The day John Tortorella criticizes Brad Richards for being a $60-million bust during the 2012-13 season will be the first day he does.
So Thursday night after the New York Rangers’ thrilling Game 4 OT victory to stay alive against the Boston Bruins – a game for which Richards was a healthy scratch, after being benched as a fourth-liner in Game 3 – Tortorella offered a defense of his fallen star:
“Brad Richards is a hell of a hockey player. He has had struggles here. It continues. Me putting him in that role does not help him. So I’d rather have him out and identify how we’re going to run our fourth line.
“So none of ya’s, don’t put words in my mouth, it’s not blaming Brad Richards. I’ve already heard enough of that crap already, as far as this is concerned. He’s a hell of a hockey player that’s having a hell of a time. So I need to make decisions for what I feel is right for this team to win tonight’s game, and that’s why I made that decision.
“This is a Conn Smythe winner. A guy I’ve grown up with. A guy I love as a person and a player, but I have to make that decision regarding this. So kiss my ass if you want to write something different. It’s not about blaming that guy. I don’t want anybody to pile on him. This is my decision and I make it for the hockey club.”
Obviously, you feel for Torts, having to make these decisions on a player with whom he won a Stanley Cup and a player that chose the Rangers as a free agent because Tortorella was there. They have a long relationship as player and coach. Neither imagined this day would come.
But they were the right decisions: Richards had one point in 10 games, was terrible on the power play and clearly didn’t fit on the Rangers’ fourth line. Richards goes out, the Rangers score on the power play and the fourth line played great in limited minutes. This is not a coincidence.
Hearing Tortorella defend Richards as “a hell of a hockey player that’s having a hell of a time” makes you wonder: If he’s still the coach in 2013-14, might Richards get another chance to turn this around before a buy-out, or is he a goner?