UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- When Norm Richards stepped out into the crisp Kenora air Tuesday morning, he could hardly believe the shiny new Christmas present that awaited him.
Sitting on the driveway was a glistening GM Sierra truck with a bow neatly tied on it, a generous gift from his son Michael.
"I really surprised him," Philadelphia Flyers forward Michael Richards said yesterday, referring to his proud papa.
"He was just happy I was back home for Christmas."
At just 22 years of age, the generous Richards can afford to play the role of Santa Claus these days after inking a monumental 12-year, $69-million US pact with the Flyers earlier this month.
News of the deal shook the hockey world, but such long-term pacts are becoming commonplace for Philly general manager Paul Holmgren. Keep in mind that he signed shifty forward Daniel Briere to an eight-year, $52 million deal back on July 1.
According to Richards, contract talks with the Flyers heated up in mid-October. The longer the discussions took place, he said, the more of a priority the tenure of the potential deal became, even if it meant giving up years of unrestricted eligibility.
"Obviously I like it here," Richards said in a phone interview after finishing the team's mid-day workout at its New Jersey practice complex. "Paul said he would like to have me around, and it got to the point where I decided I want to be here for the rest of my career. And I'm happy about it too."
Richards, the former captain of the Kitchener Rangers, said he would not be surprised to see similar deals being offered around the league over the next few years.
"I think it (will happen)," he said. "With so many players moving up, teams are going to try to lock up their younger guys for longer terms, Just look at the way Edmonton is building around Dustin Penner and the way the Buffalo Sabres are building around Thomas Vanek.
"For me growing up as a kid, you didn't think about the money or anything like that. But if you would have said I could play in the NHL for 12 years, well, what a thrill.
"I asked a lot of guys in the dressing room before I made my decision and they all told me there is not a better place to play. This is a first-class organization. This is where I want to be."
Entering tonight's game against the Leafs, Richards, referred by many as the "future captain" of the Flyers, leads the team in scoring with 42 points.
"I had a few injuries last year but it's also much more fun coming to the rink this year," he said. "As for the captain thing, it's nice to be recognized but I'm not ready to be captain here. I'm still learning things from our captain, Jason Smith, almost every day."