This time last year, labor uncertainty hung like a cloud over NHL players. Now, with training camp less than three weeks away and no potential work stoppage to worry about, players are free to bask in the endless hope that the final weeks of summer bring.
That mindset suits Brad Richards just fine.
"I feel great," Richards said Monday at the inaugural Brad Richards Charity Golf Classic at the Scarsdale Golf Club in Westchester County. "At the start of the summer, I had some time to reflect and get back to work. The next step is to get going . . . The best part is knowing that hockey is going to start again."
Richards is eager to bounce back after the worst season of his career. The Rangers center had 11 goals and 23 assists in 46 games in the lockout-shortened season.
"You can't just point to one thing," Richards said of possible reasons for his reduced production. "It was a different type of year with the lockout."
Richards said that his struggles affected him on the ice.
"A lot of things can snowball from that when you're playing and things aren't going the way you expect them to go," he said. "But, I'm back to normal. I know I can play the game. I just want to get going."
The desire to prove Richards still can play at a high level has fueled his summer workouts.
"I'm very motivated. If there was one positive thing, it's gotten me very hungry this summer," he said.
On recommendation from Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis, Richards spent the summer training with Ben Prentiss in Darien, Conn..
"[St. Louis] spoke highly of [Prentiss]," Richards said. "It was a good time to get a different view on things."
Richards said he's excited to play under new coach Alain Vigneault but hasn't had any specific discussions with the new boss.
"It's up to me to go play and if I do that, it's not going to matter," Richards said. "I've had different coaches and played on different teams, it's still hockey. I think I'm prepared. But, I'm excited. I think the style of play will be a lot more fun for a guy like me to be in."
The two have spoken "a couple of times" since Vigneault's hiring, according to Richards.
"He's trying to get to know everybody," Richards said. "He's got three other coaches that we've got to get to know too. As players, we don't know yet how that's all going to work and who's responsible for what. It's going to be an exciting couple of weeks. It's a new page, a new chapter."
Richards said he reached out to former coach John Tortorella after his firing but has not had any contact with him. He thinks a change from Tortorella's defense-first style will be welcome.
"I think it will suit everybody more, to be perfectly honest," Richards said.