The New York Rangers sat Brad Richards for Game 4. I'm his friend so, of course, no one in New York could get a fair hearing from me. But for the record, here's my take.
In 2011, Brad chose to sign with the Rangers against the advice of his agency. They certainly did not argue against New York, but they had laid out what they felt was a better fit with more money on the table. In the end, Brad wanted to be closer to P.E.I., so his parents and his grandfather could stay up and watch the games.
He knew John Tortorella and he loved the idea of playing in an Original Six city. It brought riches. But as New Jersey Devils netminder Martin Brodeur said in his book, Beyond the Crease: "When I grew up, being an athlete wasn't about being rich. Now it's the first thing you know about a player." Brad's choice of vocation, like his selection of the Rangers, had nothing to do with money.
Brad delivered. The Rangers won the Eastern Conference in the regular season. In the playoffs, Brad led the team in scoring with six goals and 15 points. That was good for seventh overall in playoff scoring. His 71 shots on goal were second overall. The Rangers went deep and it was Brad's third trip to the final four in seven seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars and New York. Eleven home playoff dates essentially paid for his contract in one spring.
I'm sure you are aware that Brad won the Memorial Cup with Rimouski Oceanic in 2000. He was the league and playoff MVP. As his coach Doris Labonte said, "Brad's not there some of the time, he is there all of the time."
Brad won the Stanley Cup in 2004 with Tampa Bay and was playoff MVP. He won the World Cup that autumn. In 2006, he led the Canadian Olympic team in scoring in Turin.
He is a winner who has always shared his time. In Dallas, he had rookie James Neal live with him and taught him the ropes. This fall, when I visited Brad to attend a charity event he had arranged, I saw that Steve Eminger was staying at Brad's —training together, eating right and talking hockey 24/7. Eminger has played magnificently as the Rangers fought through the loss of Marc Staal.
Look, Brad understands every veteran eventually meets with a healthy scratch. What upsets me is the ingratitude reflected in Tortorella's remark the other day in the New York Post: "Sometimes, it's not all about Brad." That was uncalled for.
I realize that once a player signs a big contract, he'll rarely ever be the golden boy again in the eyes of the spectator. In the new salary cap world, the players look around the room at the big money makers and question whether that player's cap slice is costing the club.
But for Tortorella not to respect what Brad has done reminds me of a thoughtless Mike Keenan publicly ripping Wayne Gretzky in 1996, when the Detroit Red Wings beat the St. Louis Blues. Mike had his 1994 Cup ring (with the Rangers) and forgot it was the players who had secured it. Mike later apologized to Gretzky, but the damage was done and Wayne later signed with New York.
You cannot do that to players in the crosshairs the way Wayne was then and Brad is now. It's horrible to strip a player of such character of his dignity in public. New York has made it a bad habit. Wade Redden was so well thought of in Ottawa, the Senators chose Wade over Zdeno Chara. I feel the same way about Redden. He was thrown out.
Bobby Holik. Scott Gomez. These are highly regarded players elsewhere who were made to appear to have lost it in New York.
Brad's too slow? Perhaps he should speed up and become a "jitterbug" like Carl Hagelin, who, according to Tortorella, "stinks" on the power play, who goes too fast and screws things up.
Torts! Dress 'em up as you please, but your dressings downs are wrong.