Washington, D.C.—When the New York Rangers bought out the final six years of Brad Richards’ nine-year, $60 million contract last June, the veteran center knew what he was leaving in New York—friends and teammates, and the opportunity to play in the big city he had grown to love.
Though Kane and Richards played together during the Blackhawks’ preseason games, it wasn’t until the middle of November that they started a game on the same line. Richards said he went through a period of transition when he changed teams, but knew familiarity would come in time.
“I wanted to come in and have a perfect start, and get a chance to play with [Kane], and that’s what they talked about in the summer,” Richards said earlier this month. “The good thing was, it was a team that was pre-established and had played together for awhile, so I could kind of work on things and kind of figure out what goes on around here.
“Not that you want to take your time, you want to be a difference maker as quick as possible, but it wasn’t as urgent as maybe in some other situations I’ve been in.”
And while it took some time for the line of Richards, Kane and Kris Versteeg to build the chemistry they now have together, Kane credited his linemates for making a difference in his game.
“Ever since I was put with [Richards] and Steeger, my game has taken off, so I owe them a lot of credit,” Kane said. “Playing with Brad, he just makes a lot of really good plays. Plays you don't really expect most guys to make. Whether it's coming back into the zone, and he's already got full speed and he still drops it to you where you can get a little more time and space with the puck, or him faking shots and sending it backdoor for goals.
“There's a lot of different things. He has a lot of good ideas on the ice that even I'm learning from him as well. I think we talk and spend a lot of time with each other and we can kind of figure out different things that we think are going to work throughout the game.”
Richards, who has tallied 91 points in a season twice during his career, has seven goals and 12 assists through 34 games with Chicago. In his last season with the Rangers, he posted 51 points in 82 regular season games, but never quite lived up to the expectations they had when they signed the former Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy winner (2004, Tampa Bay) to that big contract as a free agent in July of 2011.
“The whole buyout thing took on a life of its own,” Richards said “If my salary were different, nobody would be talking about any of it. But I miss New York; I loved playing there, and I wish it never would’ve come to that. But as soon as the lockout was lifted (and teams were allowed to buy out two players without a salary cap penalty), my fate was pretty much sealed there.”
Now, Richards said, while he is still learning how to play with Kane and the Blackhawks, he is enjoying his time in Chicago.
“You want to come in and do everything the right way. But at the same time, you’ve been around long enough to know that not everything falls into place. Sometimes it takes time, sometimes something else will arise. The opportunity came back, and … I’m having a lot of fun playing with those two guys.”
Kane and Richards agree that while they have enjoyed recent success, there is still a lot of room from them to grow.
“I think it’s been a good 20 games [with Richards], but we still feel that there can be some improvement, we can be even better, so hopefully that can take off,” Kane said.