TORONTO - There were Leafs fans outside his agentís offices, passionate pleas from Wayne Gretzky and Kobe Bryant and a sales pitch from his former general manager.
But in the end, Brad Richardsí heart was in the Big Apple.
In Toronto, he would have been the face of the franchise. No offence to Tim Connolly, who the Leafs signed later in the day, but he just doesnít carry the same pizzazz as Richards.
In Los Angeles, he would have combined with another Richards ó Mike ó to give the Kings their strongest team since the Gretzky-led squad that made it to the Stanley Cup final in 1993. But not even the recruiting efforts of Kobe and The Great One could change his mind about going to New York.
In Calgary, he would have been reunited with Jay Feaster, his GM with the 2004 Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning, and found himself centring Jarome Iginla, a dream spot for any player. But, among various reasons, he wanted to be back in the east.
Upon further review, Richards passed over more financially lucrative deals in order to ink a nine-year, $60-million US deal with the Rangers on Saturday. According to various reports, the Flames tabled a nine-year, $65-million offer; the Kings were in the same ball park; and the Leafs offer, over six years, was said to be more per year than the $6.67 million average heíll get now.
As expected, the contract with New York is front loaded, leaving the final three years of the pact worth $1 million each and taking much of the sting out of a potential buyout near the end of the contract.
ďThe hardest part is, you know going in, thereís only one place youíre going,Ē Richards said of his overwhelming recruitment experience. ďItís not easy saying no to people that are talking the terms and the offers that are being made. Theyíre really flattering, even from one NHL team, let alone having that many options. So it was definitely an experience Iíll never forget.
ďAt the same time, it was a long day that took probably longer than it couldíve, because I wanted to give everybody the respect, especially those who showed up to give me the time face to face.Ē
Read between the lines, and you come to the conclusion that, as most of the speculation indicated, New York was his preferred destination all along.
His reasons are sound. He wanted a franchise with strong ownership, something Tampa and Dallas didnít have at times. He looked to come to an Original Six franchise. And he is now closer to his family in PEI.
Being back with John Tortorella, his Cup-winning coach in Tampa, didnít hurt either. Nor did the chance to play on a line with an elite talent like Marian Gaborik.
ďI see what Torts is doing with this young team,Ē Richards said. ďIt reminds me of when we were developing in Tampa.
ďItís going to be a challenge, for sure,Ē he added. ďItís going to be something different. If you want to be a good player or a great player, itís something you should relish, and what better place to perform than Madison Square Garden? Thatís a dream come true, really.Ē
Maybe for Brad Richards. But for fans in Toronto, Los Angeles and Calgary, itís more like a nightmare, given the way things played out.