DALLAS - Looking back at the franchise and this city where he played for just over three seasons, Brad Richards recalled a terrific start with the Stars and a rocky finish that led him to free agency and a nine-year, $60-million deal with the Rangers before the 2011-12 season.
Ownership changed in Dallas, and so have the general manager and coach, with the well-respected Jim Nill and Lindy Ruff in charge. And only four players remain from the roster from the year that Richards left.
"It was great when I first got here, we went on a good run," Richards said Thursday before his first game back at American Airlines Center, referring to the end of the 2008 season, when he posted 11 points in the final 12 games, and 15 points in 18 playoff games. "We lost to the Stanley Cup champions [Detroit] in six games in the Western Conference finals. I thought that would happen a little more than it did, and that got frustrating, ownership and all that stuff."
Despite personal success -- 91 points in 2009-10 and 28 goals and 77 points in 72 games the next season -- the Stars missed the playoffs for three years, and Richards, unclear of the direction of the franchise, opted for free agency. "It took me a while to decide," he said. "I loved playing on a line with Loui [Eriksson] and [James] Neal, and that was dismantled quickly. It was a little chaotic. Now they're more on solid footing and going in the right direction."
That's where the Rangers are after a 2-6 start. "We had to kind of regroup," said Richards, who leads the team with 16 points. "We still have some work to do. I'm starting to feel more like how I did when I played here. It's coming, we're starting to get healthy. I like how our team's playing, we're just snakebitten right now, and once that breaks out, hopefully, we'll get rolling."
Richards pointed to the performance of his latest trio, with wingers Ryan Callahan and Rick Nash, against the Bruins on Tuesday. "We probably had 10 scoring chances between the three of us," he said. "We do that again tonight, I like our odds of getting on the board."
In Nash's first game after missing 17 with concussion symptoms, the line combined for 13 shots on net, seven attempts blocked and five misses.
"I think he'll be a lot better and we'll get used to him,'' said Richards, nodding toward Nash's locker in the visiting dressing room. "He's not just an average player out there. He did a lot of good things. We'll get our reads and timing together. After six weeks off, that's understandable. We could've had two or three goals with the space he creates. You give him the puck and he backs people off so well, that's a good sign.''
Coach Alain Vigneault, who initially paired the playmaking Richards and the sniper Nash in training camp, prefers to keep productive pairs together.
"If the duo works, we're gonna stick with it,'' Vigneault said. "That line had eight or nine scoring chances [against Boston]; that's a phenomenal number, especially against a team like the Bruins, which defends so well. Hopefully, that line can do the same thing tonight, and hopefully, that line can finish. Sooner or later, the puck's going to start going in.''