For the majority of his career Brad Richards has skated as a center, but the New York Rangers are going to try out the $60 million man on the left wing. Alain Vigneault said the impetus for the move was because of the logjam at center, and partially because of Richards' comfort at wing.
"I've played [wing] a little in Tampa, and played with [Mike] Modano in Dallas, I can't remember, but I've never really played full time," Richards said. "If it works, it's great. We've still got two guys [Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin] out and we've got three centers who want to play in offensive situations. Hopefully, with [Stepan] and Nash, we can get something going."
Richards had a tough time in New York last season that included two healthy scratches during the playoffs. Will this move reinvigorate the Rangers' star forward?
The opening night first line is slated to be Richards, Derek Stepan and Rick Nash. This line is full of star power, and in theory it should really benefit Richards.
Stepan is a great playmaker who uses his vision to find teammates, Nash is a strong skater who can drive to the net and Richards is an underrated shooter.
During his time with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars, Richards was known for his prowess on the power play. Although the 2003-04 Conn Smythe winner was a great facilitator of offense, he scored a ton of goals by using a sneaky shot.
One of the reasons Richards struggled last season was because of overthinking, and the move to wing will lessen the amount of things he has to think about.
NHL centers have one of the toughest jobs in the NHL because they are constantly transitioning from offense to defense. They also have the responsibility of carrying the puck up the ice and generating offense.
All these responsibilities can become difficult even for elite players, and they become more of a burden when you are struggling as a player. On the left wing, Richards will focus more on shooting, and as a result he will have the puck on his stick less.
This will limit the amount of times Richards turns over the puck, and he will also become less of a defensive liability. While the Blueshirts' forward has never been a great defensive player, he was exposed defensively on numerous occasions last season.
This year Richards will worry about monitoring defenders at the point instead of trying to keep up with the opposition's center down low.
At the end of the day, the move should benefit Richards and the Rangers, but it signifies that the end of Richards in New York could be coming.
Although he has had a great career, the move to wing suggests that Richards isn't good enough to be a center on the Rangers. Back in 2011 the Blueshirts signed Richards to a nine-year contract worth $60 million, but they could end up using a compliance buyout at the season's end.
Richards' production has been trending down over the past few years, and that is because he is getting older.
The Rangers decided not to buy out Richards' contract this summer, and they are making the best of what they have to work with this year. In an ideal world Richards would bounce back as a center—the position he made a name for himself at—but this will have to do for now.
For now Richards will stay at wing, but it could get interesting once Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin return to the lineup. In theory this move should help Richards return to form, but the Rangers will be left with limited options if he fails to perform.