Getting the most out of Brad Richards

Progression to the mean is fun.

Like it or not, they need him.

It’s no secret. I was very vocal about using our last compliance buyout on Brad Richards this summer. Rather than run the risk of injury and getting stuck with his cap hit —for what will seem like perpetuity if he does get injured— the Rangers decided to give him one last shot at glory.

While I’m disappointed in the decision, I assure you I won’t put a target on his back this year just because the org disagreed with me. After all, my name isn’t Scotty. What’s done is done, and now the org needs to shift gears and figure out what exactly is the best way to get the most of Richards.

Whether or not you think he will rebound this year likely depends on several variables. A) Are you an optimistic person? B) Do you trust or are you very comfortable with advanced stats? C) Do you believe Alain Vigneault and his systems will be an antidote.

Here’s what we’re up against. Though Richards scored 11 goals and had 23 assists (19g-41a-60pts over 82 games), the underlying trends don’t look great. He scored half of his goals and almost a third of his points in the final six games of the regular season when the Rangers were beating up on non-playoff teams. In 10 playoff games, he finished with just 1 point.

Even more worrisome is the season-to season trend. Richie scored 91 points in 2010, 77 points in 2011, 66 points in 2012 and “60 points” last year while maintaining a total icetime per game in the high teens. Let’s not sugarcoat this. 2013 was more than an off-year.

So where do we go from here?

Torts is out, Alain is in, and most of our prospects expected to replace Richards down the road will likely need seasoning in the AHL. If the Rangers are going to make a deep playoff push, having Richards playing consistent hockey will only help our cause.

New System:

Richards isn’t getting any younger and Torts’ smash-mouth style of hockey with aggressive forechecking and playing below the dots is more suited for stronger, tougher, faster players. At this point of his career, Richie certainly wouldn’t be described as any of those traits. A trap or hybrid trap-type system revolving around a 1-2-2 or 1-4 forecheck might be better suited for where Brad is at in his career.

A lot of the offense Richards has provided the last year or two generally comes from neutral zone transition rushes, rather than takeaways or from hits behind the goal line. The 1-2-2 would put him in better position to capitalize off of those neutral zone turnovers. The trap also doesn’t require as much skating and has been credited with prolonging careers since it is less taxing and more of an energy conservation tactic.

Of course, I’m not sure if the trap really suits the rest of this roster, so we’ll see what AV has in store.

New Line-mates:

Richie and Gabby never really meshed the way we all had hoped and I’d put Stepan or Brass with Nash before Richie. This has to make you wonder who his line-mates will be come October. Richie’s best performances in recent years were playing pivot between Loui Eriksson and James Neal. While we don’t have that caliber of talent, perhaps pairing him with up-and-coming skill forwards and powerforwards would re-energize him. A line of Kreider – Richie – Miller against weaker competition could be a solid third unit. Maybe you swap Miller with Pouliot if JT isn’t ready.

Another idea I’ve been playing around with is moving Richards to the wing if Lindberg or Miller are ready for full-time duty. Centers really have to be strong in all three zones and willing to come down low in the DZ to help the defense with breakouts and puck support. Given our propensity to get pinned in our zone, having Richards down low won’t exactly kick-start his offense.

If you move him to wing, he’ll be stationed higher in the zone which will give him more opportunities on the rush, plus you’ll be lightening up his defensive responsibilities. Again, like the trap, the idea is to save energy and craft a strategy around his slowing foot speed. It’s a ballsy move, but you already know how I feel about mice.

More Offensive Zone Starts:

This is one strategy I’ve seen tossed around a little bit, but I can’t say I agree that giving Richards more draws in the offensive zone is going to be the cure all. Last season he started 63.4% of his shifts (after a whistle) in the offensive zone. That put him just 5% points away from the league leader among forwards who played at least 20 games (Carcillo with 68%).

I don’t think a few extra face-offs in the offensive zone is going to be the difference maker, especially since he struggled on offensive zone face-offs, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of giving guys those opportunities. After all, at some point people have to recognize not every offensive player is going to get high OZone start percentages under AV. More than one line has to be responsible for defensive zone draws.

Of course the real question is, if AV can’t get any more out of Richards than Torts did, then what happens? Do you bench him? Do you bury him on the fourth line? How many games do you give him? Food for thought.

26 Responses to “Getting the most out of Brad Richards”

  1. supermaz says:

    Richards is done.
    Its so obvious.
    Why doesn’t the organization see this?

    • Centerman21 says:

      He’s working diligently this offseason on his conditioning. Last season he came in with no camp and tried to get in shape through the games themselves. He also had 11 points in the 1st 13 games of the season before that hit by Kalletta. The people that decided to keep him around this year, make big dollars to make these decisions. You know better? Or you think maybe they have a plan? If you are a fan but don’t like Richards then don’t watch. Otherwise he’s here for a season at least
      (Unless the NHL allows another excelerated compliance buyout) So just wait until November before you pass judgement on the decision to keep him in NY. He could have a 90 point season! The organization also needs 1 more year to see what they have on the farm at the Center position.

  2. WilliamW says:

    His best years are certainly behind him but I feel that keping him for one more year was the right move for two reasons: 1) Lack of proven internal options – Miller or Lindberg might be ready for big minutes as a 3C but more likely they are not and as we have seen Boyle is better suited to a 4C role; 2) Weak FA class – based on the contracts signed this summer Richards deal doesn’t look AS terrible

    It’s more on him to bounce back than it is AV. All reports are he’s taking last year as a big embarrassment and training much harder than past years.

