Brad Richards Needs to Do More If the Rangers Want to Extend Series with Kings

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Brad Richards Needs to Do More If the Rangers Want to Extend Series with Kings
Kathy Willens/AP Images

NEW YORK — Brad Richards has been just as important to the New York Rangers reaching the Stanley Cup Final as anyone on the roster.

Through three rounds, he had his share of timely goals (the winner in Game 7 of the second round against Pittsburgh) and his leadership and experience on a team that lacks a captain has been invaluable during the four instances in which the Rangers have faced elimination.

But through three games against the Los Angeles Kings, no one has been a bigger detriment on the ice than the 34-year-old who is very likely in his final days with the Rangers, as an amnesty buyout surely awaits.

Coach Alain Vigneault has been able to shelter Richards at times during the playoffs, as the Flyers, Penguins and Canadiens lacked the depth, speed and size down the middle that the Kings boast. It's been a different case in the Final, as Richards has been getting demolished at even strength and his work as a point man on the power play has been as ineffectual as it gets.

In his past 13 games, Richards has come out ahead in the five-on-five shot-attempt battle twice—Game 3 against Montreal (16-10) and Game 5 against Montreal (6-4). Overall in that stretch, Richards is at 41 percent (119-170) when it comes to five-on-five shot attempts.

Against weaker competition in the East, it wasn't a catastrophic issue. He was very effective against the Flyers in the first round (86-80 edge in shot attempts) and had two goals and four assists in seven games.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Richards has three goals and two assists in 16 games since the first round. He has never been a gifted skater or a physical presence, but whether it's age or fatigue, his inability to stay with quicker, stronger opponents as the postseason has moved forward has become more evident.

Against the Kings, it's been so glaring that his ice time has been reduced drastically.

Richards played 16:03 in Game 3 against the Kings with just 7:16 coming at even strength. Only fourth-liners Dominic Moore (7:05) and Derek Dorsett (5:41) had less ice time at even strength.

Relatively speaking, Richards saw an uptick in his even-strength ice time after playing 16:05 in the 5-4 double-overtime loss in Game 2. No Rangers played less at even strength in that contest than Richards.

And it's all justified. In three games, Richards has a shot-attempt percentage of 37.5 (27-45) and his inability to stick with any of the Kings' four centers has been a problem. He committed a ghastly turnover that allowed the Kings back into Game 2 and was stumbling all over the ice on Dustin Brown's overtime game-winner in the same contest.

Throw in the fact that Vigneault insists on having Richards on the point during the power play—along with his subpar slap shot that doesn't scare defenders in the least and allows them to focus on sealing the passing lanes that Richards seeks—and there's not a lot the unofficial captain of the Rangers is bringing to the table right now.

Could Vigneault take the John Tortorella route and scratch Richards? Perhaps shuffle him to the press box, put Moore between Martin St. Louis and Carl Hagelin and dress J.T. Miller to play on the fourth line? Sure, but that's not going to help. That won't make the Rangers better. 

The problem is if Vigneault uses Richards against any of the Kings' four centers—Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll or Mike Richards—it's an unavoidable mismatch.

It'd be one thing if Richards had a minuscule contract, but his $6.67 million salary-cap hit speaks to his importance to the Rangers. Off-ice leadership is very important and should not be dismissed, but his lack of on-ice production is really hurting the Rangers and is the reason why he will very likely be an amnesty buyout this summer. The Rangers have too many free agents they need to retain, and the cap recapture penalties down the road on the final six years of his nine-year, $60 million contract are too prohibitive.

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Richards was close to being an amnesty buyout last summer, but the Rangers decided a motivated Richards coming off the worst season of his career was a better option than what was out there. It worked as well as it could have, as Richards has 20 goals and 51 points in 82 games. Yes, it was the lowest points-per-game total of his career, but he was a 54.1 percent Corsi player—and if a few more of his 259 shots (most since 2010-11) had resulted in goals, his numbers would have been a bit more impressive. 

When many thought his career was on a respirator, Richards rose to the occasion during the regular season. When many counted the Rangers out while they faced a 3-1 series deficit to the Penguins, Richards rose to the occasion.

Rick Nash deserves his fair share of blame for the Rangers' failures in the Stanley Cup Final. He has been unable to finish his quality scoring chances with any measure of consistency, but at the very least, he is generating chances and hasn't been a defensive liability.

That can't be said of Richards.

Richards has at least one more game in a Rangers jersey to show his resiliency or the Kings will show the Rangers the door.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.

All statistics via NHL.com and Extra Skater.

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