Brad Richards deals with second freak injury, says it's 'pretty hard to fathom'

March, 23, 2009

On Saturday morning, we exchanged text messages with Brad Richards. The Dallas Stars center was excited about making a surprise early comeback from a broken right wrist that had kept him out five weeks.

He was supposed to miss six to eight weeks but was set to return, wearing a brace and willing to tough it out because his team needed the points in the wild Western Conference playoff race.

Several hours later, we thought it was a cruel joke when a phone call from Dallas informed us that Richards had broken his other hand and was out indefinitely. He'll need surgery Tuesday to fix a spiral fracture to his left hand.

"It's absolutely incredible that this happened twice in a row," Richards told us Monday after a visit to the doctor. "They'll put in a plate in the back of the hand. I won't be in a cast, so it'll be a little quicker in terms of getting the rehab going. But it's still a four-to-six-week process ...

"[Stars center] Steve Ott had the same surgery earlier in the year, and he came back in three or four weeks."

In the meantime, Richards hopes the boys can hold it together and get into the playoffs. Then maybe he can return at some point in the first round if all goes well.

But losing Richards again is a huge blow to a Stars team that somehow has stayed alive without captain Brenden Morrow and top defenseman Sergei Zubov, not to mention a long list of other injured players. They desperately needed their top center back, and this loss will be tough to overcome.

The Stars have been hit hard with 304 man-games lost to injury this season, up from 186 at this point last season. That's the fifth-highest tally in the NHL through Sunday behind the Islanders (493), Blues (420), Capitals (335) and Flyers (310).

It's not just the quantity but the quality of injured players in Dallas this season: Zubov, Morrow, Richards, Ott, Jere Lehtinen -- the cream of the roster.

"It's an unbelievable year with the injuries we've had," Richards said. "I've been on teams where we had the lowest man-games lost in the history of the NHL in Tampa. I guess this is part of the experience of an NHL career, seeing all this.

"It's definitely a trying year for us, but I'm pretty proud of the players that keep battling in there. We're pretty thin at times, but they're hanging in there."

The Stars are 12th in the Western Conference with 74 points, three points out of the eighth and final playoff spot Nashville currently holds. Anaheim (76 points), Minnesota (76 points) and St. Louis (75 points) also stand in the Stars' way. Dallas has 10 games left, split evenly on the road and at home. The Stars host Vancouver on Tuesday night.

"Time to start over with all the monotony," said Richards, who can't stand watching on helplessly. "I guess this is payback for playing 600-odd games in a row or whatever it was. I guess we'll do it all up at once [with the injuries]."

Before this season, Richards had never been seriously hurt. He had played 80 or more games since beginning his NHL career in 2000-01 with Tampa before playing 74 last season. (He sat out a few games for a minor problem.)

Just as his right wrist was injured on a freak play in February, Richards once again can't believe how innocently it happened Saturday in San Jose.

"I mean, if you saw it, you'd laugh," Richards said. "It was so stupid. I just ran into some guy, my hand wasn't fully on my stick, and it twisted and bent down. Right away, I felt a pop. I thought I dislocated my knuckle or something. I was playing around with it on the bench, and it kept popping. I didn't really feel pain, I just couldn't grip my stick. Then, it gradually got worse. So I went into the room to see what was going on.

"Then we eventually found out it was a spiral fracture. It was pretty hard to fathom."

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer


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