Esiason is not the first Rangers fan to give his thoughts to Richards, the Dallas Stars center who will be the Rangers' No. 1 target when free agency begins July 1. The 31-year-old Richards, who won a Stanley Cup with John Tortorella in Tampa seven years ago, knows that everyone is eager to see where he ends up two months from now.
Everyone except himself.
"There's been no decisions, no real thoughts on anything yet," Richards told Newsday after an appearance on NHL Live at the league's store in midtown Manhattan Tuesday afternoon. "I'm just trying to get my body back to where it usually is conditioningwise right now and keep doing what I've been doing."
Rangers general manager Glen Sather and Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk spoke before the Feb. 28 trade deadline about Richards becoming a Ranger; Nieuwendyk's asking price was astronomical and Richards was out with a concussion, so it was not a tense time for him.
"I had total control and I was injured, so it wasn't a big deal for me," he said. "I know it was talked about a lot, but I was just focused on getting back on the ice."
He ended up missing 10 games and he returned to help get the Stars to a win-and-in game on the final Sunday of the season, but the Wild defeated Dallas and Richards missed the playoffs for a third straight season.
Now, with the Stars in the process of being sold and looking for a new coach, Richards, who was in the final season of a five-year, $39-million deal he signed with the Lightning, may be ready to move on. And he and Tortorella, like nearly all of the players from Tampa's 2004 Cup team, remain on good terms.
"You have that forever," Richards said of the championship bond. "We had Torts there for eight years. That's pretty rare in this day and age . . . He taught us how to be professionals."
Richards' situation now, with the Stars uncertain ownership and free agency looming, is identical to the one that faced Marty St. Louis last spring. St. Louis, who had told friends he would have been interested in reuniting with Tortorella in New York, never reached free agency with new owner Jeff Vinik and new GM Steve Yzerman locking him up.
And the Lightning have revived, heading into Tuesday's Eastern Conference semifinals up 2-0 on the Caps.
"We talked a lot last offseason about his situation, and I'm sure we'll talk more about mine when he's done with this year," Richards said. "There's a lot of time to just talk to people who've been through this and let things fall into place."