"Everything was a mess," Richards said Monday when the Rangers met the media for the final time before heading into the offseason.
Richards made a pro-rated $12 million this season, the second of a nine-year, $60 million contract he signed in the summer of 2011, but after a subpar regular season, he was demoted to the fourth line in Game 6 against the Washington Capitals in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs before being left out of the lineup completely for Games 4 and 5 against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Rangers coach John Tortorella said he scratched Richards because he didn't feel he was using him properly on the fourth line, nor did he feel Richards was playing well enough to supplant any of the top three centers: Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard and Brian Boyle.
"It was a struggle," said Tortorella, who won the Stanley Cup with Richards in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. "You all know that him and I have a relationship, but that has to be put aside. It's producing for the hockey club and it hurt us. It not only hurt Brad, but more importantly it hurt the team. It's not all on him as far as all the things that have gone on, but when you have a guy that we had put in a position that we thought was going to produce, it hurts -- it hurts the team."
Richards said he'll use this offseason to "regroup, figure some things out and start over."
The question is whether he will be starting over with the Rangers.
With seven years and $36 million remaining on his contract, Richards said he understands the team could use its final amnesty buyout on him.
As part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, all NHL teams have the option to buy out a total of two healthy players either this summer or in the summer of 2014 and not be subject to a resultant salary-cap hit going forward. The Rangers were granted an advanced amnesty buyout before the start of this season to buy out defenseman Wade Redden's contract, which leaves them with one, and Richards knows it could be him.
"I signed for longer than a year-and-a-half, but I do understand everything that's going on," Richards said.
If the Rangers choose to use their last amnesty buyout on Richards, they'd have to pay him $24 million (two-thirds of the value of what remains on his contract) over the next 14 years (double the amount of years remaining on his contract), but his $6.67 million salary-cap hit would come off the books and Richards would be free to sign with any of the 29 other NHL teams.
"There's a lot of other things that can and might or won't [happen], I don't know, but I signed here to be a Ranger a lot longer than a year-and-a-half and I still hope to do that," Richards said. "But I've got to take care of how I can play and that's all on me."
It starts with his offseason training regimen, which Richards said he likely will augment from previous summers.
"That starts probably in a week or two and I can control that," Richards said. "That's one thing I can control all summer is how I prepare. If I do all that, I'll be confident and happy how I'm going to enter the [2013-14] season."
He wasn't confident and happy entering this season. It had a lot to do with the lockout and how he prepared and trained during the extended and somewhat unexpected offseason.
"Every team missed training camp," Richards said. "I think for my situation it probably starts a lot earlier than that."
He said he felt he would have been prepared had the 2012-13 season started on time.
"I was in good shape to start the season in September, but everything was different after that," Richards said. "It's a full evaluation of how you're preparing and I'll try to do a lot more."
Tortorella said he knows Richards can do more and believes he will.
"I think it needs to be a start of trying to jumpstart him, to make him understand this isn't good enough," Tortorella said when asked about scratching Richards. "One thing about Brad Richards is I think he understands that stuff. It happened at a time when we didn't want to do it, but it is a bit of a wake-up call as far as where we are, what we expect, and I believe he understands that. And I do believe he'll turn himself around."
"I expect nothing less out of Brad than a rebound," Callahan said. "He's a professional. He's a leader on this team and he's a big part of it."
Nash said he has no doubt that Richards will be back.
"He's a huge piece to this puzzle," Nash said.
Nash, Callahan, not even Tortorella, will make the final decision if Richards stays or if he will be bought out. That will be decided by the team's executives, including president and general manager Glen Sather, who was not made available to the media Monday.
For Richards, all he can do now is work out and hope.
"I'll be honest, I didn't feel normal all season," Richards said. "There are a thousand things I can blame and put excuses on, but I'm not going to do that. That's something I can start in my control in the next couple of weeks and do everything I can off the ice and training and skating to get back because obviously there was something missing."