It was a long summer, with a bitter beginning and an inevitably bitter end for Brad Richards, but that's all OK now.
First he dealt with the malaise that came with losing in the Stanley Cup Final, ending a gritty and unexpected campaign by the Rangers -- "You kind of stay in a depression for a while," he said -- and then he dealt with the move he knew was coming. The Rangers bought out the remaining six years of his contract and Richards had to say goodbye, no matter how reluctantly.
"It kind of hit me when I got to Chicago," he said Saturday night before the Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. "I didn't want [the buyout] to happen, but it did happen . . . I was in the lockout trying to get it solved but I was probably solving my own fate.
"We could have won that Stanley Cup and they probably would have had to make that decision and I knew that all year."
Although he was glad to be on home turf (he has a home on Long Island and still keeps in touch with a slew of locals), Richards' current fortunes are not lost on him. His Blackhawks are third in the Western Conference standings, and he can stake a claim to some of that success.
After three years with the Rangers during which he sometimes failed to live up to lofty expectations and a lofty salary, he came into this season with a low-pressure one-year, $2-million contract. He has found success on a very productive second line with superstar Patrick Kane and a revived Kris Versteeg.
"Last month has been a lot of fun," said Richards, who has six goals and 12 assists. "[Versteeg] has been playing well and Kane has been breaking it open at any time. It's nice to know when you're on the ice with a guy like that, you can give him the puck at any time and you're going to get a scoring chance."
But all that doesn't mean he's forgotten about his time with the Rangers. It's not as though he watches every game, he said, but he does keep track of what they're doing and he's still close with a number of players on the team.
"It's still a big part of you because it was such a fun run last year," he said. "I loved this week, coming back to the area, and you wish you spent more time over here . . . but it'll be weird in March."
He said he loved visiting the Coliseum as a Ranger and that being there again "brings back memories," he said. "A lot of people don't realize how fun this building can be when the team is playing good like they're playing right now."
Richards said he waited a long time to think about the possibility of a buyout because of the long postseason run. "I was so involved in the grind, I put it on the backburner," he said, and when it finally happened, he waited to shop for teams because "you're in a transition phase, a little hangover from losing. It's not easy to pick yourself up after losing in the Finals."
But despite the bitter beginning to summer and the bitter end, Richards reserved none of that for his former team.
"There's no bitterness," he said. "They had to lose players to get under the salary cap and you kind of knew it was coming. You try to enjoy your time there and how special it was to be a Ranger. [And you try] to get that Cup and make it worthwhile no matter what. But we fell, and that's where I'm bitter."