Richards buys into 'clean slate' mantra

No one seems willing to embrace new Rangers coach Alain Vigneault's "clean slate" mantra more than Brad Richards.

The 33-year-old center has had an entire summer to exorcise the demons from an abysmal 2013 season during which he was demoted and ultimately benched for the last two games of the team's second-round playoff series against the Bruins.

During the course of the lockout-shortened schedule, the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner's game regressed, his spirit was squashed and there seemed for him no way out of the abyss.

"I lost myself a little bit last year and I think I lost confidence of the coach, which doesn't help when you're trying to get out of something," said Richards, who finished with 11 goals and 34 points. "It was tough. It was an uphill battle."

That coach, John Tortorella, is gone now and has since been replaced by Vigneault. Vigneault, who seems to offer a much friendlier, less adversarial foil to Tortorella's harsh, grizzled persona, has told Richards he doesn't care about what happened last season.

In fact, he shook his head even after hearing that Richards answered questions about it.

"I've told him to turn the page and, as much as he can, not answer questions about last year because it has no significance or importance to now," Vigneault said.

Starting anew? Exactly what Richards needs.

"Talking to Alain has been very positive. He uses the clean slate thing, but he uses it especially with me, that all is forgotten," Richards said. "I'm excited to get back to work and I think he's excited to help me get back on track. In the end, it's really all up to me."

Richards knows that his disappointing performance last season will leave him open to scrutiny, and he's fine in handling that. But, he has tried to banish that difficult time from memory.

"I know I have to deal with it with you guys a little bit here at the start here, but I've really put all of that in the past," Richards said. "I've had a lot of time to get rid of those thoughts and what happened and regroup. Hopefully, this is a positive thing and that's how I'm looking at it, that it'll get me going in the right direction at this point in my career."

Richards, who inked a nine-year, $60 million deal in 2011, also addressed the limbo period this summer when he was considered as a potential compliance buyout candidate. He said he was happy that the team chose not to exercise that option.

"I'm happy to be here. I'm thrilled. I did not want to end my New York Ranger tenure as that," Richards said. "I'm grateful that I'm still here and I'm getting the chance to be part of this organization."

Vigneault said he was pleased with Richards in Thursday's first on-ice session, during which he saw the alternate captain stepping up to be first in line for the conditioning laps and embracing his leadership role.

"To me, he looks real positive and he looks like he's got a lot of energy, so I think he's looking forward to the challenge that's coming up with this season," Vigneault said. "He seems to want to lead the troops and that's what we want him to do."