-- Talking to Luke Richardson after his first practice after he was reacquired by the Toronto
Maple Leafs was a trip down memory lane.
Richardson, who turns 37 on March 26, was a raw talent of 18 when he stepped directly into the NHL after being drafted by the Leafs from the OHL's Peterborough Petes in 1987.
|Richardson is back for his second stint in Toronto. |
Harold Ballard was the owner, Gerry McNamara was the general manager, John Brophy was head coach and Borje Salming was his first blue-line partner.
Richardson would play four seasons in Toronto before moving on to Edmonton, Philadelphia and eventually Columbus, the club that sent him back to Toronto on Wednesday for a low-round draft pick.
"I've come full circle,'' Richardson said after his first practice with his new/old team Thursday.
Toronto's only other trade before the deadline sent defenceman Ken Klee to New Jersey for Russian prospect Aleksander Suglobov, a forward playing in the AHL. That opened a spot for Richardson.
The Leafs also signed Alex Foster, a 21-year-old American forward at Bowling Green University who'll join the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. They bid farewell to seldom-used forward Mariusz Czerkawski, who was claimed off waivers by Boston.
As a boy growing up in Ottawa, Richardson's favourite team was Toronto, so being drafted by the Leafs was a thrill.
The Leafs' scouts lobbied hard for the selection of a five-foot-11 centre who had scored 60 goals for the Swift Current, Sask., WHL team, but Brophy insisted that didn't want another smallish centre and preferred the big defenceman playing for the Petes and management listened. The Leafs used the No. 7 pick on Richardson. That centre was Joe Sakic, taken 15th by Quebec.
Ballard liked Richardson.
"He was really good to me,'' Richardson recalls. "One time he was mad at the team, and I was taking a lot of flak (from the media) because I was a young guy, and he told me I was the only untouchable on the team.
"I took a lot of flak in the dressing room for that.''
Richardson's idol was Salming, and to be paired with the future Hall of Famer his first season in the big league in Maple Leaf Gardens was beyond his wildest expectations.
"That was probably the highlight of my career,'' Richardson recalls. "I learned more from him my first few years than probably I have from any individual through my career.''
Salming would get on him when he made a mistake.
"He was a very strong, physical guy,'' Richardson said. "He'd grab me by the arm and shake me on the bench when I finished a shift and tell me exactly what I was doing right or wrong or what I could tweak.
"That individual attention from a guy I admired so much was a big help in my career.''
The team was on a downward cycle, and McNamara and Brophy preceded Richardson out of town. But he loved Brophy as a coach because he instilled a work ethic in him that he still possesses.
Ballard died in 1990, and Richardson - then a newlywed - was traded in 1991 to Edmonton with Vincent Damphousse, Peter Ing and Scott Thornton for Grant Fuhr, Glenn Anderson and Craig Berube.
He was in Edmonton for six years, and relished the opportunity to play with Kevin Lowe. He was a free agent when he signed with Philadelphia in 1997 and with Columbus in 2002. He'll be a free agent again on July 1 after earning $2.09 million this season.
Blue Jackets GM Doug McLean, in a seemingly endless rebuilding phase, had told Richardson he wasn't in his plans for next season and planned to trade him.
"I told (McLean) that I wanted to go to a team that wanted me, that was in the playoffs or had a chance to get in, and wanted me to come in and play,'' said Richardson. "I didn't want to go to a team and just be the seventh guy and just be an experienced guy to sit in the weeds in case somebody got hurt.
"I wanted to compete and get into the playoffs and do well. When he came back and said, `Toronto,' I was a little bit shocked and surprise.
"It was so long ago that I was in Toronto that it seemed surreal when I got the call that it was Toronto, and now I'm excited. I'm back where I started. I have a lot of friends here and I'm anxious to get back on the ice. Hockey Night in Canada in Toronto - there's nothing like it so I'm looking forward to that.''
Richardson's wife, Stephanie, and daughters Morgan, 11, and Daron, 10, remain in Columbus.
He wants to play a few more years. Whether it is in Toronto or somewhere else, he knows his role on the ice: "To play good solid defensive hockey and try to help out on the penalty kill and move the puck out of the zone. There's a lot of talent here offensively so you want to get the puck into their hands as quickly as possible and let them do their thing.''
He was captain of the Blue Jackets until rejecting the C after being a healthy scratch one night last November. He was later sidelined by a jaw injury, and he returned seven games before the Olympic break.
He was so eager to get to Toronto that he was up before dawn to catch a 6 a.m. flight from Columbus. He and his new teammates flew to New York on Thursday afternoon for a Friday night game against the Islanders.
"I feel great,'' Richardson said. "I'm ready to go.''