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Cup, not money, is focus for Richards
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published August 22, 2006
BRANDON - Brad Richards skated bent at the waist and leaned heavily on a stick he held horizontally across the tops of his knees.
The Lightning center wasn't exhausted exactly, but after Monday's 30-minute workout, Richards' first at the Ice Sports Forum in preparation for next month's training camp, he needed to catch his breath.
"Yeah," he admitted, "you're still not there yet, but that's why we're on the ice and why we'll keep moving here."
In many ways, this season is business as usual for Richards.
Points? He wants more. Defense? He said he wants to play in every situation. Faceoffs? There is always room for improvement.
The difference is Richards' fat new five-year, $39-million contract that, at $7.8-million a season, makes him the NHL's second-highest paid player.
That means expectations are higher, the pressure more intense, the microscope that much sharper.
Richards said he won't be taking that much more notice.
"When you get in that upper whatever, whether you're first, second or 10th in the league, that means your team is depending on you," he said.
And for Richards, 26, "That's all that really matters."
As for the rest of it - the media, the scrutiny, the stories written, especially in Canada, that his compensation package threw the league's salary structure out of whack - Richards said it is superfluous.
"It doesn't really matter at all," he said. "I'm going to go about my business and do things the way I always do it. Don't get me wrong, I'm very fortunate. I was lucky to get (the contract). But if it was $10, I'd probably come to the rink the same way."
Center Tim Taylor, who skated with Richards, as did right wing Marty St. Louis and defenseman Nolan Pratt, said he has no doubt.
"I realize things have changed in respect to his pay scale, but he's the same guy," Taylor said. "He's always come with a good work ethic. He's one of those players who exemplifies what your team wants you to be like: heart, dedication on the ice and off. A real good role model for the team."
Who can't wait to wipe away the memory of last season, when the Lightning, the 2003-04 Stanley Cup champ, barely made the playoffs and was dumped by the Senators in five games in the East quarterfinals.
"We know we're better than that," Richards said. "We should be very hungry coming in. We all wish we could fast-forward to opening night. We all have something to prove."
Which is why Richards, who last season had career highs of 68 assists and 91 points, said he is getting an early start. Monday's work was mainly about conditioning. The players sprinted, cooled down and did it all over again.
Richards said he did his usual summer workout program on his native Prince Edward Island, and before getting to Tampa he played the championship tees at Winged Foot Golf Club, site of this year's U.S. Open.
He said he did not splurge on any extravagances other than buying his parents a new pickup.
"I've never made this much money before," he said. "But if you start thinking of it like that, you're probably in it for the wrong reasons.
"I don't care if I make the most amount of money. Am I improving? Do I have a chance to win the Stanley Cup again? I'd rather have more championships than money."
Richards' biggest concern?
"The first game of the season."
He already had caught his breath.
ICEFEST: The Lightning will have a free hockey festival for fans Saturday at the St. Pete Times Forum from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It will feature players, games for kids, merchandise specials and more. Individual tickets for 41 regular-season and two preseason home games will be on sale at the box office and all Ticketmaster locations.