07:59 AM ET 05.18 | Brad Richards being benched and demoted to the fourth line, not once, not twice, but game after game after game in the playoffs, and that is a pretty darn big deal, even as it has somehow become business as usual for the Rangers. I mean, it's Brad Richards. Make no mistake: Richards is one of John Tortorella's favorite players ever. Richards, who turned 33 a couple of weeks ago, isn't some bit guy. He was supposed to be the missing link when he signed that nine-year, $60 million contract over the summer of 2011 under which he has already been paid $24 million -- and would be owed another $24 million if the Rangers use their final amnesty buyout on him this summer. Everyone thinks the lockout, through which Richards remained at home and engaged in the negotiations, is at the root of his problems. It remains to be seen whether the buyout decision is deferred until after the 2013-14 season that will begin with a training camp, but no one can say Tortorella didn't see something like this coming. "I worry about our older guys like Richie and [since-departed Mike Rupp] who aren't playing [in Europe]," Tortorella told The Post on Oct. 23, nearly three months before the season would start. "It's tough and they need to stay on top of it."