BY MARK LAZERUS
October 29, 2014 10:10PM
The facts: 6:30 p.m., CSN, 720-AM.
OTTAWA — Brad Richards is a highly accomplished hockey player. He’s won a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe Trophy. He’s been an All-Star. He’s been one of the highest-paid players in hockey.
But a month into his Blackhawks career, the 34-year-old Richards is almost like a rookie — trying to get his bearings, trying to relearn the game, trying to impress coach Joel Quenne-ville and trying to earn more ice time.
“Right now, I’m trying to put together good shifts when I’m out there, and trying to buy into what Joel wants, and hopefully that will grab his attention,” Richards said.
When he signed a one-year, $2-million contract over the summer, Richards was immediately anointed the second-line center by Quenne-
ville. He was the long-awaited answer to that long-existing question, and would push himself back into the ranks of the league’s elite and push Patrick Kane to even greater heights in the process.
That was the idea, at least.
Instead, Richards has toiled on the third line with a rotating cast of linemates, playing limited minutes and posting three assists through nine games. He has shown flashes of his old self here and there — he and Patrick Sharp created a nice two-on-one in Tuesday’s loss to the Anaheim Ducks — but at other times he’s looked a step slow for the amped-up Western Conference style. And he’s twice had power-play turnovers that have led to short-handed goals.
“He’s been OK,” Quenne-ville said. “He’s been all right.”
That doesn’t mean he can’t be more than that as the season progresses. Some players walk into a new team and adjust immediately. Richards, now on his fourth team, said he’s never been that guy. But more than the new linemates, the new systems, the new opponents and the new son at home that have made for a head-spinning start to the season, it’s a new role that might be giving Richards the most trouble.
For most of his career, Richards played more than 20 minutes a game. With the Hawks, he has averaged about 13. That’s a tough transition to make for a player who’s been a top guy his whole career.
“You get used to playing meaningful minutes game in, game out,” Quenneville said. “Then all of a sudden, you’re sitting there watching five or six minutes in a row. Then you get out there and you’re a little bit older and you have to play a little different. It all plays a part in it.”
Kris Versteeg sympathizes. After Versteeg left the Blackhawks in 2010, he became a top-six player with the Florida Panthers. When he came back to the Hawks last November, he had to adjust to playing bottom-six minutes again, and it was difficult for a while.
“When I left here, I expanded my role and I became more of a relied-on guy,” Versteeg said. “When you come back here and you’ve got to take a back seat, you have to find your role again within the team, and find how to be productive within less minutes.”
His teammates say Richards has been a welcome addition, on and off the ice. And given his track record, they are confident it’s only a matter of time before he finds his comfort level and his niche, no matter how big or small it ends up being.
Richards does, too.
“Everything’s different,” Richards said. “You’re trying to read everything, and why things happen or what’s going on here. ‘Should I go there, should I do this?’ It’s a constant learning [process]. … I’ve gone to new teams a few times and it’s never like second nature. You’ve got to figure some things out.”
NOTE: Corey Crawford “could” start Thursday in Ottawa, according to Joel Quenneville. All three goalies made the trip and Quenne-
ville said he hasn’t decided if he’ll keep Antti Raanta or Scott Darling as the backup once Crawford returns.
Contributing: Brian Sandalow