As if everyone wasn't already aware, Brad Richards had a pretty miserable season in 2012-13.
After registering 66 points in his first season on Broadway in 2011-12, Richie took a turn for the worse in his second campaign. Although he did manage 34 points in 46 games, the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner was irrelevant most nights.
His decision-making was poor, there was no intensity in his game and, maybe most noticeably, he simply looked out of shape. Richards chose not to explore alternative employment options during the lockout and it was obvious that his decision to remain home was a mistake.
Richards was so bad that it seemed to almost be a given that the New York Rangers would buy him out with their second compliance buyout in early June.
However, general manager Glen Sather and the rest of the Rangers' management had faith in Richards and believed he could turn it around with a full training camp and new, more progressive coach.
As a result, Richards remained a Ranger.
And, as of now, it looks like the Rangers made the right choice. Through eight games in 2013-14, Richards has been without question the team’s most consistent player. Furthermore, Richards is the only forward who has even presented any real danger for opponents whatsoever.
In the eight games, Richards has registered five goals (the Rangers have 12 on the season) and eight points.
Aside from captain Ryan Callahan, who is out for a month with a broken thumb, Richards is the only player on the roster who has multiple goals.
The truth is, without Richards, the Rangers probably wouldn't have won a game this season. He had two of the three goals against Los Angeles in the second game of the season and assisted on both of Callahan’s goals in Washington last Wednesday. Those are the only two games New York has won.
It’s been a fine start for Richards, but his resurgence is somewhat puzzling after an abysmal 2012-13 campaign. So the question is, how has Richie been able to turn it around?
Well, first off, you've got to again look at the fact that Richards was completely unprepared for the start of the season last year. Nobody doubts Richard’s commitment to training and keeping himself in game shape, but in hockey, there’s only so much you can do to prepare without taking the ice and participating in a real, competitive game.
Richards’ decision to stay in North America and train essentially on his own set him up for a rocky start. He was never able to recover.
Anyone who’s played the game knows that confidence is huge, and that should never be understated. Richards started off the season cold, began questioning his own ability and had a crisis of confidence. Throw that in there with the team’s overall struggles and New York’s unforgiving media circus, and you've got sticky situation on your hands.
Richards never got it together and 2012-13 became the nightmare that seemed to never end.
But as they say, when you’re at rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up. Despite being the oldest skater on the team, he came into camp in good shape and never looked back.
He took advantage of the full training camp and preseason schedule. What has been really interesting is being able to literally watch Richards get better on a nightly basis.
When preseason opened, Richie looked none the better, but after a few contests, he found his rhythm and eventually started scoring goals. Then the confidence returned and we finally saw the Richards the Rangers were willing to spend $60 million on.
Despite not being a great skater, Richards has a spring in his step and is a lot more comfortable with the puck. Furthermore, his decision-making is sharper and his willingness to make plays has been the Rangers’ saving grace—if there has to be one so far this year.
Richards even looks great on the power play again. He was one of the main reasons why the Rangers’ power play was ranked 23rd in the league at the end of last season. Although the Rangers haven’t been sure-fire in 2013-14—they’re currently ranked 17th at 18.2 percent—Richards is not to blame at all.
His play from the point has given the man advantage a fresh look, and when the Rangers get Callahan and Rick Nash back into the lineup, they’ll have more success on the man advantage.
Richards is right now exemplifying exactly how important confidence is in hockey. He’s not only turned his game around, he’s rebooted his entire career. Remember, Richie was a player who watched his team get eliminated in the playoffs as a healthy scratch last season. He was lucky to even have a job with the Rangers this fall.
Now he’s a point-per-game player on the worst offensive team in the league and the only reason the Rangers aren't in last place.
Richards is really the only reason to tune into Rangers games right now and the determination to recapture his confidence is the reason why.