Brad Richards was very deserving of the heat he took last season from Rangers fans and the media. He flat out wasn’t good enough and wasn’t physically prepared for an NHL season following the lockout, err I mean work stoppage. Richards had 34 points in 48 games last season, which made him a third line center on a team that needed him to play in the top six. Thankfully, Derick Brassard was acquired and Richards was able to be bumped down in the lineup.
Optics are strange sometimes though. I would be willing to bet that the general perception of Richards is “he has played better, but needs to be bought out this summer for cap reasons”. I remember at the beginning of the season thinking to myself, “it’s too bad Richards has to be bought out this summer, he’s playing pretty well”.
Well, I was wrong. He is producing at considerably worse rates than last season. Richards is still a problem for the Rangers this season.
Richards quality of competition, even strength ice time, quality of teammates, and zone starts are relatively flat year-over-year. However, his P/60 of 1.65 is considerably lower than last year’s mark of 2.06. The reason why? Secondary assists. Richards P1/60 rate is 1.44 this season, compared to 1.46 last year. So clearly the lack of secondary assists are pulling down his overall P/60 number this season. Hockey Numbers has an interesting article, which is worth reading, regarding secondary assists in the NHL:
What I’m trying to get across is that second assists and first assists are certainly different, but they don’t necessarily have different values. Certainly some second assists are the result of luck, but all players get some assists as part of luck, but often that pass was as important as the final pass.
What’s the takeaway from this? Richards is at the very best, the same shell of himself from last season. At worst, Richards is trending in the very wrong direction; which frankly at his age, should be expected. I tend to think that the lack of secondary assists is a big red flag. As a primary puck distributer, I would expect him to rack up secondary assists.
What is interesting to note is that although Richards isn’t producing. He’s still driving possession and improving his teammate’s possession statistics. In 5 on 5 close situations this season, Richards has a 55.0 CF% and a GF% of 56.3%. Which is relatively flat in terms of possession compared to last season but an improvment in GF%. This season, Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin have had the most 5 on 5 ice time with Richards this season (245 minutes for Callahan and 292 minutes for Hagelin). Callahan and Hagelin have a 5 on 5 close ZS adjusted CF% of 55.5% and 54.7%, respectively, when playing with Richards. Without Richards, Callahan and Hagelin are 45.8% and 50.6%.
Richards can still contribute at the NHL level and is a good third line center at this stage in his career (his point totals this year rank him just north of 60th overall for centers). He will undoubtedly be bought out this summer. But for the time being, I don’t think his play warrants the 18 plus minutes of ice time Alain Vigneault gives him every night. Nostalgia be damned, let Martin St. Louis play with Derick Brassard or Derek Stepan as his pivot. Let Richards be the third line center that he is.
Note from Bill: this post was written on the morning of Monday the 7th. St. Louis practiced with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash on Monday afternoon.