CALGARY - Among the reasons the star centre and top unrestricted free agent on the market chose the New York Rangers this summer was the fact he’d be playing in Manhattan.
Funny thing is almost a month into the 2011-12 NHL campaign, Brad Richards has yet to actually suit up in New York.
The Rangers started the regular season in Stockholm, Sweden, and then hit the road for a five-game road swing that started in Long Island, drifted through Western Canada — including Thursday night’s matchup with the Calgary Flames at the Saddledome — and ends Monday in Winnipeg before they finally get a six-game home stand at Madison Square Garden.
“I’m looking forward to getting back there and seeing the new building and play in front of that crowd,” said Richards, who considered a generous offer from the Flames before settling on the Big Apple. “That’s going to be an amazing experience for me.”
After 10 seasons in the league with the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Dallas Stars, the pivot from Murray Harbour, PEI, found himself with the opportunity to hand-pick his next destination.
Although he wanted to be out east and closer to family, an unexpected offer came from Flames GM Jay Feaster — with whom Richards had grown close with during the Bolts’ Stanley Cup run in 2004 when Feaster was the Lightning’s GM.
“I don’t want to say, ‘Father figure,’ but, in some sorts, he’s that type of comforting person — just a great person,” Richards said of Feaster before Thursday’s tilt. “He always could do whatever he could do to help us and make us feel comfortable.
“All the guys — you could talk to any guys that played on that team that we won with — (would say) how caring he was for us and how he tried to make everything as easy for us as he could.
“He’s a great man, and we’ll always be thankful for that.”
Richards was also thankful for the pitch his former GM put together in a bid to draw him to Calgary in the off-season, which was reportedly worth more than the nine-year, US $60-million deal he signed with the Rangers.
“Jay called right away,” said Richards, adding he hadn’t expected the cash-crunched Flames to be a player for his services when he looked at their status before they made deals at the draft. “Obviously, with the relationship with Jay and what we’ve been through, I wanted to hear him out and see what he had to say. It was a great offer. They were all great offers.
“At the end, I had to pick one, and it was New York.”
He chose former Lightning head coach John Tortorella over former Bolts GM Feaster, which at first glance might seem a bit odd considering Feaster’s calm and comforting personality and Tortorella’s harsh — if not hostile — approach.
“There’s some miserable days — there’s some days you don’t know why you’re playing for Tortorella,” said Richards, who Feaster dealt to the Stars in 2008 at the request of the Lightning’s new ownership. “But when you leave and you don’t have that structure and don’t have that coach that cares and does everything he can to get the team prepared, you miss it.
“That was one of the biggest reasons for my decision — you miss having that. You know that every day he’s going to put every ounce of his life into trying to get us to win and trying to make us better. That’s always comforting as a player.
“Jay was good at calming him down.”
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