Newly acquired Blackhawks center Brad Richards didn't get the typical free-agent news conference when he signed. There was no horde of reporters for a jersey presentation.
No, the first real chance Richards had to speak publicly came Saturday before more than 2,000 fans at the Blackhawks Convention. And he received a standing ovation as he took the Hilton Chicago stage next to Hawks captain Jonathan Toews and winger Patrick Kane to partake in a panel on what it takes to win.
"I guess if you're going to come to a new team this is the way to meet the whole organization," Richards said Friday night.
Not even 24 hours earlier, Richards, who posted 51 points (20 goals, 31 assists) for the Rangers last season, wasn't even sure what to call Toews and Kane. He referred to them as "Jonathan" and "Patrick" on Friday before deciding it sounded too official.
"Tazer and Kaner?" Richards asked, just looking for a sign that he was doing the right thing.
Even after 14 years in the NHL, a Stanley Cup ring and a Conn Smythe Trophy that bears his name, Richards, who signed a one year, $2 million deal earlier this month, is just looking to fit in. In the near future that likely means centering a line between Kane and Brandon Saad.
For the three other teams he has played for, Richards played a leadership role.
Here, the 34-year-old Richards is to be the answer to the Hawks' annual second-line center questions. He's here for offense — despite a fan asking about his penalty-killing skills — and if it doesn't work out, he's just buying time for heralded Finnish center Teuvo Taravainen to assume the role.
"I can't help my age," Richards said. "I can't stop getting older. It's a great opportunity in my career. You never know what the future holds."
Richards can't even say he's certain who his linemates will be when the season opens. The thought is that he's a perfect fit on the second line with Kane and Saad, where the Hawks have tested out Dave Bolland, Andrew Shaw and Michael Handzus, among others.
Then again, the Kane-Shaw-Saad combination worked so well last postseason that it might be worth revisiting.
"We'll see how long it lasts," Saad said of playing with Richards. "He's a great player. Regardless of what the line combinations are, he definitely helps our team out a lot."
Added Richards: "It's so hard to talk about it now because it might not work. You get on the ice and learn tendencies, all of that stuff has to naturally happen."
His role was the topic that dominated conversation, a balancing act of what Richards, Kane and Saad should be able to do, mixed in with the reality that no line combination in Chicago is safe. Not when Joel Quenneville is coaching.
Hawks general manager Stan Bowman has made a habit of targeting guys who can play in multiple situations specifically because his coach will change up everything on the bench if the play seems stale. Just because Richards may be the solution on the second line, doesn't mean he's guaranteed that spot.
"You expect all four lines to score," Quenneville said. "Brad coming in gives us a proven centerman who can score and produce, not just 5-on-5, but the power play as well. He adds a lot to our team."
So as fans kept pushing Richards to give more insight on his style of play and what he thinks he can contribute, all Richards could do was respond in generalities during the question-and-answer session. At least he could rely on Toews and Kane to provide some comic relief — and yes, Richards was calling them Toews and Kane.
"You can tell that the Blackhawks are a big part of this town," Richards said. "When I come to training camp it won't be as daunting."
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