- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- Loui Eriksson and Brenden Morrow will be among the cadre of close friends and former teammates Brad Richards faces for the first time with the New York Rangers in Tuesday's match against the Dallas Stars.
But despite the bonds forged in Richards' three-plus seasons with the Stars, there will be no fraternizing on the ice.
"It's tough. It's tough to leave when you create those friendships with your teammates," Richards said. "[But] they're coming in, and I want to beat 'em."
Since inking a nine-year, $60 million deal with the Rangers as a free agent in July, Richards has adapted well to the bright lights of Broadway. The 31-year-old center has scored 11 goals -- three game winners -- and recorded 14 assists in 27 games this season. His leadership on and off the ice has helped the surging Rangers (17-6-4) tremendously.
It has been a refreshing change for Richards, who missed the playoffs for the past three seasons with the then-struggling and cash-strapped Stars.
"It wasn't ideal," said Richards, who won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy with Tampa Bay, his first NHL stop.
Tampa Bay shipped the All-Star center to Dallas in a blockbuster deal hours before the trade deadline in 2008, and Richards led the Stars on a surprising trip to the Western Conference finals.
Richards hoped that was a harbinger of things to come. He was left disappointed.
"I kind of thought that would be an opportunity to cash in on the next few years, and we never made the playoffs the next three years," he said. "I got my game back going there. I'm grateful for that and thank them for that. But in the end, three years in a row without being in the playoffs just didn't work out. I wish them well, but it was time for me to start over and do something different."
The team has fared well without its dynamic first-line center; Dallas leads the Pacific Division and is third in the West. But Richards was concerned by the team's financial constraints, and that informed his decision this July -- when he had no shortage of suitors in free agency.
"When you're not in the playoffs for three straight years and you're not spending the money that six, seven, eight other teams are in the Western Conference, [I'm] not saying you can't do it, but I wanted that stability," Richards said. "It's no one's fault. It's my decision, and I'll take full accountability for that decision."
Ultimately, Richards chose the Rangers because he felt they had the talent and commitment to win.
It's a decision that has been affirmed by the team's strong start that has it fourth in the Eastern Conference, only one point behind first-place Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division with a game in hand.
"I'm happy with what I've done, and I'm not looking back," Richards said. "[Leaving] was unfortunate because, like I said, [there are] a lot of good people, a lot of good friends there, but it's the business we're in, and I'm very happy to be a New York Ranger.
"All my focus is going to be on this team now."
17hDanny Knobler, Special to ESPN.com