everybody the next season, followed by the salary cap that really cut into our roster.
You’re planning a little celebration of sorts with them before you get down to work with the Blackhawks?
Yeah, it’s been 10 years and four of us from 2004 are planning a trip to Scotland for golf. Martin St. Louis, who I played with last season in New York, Fredrik Modin and Tim Taylor. We haven’t really ever gotten together since, so we’re going to do the golf thing at a few courses over there, 36 holes a day. Like I said, I have the golf disease. I’m decent at it, and left-handed, like a lot of Canadians. I was paired with [Senior Advisor to Hockey Operations] Scotty Bowman once in Ireland. He likes to play too. What an amazing man he is. I would love to have had him as a coach, even for one day.
Finally, we can’t close without this: You are a fan of the Green Bay Packers.
I understand what that means in Chicago. I’ll have to work on that. I won’t be wearing green and gold around here. So, yes, I am aware.