Signing Brad Richards to be a No. 1 pivot in 2011 made a world of sense, but did the Broadway Blueshirts make the right call by standing by their third-line center?
No, and it is as simple as that. If you have watched Richards the past two years, you would think the decision should have been simple.
Two years and $55 million later, Richards has been reduced to a third-line role. His fall from grace has been unexpected, and it is sad that he has become a shell of his former self.
During his heyday, Richards was one of the most dynamic centers in the league, and he was once the NHL’s most accurate passer. But fans and franchises can’t afford to live in the past.
As individuals, we are always evaluated by the following criteria: what have you done for me lately?
Lately, Richards has scored 100 points in 128 games, but he has been sporadic in production. There have been stretches in which Richards would be on fire, and then there were times in which Richards was a healthy scratch.
All the potential upsides for keeping Richards are outweighed by the potential negatives. Richards could tally 100 points this year, but he still would likely be bought out to avoid paying a costly recapture penalty.
In the event Richards did not fulfill his contract, the Rangers would be saddled with a hefty fine against their cap. Paying him to be a one-year rental is mind-boggling because the team could have spent their money more efficiently.
The Blueshirts are currently tight up against the cap, and they have holes to fill for the start of the season.
With Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin slated to miss the first month of the season, added cap space could have given the Rangers options. Instead, they are stuck with a $6.6 million anchor that doesn't fit in with the current makeup of the team.
At best, No. 19 is the team's third-best center, and third-best centers don't make more than $10 million a year.
The Rangers' current team does not suit him. Richards' biggest ally and mentor, John Tortorella, is gone, and the team has two capable centers. When Tortorella was the team's bench boss, he relied on players he trusted, and for that reason, Richards got more ice time than he deserved.
Going into this season, the Rangers' alternate captain will find himself in unfamiliar territory. He will not be in a top-six role.
Derek Stepan has claimed the No. 1 center role for himself, and Derick Brassard is a suitable No. 2 center. Both have youth on their side and are cost-effective players.
Therefore, Richards will once again find himself on the third-line, a role he struggled with during the 2012-13 season.
If new bench boss Alain Vigneault stays true to character, keeping Richards will not pay off. Historically, Vigneault has employed two scoring lines: a third-line checking unit with speed and offense and a grinding fourth line.
During his tenure with the Vancouver Canucks, Vigneault was a firm believer in matching lines. He used a third line featuring players like Manny Malhotra, Max Lapierre and Mason Raymond to get the most out of on-ice opportunities.
Whether it was establishing a fore check or trying to maintain offensive pressure, Vigneault used a versatile third line to do many things.
With Richards on the third line, Vigneault will have to devise a new game plan, and he will be tailoring the team’s overall strategy at the expense of one player.
Richards is not a mobile player, and he was never fleet of foot. His game thrives with offensive wingers who can skate, and on the third line, he won't have players like that readily available. The Rangers can’t provide that for Richards, so it is curious that they think he will bounce back.
The Blueshirts aren't the only one, as ESPN's Pierre LeBrun thinks that Richards will be back with a vengeance. Richards himself also thinks he can be better.
There is a saying that goes, "you can talk about it, but you have to be about it." Richards has age and time against him, so until he proves he can be better, all of this is just talk.
The Rangers are keeping Richards and putting him in the same role where he was unsuccessful last year. If the Rangers and Richards struggle out of the gate don’t be surprised. The franchise decided to hitch their wagon to a player not tied to their future.
If you didn't think this season was important for the Rangers, here is a foreboding image to show you how much this season will impact the future.
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