You always have to overpay for talent in free agency regardless of the talent bought, but especially for elite talent. With that simple hockey assumption out the way let us discuss Brad Richards and his arrival on the Rangers. His numbers are important (obviously), but he’s not just about the stat line and should not be judged as such.
With a little luck and some extended form (and anyone who has watched the Rangers recently shouldn’t discount such a run of form) Richards could still flirt with a 70 point season. NO, it isn’t the heady 90 point years he’d recently put up with the Stars, but look back at how many players hit the 70 plateau the last few years – not many. Twenty four players broke 70 points last year, 30 the season before and roughly the same amount in 08-09. It’s not a mark that many reach. I’ll wager Richards puts up a few 70+ seasons as a Ranger.
That said, Brad Richards is beginning to do what he’s, in part, been paid to do – peak at the right time. His best play as a Ranger is coming now, as the Rangers look to win the conference. It’s coming at the tail end of the regular season as we head in to the playoffs, it’s coming as the pressure from behind has never been more intense this season.
Richards is playing exactly as the free agent packaging avertised. He’s carrying the puck with confidence, distributing it intelligently, displaying his wicked wrist shot and using it with frequency. Oh, and anyone doubting his big moment ability may have overlooked his 8 game winning goals which, just happens to be tied for second in the league. Again, statistics can be twisted to cater for a writer’s argument just as I have done to an extent here.
Richards is not all about the numbers. When the Rangers acquired the veteran they also bought a winning attitude. They bought experience and an ability to play under immense pressure – such as the big lights of Broadway (almost a point/game at home). They bought a player to show the other Rangers how to win when it mattered. Carl Hagelin’s interview during the Canes game was telling, as was Richards’ comments reference Hagelin afterwards.
Apparently Hagelin is making plays he’d never thought of making recently – since forming a line with Richards coincidentally. While Hagelin is a quick learner Richards is a quality and willing teacher – crucial on this team and shown also in the huge development Del Zotto has undergone this year.
Richards has made this team more skilled, deeper down the middle, given the team an additional veteran leader and has naturally added to the team’s offensive production – crucial against the likes of Thursday’s opponents. Also, think about this: you think it’s a coincidence that the first year of Richards being in NY is the first time since dinosaurs roamed the earth that the Rangers are challenging for the President’s trophy?
It’s fair to argue, as some will, that the Richards deal will only be a true success with either a Cup (several would be nice) or extended playoff runs littered throughout the almost decade long deal. Hey, free agency is an overpayment. That said, Richards is having a good first year on Broadway, he’s making a positive impact – so let’s not nitpick that he’s just a one-time All Star hey? Richards’ is here to stay and that’s a good thing. So far Richie can only be judged as a success whether you’re judging numbers or not.