Brad Richards knows it's going to hurt.
There will be a point, maybe during the World Cup of Hockey 2016 in September, maybe when the NHL season starts in October, when he sees his friends, former teammates and old adversaries on the ice and wishes he were still out there with them.
Fifteen years, he spent in the NHL. Two hundred ninety-eight times, he scored in the regular season. Thirty-seven times, he scored in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Twice, he won the Stanley Cup: with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' most valuable player, and with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015. Once, he won the World Cup: with Team Canada in 2004.
He knows there's nothing like it.
"You never get to score a goal in front of 20,000 people again or have that euphoria of making a building stand on its feet," Richards said Thursday by phone from his summer home on Long Island. "All that stuff, it's over forever. That is the hardest part."
Video: DET@TBL, Gm2: Richards goes top-shelf to tie game
But Richards is at peace. He decided to retire not because he had to -- he received an offer on the second day of free agency -- but because it was time for multiple reasons, and he can walk away satisfied.
As he aged, he worked hard in the offseason on his conditioning. Still, his role declined. He bounced from team to team the past three seasons, from the New York Rangers to the Blackhawks to the Detroit Red Wings, which meant his family bounced from city to city, from New York to Chicago to Detroit. He's 36 now. He and his wife, Rechelle, have a son, Luca, almost 2, and are expecting another child in October.
"It just gets hard, not just on the family," Richards said. "It's hard on me too."
He started saying his goodbyes mentally at the end of the regular season and in the playoffs, and the more his mind drifted in that direction, the more his body didn't want to train hard to play. He made the decision two or three weeks ago but delayed the announcement until Wednesday because his agent, Pat Morris, challenged him to make sure he was ready and in case the perfect situation arose.
"The game's fast and young," he said. "You've got to put a lot more work in as you get older. And I'm also not on … if I was still on the same team I've been on for three years and could go back to that team, it's a lot different. You're in the same place. You know the same people. I'd probably be playing. I'm not going to lie to you there.
"It hasn't been like that the last two or three years, and I feel like I've won and accomplished enough where I don't need to keep chasing that. It's not fair for anybody, the team, me or my family. If that's not exciting you, then I don't think you should keep trying, you know?"
Video: DET@TOR: Richards wrists the puck past Sparks
Richards has accomplished enough. He doesn't need to chase anything else.
The high point came in 2004, when he won the Cup, the Conn Smythe and the Lady Byng Trophy with the Lightning, then the World Cup with Team Canada. He remembers the first day of World Cup training camp when he and Martin St. Louis, his friend and Tampa Bay teammate, skated on a line with the great Mario Lemieux. They were so nervous and excited they could hardly complete a pass.
But he also went to the 2008 Western Conference Final with the Dallas Stars, and he went to the 2012 Eastern Conference Final and the 2014 Stanley Cup Final with the Rangers. He was New York's de facto captain during the 2014 run after the Rangers traded Ryan Callahan to the Lightning and acquired his buddy, St. Louis. When the Rangers won the Prince of Wales Trophy, he was the first in line to receive it.
Then came his second Cup victory in 2015 with the Blackhawks. He was a role player, not a centerpiece like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but he had three goals and 11 assists in 23 games on that run. He made a sweet, no-look pass to Kane to set up the last goal of the series in the third period of Game 6 against the Lightning.
"I played for one reason, and that was to win Stanley Cups," he said. "I'm so, so happy I got to have two of them, and I got to win them in two different eras, really. It was a total different game in '04 than it was in 2015. And I contributed in both of them.
"I think that was pretty neat to go play with Marty and [Vincent Lecavalier] and some of those players in Tampa and then play with Kaner and Tazer and this whole new generation of hockey players and how they do things and be part of both of them. That's pretty special."
Video: MTL@DET: Richards blocks Eller's stick to save goal
Richards still loves the game. He still has a passion for it. Smart and well-spoken, he seems a good candidate for a front-office position, and he might be interested in that somewhere someday. He plans to explore settling down in the Tampa area in March.
But first, he needs to take care of his family, clear his head and see what presents itself. His wife will deliver the baby in New York. They will spend the winter in her native Australia, and he'll play some golf in New Zealand. It isn't quite playing in a packed NHL arena, but it ain't bad.
"I'm going to get away and enjoy," he said, "and hopefully that will take my mind off hockey."