Granted, he did set the bar pretty high already, but now that Richards is set to start a new season in Dallas, he feels much more comfortable and settled in the Metroplex following the Stars’ acquisition of him from Tampa Bay in a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline last Feb. 26.
Plus, having had a summer of rest and relaxation should also benefit him. And perhaps most importantly, Richards has had plenty of time now to get over the shock of leaving the only organization he’d ever known since being drafted by Tampa in the third round (64th overall) of the 1998 Entry Draft.
“I’m excited, it’s going to be a lot different,” said Richards, who just returned to the area and joined a relatively large contingent of players on Friday who have been skating informally at the Dr Pepper StarCenter in Frisco. “It feels like my team now, I’m a part of it, and I’m excited to play a full season, go through training camp. Last year was a long year mentally and I got a new start here and I feel like a new person, so it’s going to be fun.”
“We all know that Brad Richards will be a much better player, having played with us for a couple of months after the trade and adjusting well,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “He’ll have a fresh start and his first full camp with us. It’s a new year for him. He played well for us but I think he’ll improve immensely.”
Of course, the 6-foot, 192-pound Richards dazzled in his Stars debut with a club-record five assists and went on to contribute two goals and 11 points in 12 regular season contests. The former Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe Trophy winner then raised his level of play another notch in the post-season, scoring three goals and 15 points in 18 playoff outings before the Stars finally succumbed in six games to eventual Cup winner Detroit in the Western Conference Finals.
His teammates acknowledged the boost Richards gave the club down the stretch and in the playoffs.
“He gave us a lot of speed and skill to the whole team,” said left winger Loui Eriksson
, an occasional linemate last year. “He’s really a good all-around player and he’s been in the playoffs before, so he knows what to do there, so he was a great guy to get on our team.”
“It was great for us, and should be even more this year,” noted center Mike Ribeiro
. “I remember, with me, how it was coming at the beginning of the season, and it was kind of hard to adjust to the team and the players. To get in at the end is even harder, and I’m sure for him, it feels great to come into training camp knowing everyone. I think mentally, it will be much easier for him. And for us, he’s just going to be another powerhouse. Richards is a good player, plays power play, PK, and it’s going to be fun to see how we do this year.”
While Richards feels the Stars fell short of their ultimate goal, he believes the team is poised for another deep playoff journey.
“I’m so excited about what we’ve got here,” Richards said. “Looking forward, I think we’ve got to have some arrogance, I think we accomplished a lot. We’ve got to know how tough the league is, but we should feel pretty good coming into this season - if everybody puts their work in, we’re going to be in a good position come playoff time. You never know, that’s how close we were, we had a good run. There’s so many variables and we learned a lot about that. It was a fun run, but it can get better.”
The first step towards that distant goal will be the start of training camp on September 19, Richards’ first NHL camp outside Tampa.
“It’s going to be different. I’m not sure how the training camp works here, I’m sure it’s different compared to Tampa, but training camp is training camp,” Richards said. “The biggest thing with training camp is, it’s fun to see all the guys back again, to get together and get that team chemistry, team enthusiasm at the start of a new season, of what might come ahead - just getting back in the swing of things, to get your feet back under you and make sure that you’re ready to go (for the season opener against Columbus) October 10.”
But just the fact that he’s been here for seven months means Richards is more comfortable both on and off the ice, and one can only imagine that peace of mind will translate to heightened performance.
“I’m comfortable, I know everybody, I know how the coaches work, I know how the players work, I know how everything works around the organization now,” said Richards, sporting a newly-shaved head, a la Marty Turco. “I’ve had a summer to re-group and get healthy. It feels like my team now, so I’m excited.”
“It will help a lot,” added Eriksson. “Now he knows a little bit more about Dallas, so I think it’s good for him. He knows more about the guys, too, so I think he’s going to do a great job for the whole season.”
It’s also comforting for all involved to know that Richards, just 28 and entering the prime of his career, will be here for at least the two more years left on his contract, helping give the Stars a good, young nucleus to rely upon.
“I’ve moved past Tampa, I don’t even want to talk about them,” Richards said. “I’m a Dallas Star and I’m happy.”
While it’s still way too early to tell who Richards will skate with on a forward line this coming season, Eriksson is a prime candidate to line up next to him again.
“He’s a fun guy to play with,” Eriksson said. “You always know where he is. He’s a good passing player and he can score, too, so it’s always good to play with him.”
“I don’t have an idea, no,” Richards said of his potential linemates. “I’m just excited that I get to start fresh. This team’s a deep team with talent and there’s a lot of different roles that you can play on a lot of different nights, and that’s what makes it a good team. Everybody adapts. I haven’t talked to the coaching staff, I haven’t talked to anybody. I just got to see the guys and get out on the ice for the first time and I’m excited to get going.”