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Spotlight brightens for Richards
The center has accomplished a lot in his young career. But with a big salary, the Lightning expects even more.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published October 2, 2006
Brad Richards said he cannot believe how quickly time has passed.
What is it, now? Four, five six seasons he has been at center for the Lightning. Time flies, and that, Richards said, is the problem.
"That's why you've always got to be prepared," he said. "You can waste a lot of your career screwing around."
For Richards, 26, there is no time to lose.
With a salary of $7.8-million, the Prince Edward Island native is the league's second-highest paid player behind the Rangers' Jaromir Jagr. General manager Jay Feaster has said Richards is the franchise cornerstone, and he no doubt is being groomed as the team's next captain.
In other words, this is no time to hit the brakes on a career that already includes a 2004 playoff MVP trophy and last season being one of just 14 NHL players with 90 points.
Richards is in an interesting place in his career.
Potential is no longer his game's talking point. Results are what matter. Yet Richards is young enough to still be molding his identity and what he does on the ice.
He already is one of the league's best passers and last season had a career-high 68 assists with his 23 goals.
His points have increased in three straight seasons, and he has made big strides on faceoffs and on defense.
At 6 feet, 198 pounds, his challenge now is to be stronger on the puck and even a bit more confrontational when opponents try to intimidate or bully him along the boards or during a battle for the puck.
We're not talking fights, but ...
"He needs to work on his willingness to stand up for himself," coach John Tortorella said. "I always use Peter Forsberg as an example for him. He needs to bring in some of that strength on the puck that Forsberg has, that willingness to battle for his ice. That is what Brad needs to do and is learning to do.
"What we're trying to do," Tortorella added, "is create a complete player."
The key, Richards said, is preparation, something on which he took notes while playing for Canada during the 2004 World Cup and 2006 Olympics and watching teammates such as Colorado's Joe Sakic and Calgary's Jarome Iginla.
"They are just so focused in their routines," Richards said. "They really prepared in a different way than I've seen before."
Richards said he marveled at the consistency of their pregame routines - the stretching, the quiet time, the intense concentration that ensured readiness - and developed a plan of his own.
Part of it is self-assessment; honestly evaluating one's game but not dwelling when things go wrong.
"Remember for the reasons of getting better, but forget because things can happen so quickly," Richards said.
"You can play three or four games in one week, and if you're thinking about it too much you've just wasted three or four games being frustrated and it's tough to get back on track."
Richards said it can be tricky to master.
"It's experience," he said. "After five years in the league, you get into situations you've seen before. 'Okay, take a deep breath. It's not the end of the world.' "
Take this preseason.
In five games, Richards had six assists but zero goals. He took a team-high 19 shots but was minus-3.
Not the end of the world (it was preseason, after all) but not what Richards expects of himself.
"He's one of the top players in the league right now," Tortorella said. "He has a Stanley Cup and a playoff MVP. With some players when that happens early, they let off the gas a little bit. I don't see that with Brad.
"I think Brad thinks about how he wants to be remembered. I think he wants to be the best player in the National Hockey League. I think he wants to be known as a champion. I think he wants to be known as a great leader."
Richards admitted he has thought about his legacy but said that conversation is yet to come.
"Talk to me," he said, laughing, "when I retire."
PRACTICE: The team works out at 11 a.m. today at the St. Pete Times Forum. It is open to the public.