Last year Brad Richards found himself a healthy scratch in the playoffs. As if that weren’t embarrassing enough, his removal from the lineup was at the command of John Tortorella, the same coach he won a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe with in Tampa Bay.
His benching was the rotten cherry on top of an underwhelming season. There were strong arguments to use the team’s last amnesty buyout on Richards this past summer. Glen Sather and the Rangers chose not to do so, which I found surprising. But then again, there was no true rush. There was always next summer.
The general sentiment about Richards game this season is he has improved. However, optics can be deceiving. In fact, Richards rate stats in the regular season were actually worse than last season. In all situations, he has scored (15%) fewer points per 60 minutes than last year.
So why didn’t perception match reality? Because Richards was slotted properly as a third line center from the start this season. Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard cemented themselves as the one-two punch up front and Richards was given minutes commensurate with his ability on a playoff caliber team. He wasn’t needed to be a number one center and certainly wasn’t expected to perform at that level. But what he did do was provide excellent third line minutes and contribute on the power play.
In the playoffs, Richards has visibly emerged as one of the key leaders on the club along with Martin St. Louis and Henrik Lundqvist. It’s pure speculation on my part, but with Ryan Callahan out of the locker room, it seems as though it was Richards who filled the void. After the embarrassing game four loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that put the Rangers in a 3-1 hole, it was Richards who closed the doors to the locker room and refocused the team. Richards would go on to score the game winner in game seven.
In 14 playoff games thus far, Richards has four goals and nine points, which leads leads the team. He’s scoring at a 2.3 P/60 clip in all situations. Richards has nine points playing in a third line role. Prior to the return of Chris Kreider, he had Carl Hagelin and then one of Dan Carcillo, JT Miller, and Jesper Fast on his wings.
Richards has gone a long way to rewrite his Rangers legacy this post-season. A legacy which will most certainly (and should) end in an amnesty buyout this summer. The ramifications of his contract and the cap recapture penalty have been discussed at length, but his contract is simply too onerous to willingly keep on the books. And despite his play this post-season, he’s still a third line center. Though Richards needs just eight more wins to be a permanent fixture in New York Rangers lore.