GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- After signing a nine-year deal with the New York Rangers worth a reported $60 million last Saturday, Brad Richards realizes the spotlight will shine brightly on him from the moment training camp begins in September.
Indeed, the pressure is on the skilled center to help take the Blueshirts to the next level. But Richards believes that pressure will only provide extra motivation.
"My last contract was a big contract, too," Richards said at the MSG Training Facility on Wednesday afternoon. "I learned a lot from that. I think I struggled a little bit the first part of that, but I'm five or six years older now and have a lot more experiences. This will be a different animal, for sure. I know that and I realize that. That'll be in my preparation. I'll talk to some people that can help and give me an idea of what to expect. I'll do all that before training camp. This is going to be a process. I'll be the most comfortable when I get to start playing and not worry about all this stuff that's going on now."
Now that he's signed with New York, Richards has been reunited with fiery coach John Tortorella and winger Ruslan Fedotenko. The trio won a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. Now the hope is they can hoist hockey's Holy Grail on one of the biggest stages there is.
"His big thing was winning here will be bigger than anything," Richards said of Tortorella. "He did say it's different. Obviously, it's not going to be like it was in Tampa with the travel and some of the things you have to do in the city. It's a different animal. I'm sure as the summer goes, we'll sit down and get a better idea of what can happen."
Richards -- who won the Conn Smythe Trophy in '04 -- is now looking forward to unwinding a bit after a stressful two months. Sure, he knew he was in for a big payday, but there was plenty of uncertainty in regards to where he would make his next home.
"It's been two months of the unknown," said Richards, who had been with the Dallas Stars since 2008. "You could be going to a number of different cities, and because it's July it's not the start of your summer. Half of your summer's in limbo. It's good to get it over with. I can't wait just to get settled. Once that process starts taking place, I'll feel a lot more comfortable, I think.
"It was all going to work out financially -- it didn't matter where you went -- but it's just not knowing," Richards added. "Your summers are usually that you have a routine and you get settled in and you have some downtime and start your training, but when you don't know exactly where you're going to be living … is it going to be East Coast, West Coast, North, South … it's a different experience and the first time I've gone through it. I would have rather it happened in probably 24 hours and someone told me where I'm moving, but it was just a lot of time to think about it."
Richards' signing certainly brought lots of smiles to the faces of the folks in Murray Harbour, the small town on Prince Edward Island where No. 19 was raised. Not only did Richards ink a lucrative deal, but his parents and friends back home won't have to stay up as late to watch him play.
"It's pretty big news … anything I do there is pretty big news," Richards said. "There's only 400 people that live in the town. They're a lot happier that I'm playing in the East. They didn't like the West Coast games. My parents are ecstatic. But it's a small town. They're very proud of anything that anybody does, so this is huge news."
Fedotenko, who joined Richards at the Madison Square Garden Training Center on Wednesday to participate in the Garden of Dreams Foundation's "Dream Week," couldn't be happier to be teammates with Richards again. As soon as the deal was signed, Fedotenko switched jersey numbers so Richards can wear No. 19 when New York opens the 2011-12 season abroad against Los Angeles in Stockholm on Oct. 7.
"He's a great player," said Fedotenko, who will now wear No. 26 after having a conversation with Erik Christensen (who will now wear No. 40) on Tuesday. "He's a great centerman. I played with him in Tampa and we won the Cup together. I know what he can bring to the team. I'm very excited. I think we have a good team.
"I think he will fit perfectly in the locker room. We'll see how the chemistry goes, but I don't see that being a problem at all. He's a great professional. He's a leader off the ice. He's a great example in the community. He gives back to the community. He always has charities. On ice and off the ice, I think he'll be a great example for the younger guys."
Is there a chance we'll see Fedotenko and Richards on the same line? Fedotenko certainly hopes so.
"It's up to the coaches," he said. "They will make all the decisions. I would love to play with him. I'm not going to be hiding that. That would be great. But it's the coach's decision and we'll go from there."
In the end, Richards will be mainly expected to provide offense alongside Marian Gaborik, who had just 22 goals in 62 games after a 42-goal season in 2009-10. But there's little doubt younger players such as Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Marc Staal will also rely on Richards in a leadership capacity. He's willing to help that way, but his teammates shouldn't expect Richards to march into the dressing room on the opening day of training camp and pronounce himself as the team's new leader.
All he wants to do is help the Rangers win hockey games.
"I'm not going to come in and try to do anything spectacular that way," said Richards, who has 716 points in 772 NHL games. "I'm a little quieter. I'll talk when something's needed to be said. But those guys kind of have a good handle on how Torts wants things run around here. I can bring a little more experience maybe on the winning side and maybe mediate a little bit with Torts and explain how things work with him sometimes if it gets a little antsy. I'll just kind of monitor that as I go. This is our team. I'm just going to come in and try to add to it."
Obviously there's a lot of expectations around me but it's something I try not to focus on. I'm just trying to go out there, be myself on the ice every day, try to get better, be myself around the guys in the locker room. I think that's what's made me successful and the person that I am.
— Sabres forward Jack Eichel on transitioning from college hockey to the NHL