    That said, he’s not good enough to redesign the who system just to cover up his weaknesses if that is how the other 19 guys will best succeed so either he steps up or sits in the press box

      • Centerman21 says:

        With all the emphasis over the last 4-5 years on skating ability, I hope AV at least uses that 1-2-2 aggressively down low in the zone. In some situations like when leading by 2 or more or when behind. The 1-2-2 can have 1 Forechecker in deep chasing the puck carrier right Suit?
        My guess as to why the NYR gambled on Richards has more to do with being a contender and not rushing inexperienced kids to NHL duty out of necessity. They will have a better idea what they have next year once Lindberg and Fasth had a full season in the AHL. More importantly North America. Without Richards their depth at Center looks much different.

        • The Suit says:

          The 1-2-2 is generally used to protect the lead. One guy is down low forechecking while two are stationed at the blueline and two back in the neutral zone.

          It can be moved deeper in the OZ, but it isn’t as aggressive or as skating intensive as the 2-1-2 or 2-3, which is what Torts employed.

  3. Heather says:

    Do I think AV’s system will be an “anecdote”? No. An antidote? Possibly.

  4. Walt says:

    Nice write up Suit, your on the mark, as is supermaz!

    If we are stuck with BR this season, then let’s get the most we possibly can out of him before he is sent to the pastures!

    The guy is a good teacher, let him work with the likes of both Lindberg, and Miller. Even Brass for that matter, can learn something from this guy. As you mentioned, move him over to the wing, and lighten his load defensivly, that may work for a while.

    Eventually, sometime this season, BR will ride the pine, not because of fear of injury, but because he can’t carry his load, and mother time will force him out of the game. Yes I said mother time, this guy is gutless, soft, and should never have been signed in the first place. Lets see if he can prove me wrong this season, I’d love to eat crow in this case.

    • Scully says:

      Who are you to call him gutless and soft. By all accounts, including your own, he’s a great teacher, so how could anyone listen and respect someone who’s gutless and soft? In fact, I’d say he’s anything, but gutless and soft as he publicly handled the scrutiny of his poor play and demotion with class and according to multiple sources is currently training harder than ever to prove to himself, the organization, and the fans that he’s got a lot more left in the tank. The guy’s 33 years old, not 43.

      I’d love for you to eat crow too.

      • Walt says:

        When is the lasr time you saw him go into the corners and dig out the puck?? Never, hence gutless. Being a good teacher has nothing to do with guts! At the end of the day, he will be history, and we will be the better for it.

        As for me eating crow, that remains to be seen, but I suspect that won’t be the case.

        • Dave says:

          Not every player on the ice needs to go to the corners. If you have every player there, then there’s no one to pass the puck to.

          You need guys who position themselves to receive the puck and create offense. Having 20 Ryan Callahans doesn’t work, same with having 20 Brad Richards.

    • Centerman21 says:

      What does the Center position look like with and without Richards? Big difference. I bet he’s on the 2nd line because he isn’t a checking line Centerman but even if he were the 3rd pivot. I like that better than having to rely on inexperienced prospects to fill an important top 9 role. He’s working out all offseason this year. Something he wasn’t able to do last summer working with the Players union to get a new CBA ratified. I bet he breaks the 70 point plateau this season. With over 20 power play points.

      • Walt says:

        I’d rather see a Lindberg, or Miller at the center position, even if it’s OJT! They would hussle, BR isn’t about to hussle any more. As far as he is conserned, those days are far behind him.

        What is there to like about him, he skates like he has lead in his skates, isn’t the slightest bit physical, and everyone is making excuses for him. Oh he didn’t work out last year because of the work stappage. Well how many other players involved managed to work out who were involved? A slew did, and they showed it on the ice. If a Crosby could manage to get, and keep in shape, why not BR? This guy was too fat, and sassy, and now people are tripping over themselves making excusses for him. That is pure BULL CRAP!

  5. DaNk75 says:

    I still can’t believe we kept him. Hopefully he doesn’t get hurt, and totally screw next year up for us! I guess all we can wish for is for him to put up some “good” numbers, and teach the young guys a thing or two. Hey, we all hated the Drury signing, but he taught Captain Cally a lot!

  6. Dave says:

    I’m in the belief he will have a nice rebound season. If he puts up 60 points and stays healthy, then he will be worth it.

    • Walt says:

      60 points for $6.6 million dollars is pretty bad!!

      • Dave says:

        When you look at what some of the UFAs got, it’s really market value at this point.

        • Spozo says:

          He’s also basically on a 1 year contract with the buyout option after this season. That is certainly better than market value when you look at the UFAs this season.

  7. Keeping Richards means UFA Lundquist, Callahan, & Girardi run the risk of making it to free agency
    where they will be offered a lot of money.

    Keeping Richards also means Rangers may have to move Staal to free up money to keep the above 3 UFAs.

    Sather is out of here next season and so is probably Gordie Clark.

    Next season the Rangers may be in deep sh…

    • Brian says:

      Why Gordie Clark? He’s the head of scouting. He has nothing to do with handling player contracts.

      • The Suit says:

        Gordie Clark was a scout from 02-05. Promoted to Head Amateur Scout in 05, promoted to Director of Player Personnel (replaced Maloney) in 2007. Just around the time our drafting started to get better. Frank are you even a Rangers fan?

    • Walt says:

      Richards won’t be here next year. Also the cap will go up, the team will sign the 3 UFA, Gordie will stay put, and we will be fine.

    • John says:

      No team in the league can pay a UFA more than the team he is coming from. Max eight year contract as opposed to 7! That’s a fact! Anyone who thinks Lundqvist or Cally will see free agency does not have a full set of marbles. IMHO

  8. cv19 says:

    Richards hasn’t been a factor since Kaleta knocked him senseless. He looks very tentative after that hit.