Saturday, April 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

For retiring Brad Richards, Lightning's 2004 Stanley Cup run was 'most fun'

Brad Richards briefly paused a phone interview Thursday so he could get his hands free.

You couldn't blame the former Lightning star. His son, Luca, turns 2 in October, when wife Rechelle is expecting a baby girl to join the burgeoning family.

"Growing by the minute," Richards said.

Richards, 36, announced his retirement Wednesday after 15 seasons. The first seven years were spent with the Lightning, including his Conn Smythe Trophy performance in the 2004 Stanley Cup run.

"The most fun I've ever had in hockey," he said.

Richards said he has been thinking about retirement since January, officially deciding three weeks ago. Other than "not wanting to hold on too long," Richards said a key reason was how tough it has been on him and his family to spend the past three seasons with three separate teams, constantly moving. Richards still listened during free agency, when he had an offer, but it didn't feel right. If he had been on the same team the past three or four years, it might have been different.

But it was time. His career was over.

"I don't feel cheated in the least," Richards said. "When you play with great people in great cities. I'll cherish all of it."

Richards plans to stay in his summer home outside New York until his baby his born, then head to his wife's native Australia for several months. He will return in March and contemplate his next home, which he says ideally will be Tampa.

"I love Tampa, everybody knows that," Richards said. "It'd be a great spot to retire."

Richards, who is from Murray Harbour, Prince Edward Island, also played for the Stars, Rangers, Blackhawks and, most recently, the Red Wings. A 10-time 20-goal scorer with 932 career points, Richards hoisted the Cup with Chicago two years ago, beating the Lightning. But Richards maintains he never wanted to leave Tampa Bay, which traded him to Dallas in 2007.

"There's nothing bad about my career, but that was the worst I've ever felt," he said.

His best days came in Tampa. Richards is proud his legacy will be what he, Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis & Co. helped build with the Lightning. He could see it in the sellout crowds at Amalie Arena during the playoffs the past two seasons, a city immersed in the sport.

"We grew together, we built that," Richards said. "We created a fan base that made hockey a lot of fun to play there. If you talk to players around the league, everybody would love to play in Tampa now. And that was the coolest thing we did, is put it on the map and we made it a place, a destination that players wanted to play hockey and win and not just come down here and retire and play golf."

What Richards, a third-round pick in 1998, said he will remember the most about the '04 Cup run aren't all the big goals, on-ice moments, but the two-month journey, living as a team in the Marriott Waterside.

"We played pingpong and Golden Tee trying to keep each other's minds off of what was coming up, and how big the situation was," Richards said. "A lot of us were so young and naive, and we were just having a blast. It was the most fun I've ever had in hockey because we weren't supposed to do anything, no expectations.

"I don't think I've ever been on a team that close. We all hung out. We were all wide-eyed and just going out and playing hockey, and not really knowing what the hell we were up to. But we got it done."

Richards said he consulted with both St. Louis, who retired in 2015, and Lecavalier, who retired after this season.

"It makes this a lot easier for me to know two of my best friends and players I grew up with are gone," Richards said. "It's not like I'm sitting here watching players I grew up playing with are still playing, a lot of us are done now. It's the world we live in, things can't last forever. It's emotional for sure, but I'm also very excited and I can move on and do other things."

As for Richards' next step, he has no idea since "hockey is all I know." He never envisioned himself coaching, but hopes to stay involved in the game. He'll see how much he misses it. Either way, he has plenty of time to think it over.

And there's a good chance he'll be back.

"Tampa is always going to be there," he said. "I can live there anytime. I love the town."

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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