When Brad Richards first arrived in Tampa for his rookie season with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the fall of 2000, the team had nothing in the way of any kind of winning tradition. In fact, there wasn’t much winning at anything. No sellout crowds. No energy in the building. No life in the fanbase, which had seen three owners and a lot of bad hockey by the time Richards made it to the NHL. A third round pick by the Bolts in 1998, Richards showed up two years later looking to make a mark and build something special alongside his friend and former major junior teammate Vinny Lecavalier, who was chosen first overall by the Lightning in that same draft.
It didn’t take them long to make their mark on the hockey world and change how a town viewed the sport.
Just three-and-a-half years after donning a Lightning sweater for the first time, Richards would play an integral part in the Lightning’s only Stanley Cup championship team in 2004, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in the process. He finished with 12 goals and 26 points during that memorable Cup run, while also scoring seven game-winning goals, the most in NHL history by one player in a single playoff year.
Richards began his career finishing in second place in voting for the Calder Trophy, just behind San Jose’s Evgeni Nabokov, as he tallied 21 goals and 41 assists during his rookie campaign. Over the course of his nearly seven seasons with the Lightning, Richards became an offensive force, finishing his tenure with the Bolts with 150 goals and 339 assists, while also winning the Lady Byng Trophy in 2004, an award he would be in the running for throughout his career.
Before the Triplets of Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat came along in the last few years, Richards was one of Tampa Bay’s “Big 3”, along with Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis. In the early and mid 2000’s, when you thought of the Lightning, Richards, Lecavalier, and St. Louis were the first three guys that came to mind. They were the building blocks, the guys the Bolts counted on for offense and for big plays when the team needed them. Richards was one of the guys that set the tone for the Lightning’s success from 2003-07. He never wanted to be traded by the Lightning, but Tampa Bay’s salary cap had become too top heavy with the Big 3’s contracts eating up a huge portion of that cap. With new ownership coming in, the decision was made to trade Richards to Dallas at the trade deadline in February 2008.
After three-plus productive seasons in Dallas, Richards cashed in big with the New York Rangers, signing with them as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2011 and playing three seasons there before his nine-year contract was bought out. He would go on to win another Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2015 before closing out his NHL career with one season in Detroit. All in all, Richards would close out his career with 298 goals and 634 assists for a grand total of 932 points.
Although he ended up bouncing around the league over the last few years of his career, Richards’ legacy will be what he did in building up the Lightning into a winner and eventually turning Tampa Bay into a desired destination, not just a place to play golf on your days off. Nowadays, winning hockey is expected in Tampa Bay. Long playoff runs are the norm for the Lightning. Sellout crowds are commonplace. Tampa Bay has found its place as a hockey market. And they have players like Brad Richards to thank for laying the groundwork so many years ago.
Stick taps on an incredible career, @BRichards_1991. Always a Bolt ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/B8MNoZaGDQ
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) July 20, 2016
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