What do the following NHL scorers all have in common -- Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrick Kane, Marian Gaborik and Zach Parise?
They all finished with fewer points last season than Dallas Stars center Brad Richards.
In 2009-10, Richards had one of the best seasons of his career. His 91 points were the sixth-highest total in the League, and tied his personal best. He also had 67 assists, fourth-most in the League, and 24 goals, the most he's scored since 2006-07.
Richard has two 90-point seasons, he's scored at least 20 goals seven times in nine seasons, and he had 26 points in 23 Stanley Cup Playoff games en route to winning the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy and helping the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup. He's also won the Lady Byng Trophy (2004) and was a finalist for the award last season. Richards is about a point-per-game scorer (639 points in 700 games), and his 362 points in 374 games since 2005-06 ranks him 20th among all players.
"Doesn't bother me," he told NHL.com. "To be honest, it's been like that throughout my career."
Instead, Richards is more worried about what his teammates and employers think of him. And with his track record, they hold him in pretty high regard.
"Brad is very unselfish," Stars coach Marc Crawford told NHL.com. "He wants to be a great team player. What you hope for along the way is the right people around the League recognize why that team is having success. If Brad has success, the real compliment is our team having success. If our team has success, I'm sure there are a lot of accolades."
"He can definitely carry the team and has done it in the past," added goalie Kari Lehtonen. "Other people look up to him so much. He's won the Cup, he's won all these trophies. The way he played last year, after I came here he was amazing. It's a big thing. It's a great thing that you can always count on him to get the important goal and do all that. It's a great situation to have him here."
Richards is proud to hear how the real people that matter feel about him.
"If you don't have that (respect from teammates and management), it doesn't matter what anybody else thinks," Richards said. "That's who you have to dress with. You need them buying into what you're doing and happy with what you're doing or you got nothing.
"If you're doing what they want, it doesn't matter what a guy on a radio station in Toronto thinks or a guy behind a desk writing a newspaper story. They're not living with your teammates, going through the grind of a season. You have to make sure you're doing what you can for them. It's cliché, everyone says it, but when it comes down to it, it's your 23 buddies in the locker room, and after that no one else matters."
Richards' focus on this season is building off his first full, healthy campaign with the Stars. He arrived late in the 2007-08 season and had 11 points in 12 regular-season games, and kept up the strong play in the playoffs as he had 15 points in 18 playoff games as the Stars advanced to the Western Conference Final. The following season, though, he played just 56 games. He missed a month in February with a broken right wrist, and in his first game back, broke his left hand, ending his season March 21.
He played 80 games last season -- the seventh time he's played at least 80 games -- and showed just what he was capable of. And the Stars hope that's just the beginning for a player who's going to have to pull a heavy load on and off the ice, thanks to the Stars' complement of young players, including a youthful forward group that includes Loui Eriksson, Jamie Benn, Fabian Brunnstrom and James Neal.
"Most of our guys are younger, they're single like Brad," Crawford said. "The fact that they hang out together not only on the road but when they're at home, I think that forges an even closer group."
At age 30, Richards willingly embraces the veteran role, because he knows how important it is to a team's success. He saw it first hand in Tampa with Dave Andreychuk and Tim Taylor in leadership roles on the Lightning's title team.
"That has to happen. It's a must," he said. "We are the oldest guys on the team now. That's another part of it. It was a lot easier when you were younger. You let the older guys deal with the behind-the-scenes issues that go on in the locker room so that the coach and the manager don't have to know about them. Your leadership group has to take care of those things. Every team I've played on that's had success has had to make that happen."
If Richards plays his roles on and off the ice, and the Stars succeed, could Richards then start earning some of the recognition he deserves?
"He should, but it doesn't really bother him," Lehtonen said. "It doesn't change anything inside our team. Everybody here knows what he's capable of and what he's about. That's all we care about."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org