Though Richards’ production (25 goals, 41 assists) was a bit disappointing from a numbers standpoint, he still had a massive impact on the Blueshirts this season. It’s too early to make any concrete judgments on his tenure in New York, but we’ve already learned a good amount about Richards’ impact on the franchise.
- Richards fits like a glove in this city and on this team. There were countless reports this season of Richards tutoring Michael Del Zotto and Richards was consistently credited for being a terrific teammate and positive locker room influence. The Rangers are an extremely young team with very little postseason experience and Richards’ value as a guiding hand and an example for the baby Blueshirts can’t be overstated.
- He’s about as clutch as it gets. Chris Drury came to New York with a reputation for being one of the marquee crunch-time performers in sports, but for he never became that go-to guy for the Rangers. Richards arrived with a similar history of postseason and late-game excellence and he immediately demonstrated that his clutch trait would continue even under the bright lights of Broadway. Richards netted nine game-winning goals to lead the club, some of them in dramatic fashion like the harmless spin-o-rama backhander against Phoenix with less than a second left in regulation on December 17th. Richards followed his clutch regular season up with an equally impressive postseason that saw him net 15 points (six goals, nine assists) to lead the team. There are zero questions about his ability to handle the pressure of New York and Richards has quickly established himself as the team’s savior in late-game situations.
- One of the primary reasons Richards was brought to New York was to quarterback the club’s woeful power play. Though Richards posted 24 points on the man advantage (seven goals, 17 assists) he was unable to transform the team’s power play by himself. The Blueshirts finished ranked 23rd on the man advantage and struggled for huge chunks of the season to even generate scoring chances. Richards didn’t perform badly on the power play by any means, but it’s clear that he needs help in turning New York’s special teams around.
- That enormous nine-year, $60 million contract that was so alarming last summer suddenly doesn’t look so bad, especially following the 13-year, $98 million deals signed by Zach Parise and Ryan Suter this summer. Sure, Richards is older than either player and at age 32, he may not be able to live up to his billing deep into his term in New York. But the $6.67 million cap hit is reasonable and if the last couple of seasons on his deal indeed turn out to be throwaways, only included originally to lower his cap number, then the Richards contract may eventually be viewed as relatively fair. It’s tough to judge how any long-term contracts signed over the last couple of seasons will be viewed down the road because we don’t know what will happen with the CBA, but the current trend of more years and more dollars makes the Richards deal much easier to stomach than it was 12 months ago. If the owners get their way and contracts are limited to a maximum length of six years under the new CBA and the salary cap is lowered substantially, then we might think about this a little differently.
In year two, Richards’ honeymoon period will be long over and he’ll be expected to produce at nearly a point-per-game pace. The Rangers will need him to carry the offense, especially in Marian Gaborik’s absence. How successful he is at doing that will likely determine how we view him next summer, but for now, Richards is looking like a pretty solid signing.