Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Brad Richards with the Chicago Blackhawks
Richards, 34, had been bought out by the New York Rangers shortly after New York was defeated by the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final, but the Blackhawks still thought enough of him to bring him into the fold.
Early on, the thought is that Richards will have a chance to make a key contribution to a team that appeared to secure its future when it signed superstars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to eight-year, $84 million contracts.
Here's a look at the best- and worst-case scenarios for Richards as he begins his tenure with the Blackhawks.
Best Case: Productive Center for Patrick Kane
The Blackhawks know that they can give Patrick Kane a better working environment.
No, we're not talking about salary or perks—they just took care of that. We are talking about putting him together with a productive center.
Kane scored 29 goals and tallied 40 assists in 69 games in 2013-14—a point per game average. And he did so without having an adequate center feeding him the puck. While Joel Quenneville would pair Kane with Jonathan Toews at key moments in the playoffs, they rarely work together in five-on-five play during the regular season.
Kane had slowish Michal Handzus as his center for a large portion of the season, and the veteran center couldn't keep up with Kane or feed him accurate passes. Kane's scoring totals could have been dramatically higher if he had been working with a more skilled center.
Richards certainly qualifies. While he appeared to slow down at various points throughout last season, Richards still scored 20 goals and had 31 assists. He knows he has much to prove, and he should come to training camp ready to make the Rangers sorry they bought him out.
Richards will have an opportunity to show he can perform well at the No. 2 center position behind Toews, and that could make the explosive Blackhawks even more dangerous.
Best Case: Improve the Power Play
The Chicago Blackhawks were adequate on the power play last season—they tied for ninth place with the New Jersey Devils. The Blackhawks converted on 19.5 percent of their regular-season man-advantage opportunities.
Still, there was something missing in that department. Any team that can put Kane, Toews, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on the ice during the power play should not be satisfied to be tied with the budget-conscious and limited Devils.
This is an area that Richards could help them out quite a bit. He has excellent vision and can position himself along the half-wall and control the power play. His ability to distribute the puck to the open man or take the shot himself should be quite beneficial.
If that aspect of Richards' game works out, he can take some of the power play responsibility away from Toews. Instead of having to make a play from the half-wall or below the goal line, Toews could work himself into an open space and then take a pass from Richards and fire a shot on goal.
Richards scored five power play goals last season with the Rangers, and he has scored as many as 13 power play goals in his most productive season.
Worst Case: Lacks the Speed to Take a Regular Shift
A change of scenery could be just what Richards needs to be successful again.
That's what the Blackhawks are hoping will happen. However, anyone who saw the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final between the Rangers and Kings saw Richards look slow and fall behind when he was trying to keep up with his opponents.
Things got so bad that Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault demoted Richards to the fourth line prior to Game 4 of the series.
Richards was replaced at center by Dominic Moore, and Game 4 turned out to be the only one that New York would win in the series.
Richards is not going to get quicker and faster just because he is trading his Broadway Blueshirt for a Blackhawks Indian head logo.
He is going to have to find a way to do an adequate job in the defensive zone and not let his opposite number skate freely.
If he can't fulfill his defensive responsibilities, the Richards experiment will end fairly early into his tenure.
Worst Case: Teravainen Rushed into the Lineup
The Blackhawks know that Richards is not going to be their long-term answer to their No. 2 center position.
If he works out, Richards will play center for a year (or maybe two), but then the position will belong to highly-skilled Finnish import Teuvo Teravainen.
The 19-year-old Teravainen had a chance to play in three regular-season games near the end of 2013-14, but he does not appear to be ready to take a regular turn in the NHL.
While Teravainen will never be a tough, burly player, he needs time to get used to the physical, North American game, and he also needs to put weight and strength on his 5'11", 169-pound frame.
The last thing the Blackhawks want to do is feel compelled to rush Teravainen up to the NHL before he is ready. Head coach Joel Quenneville told Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune last April that Teravainen needed to learn more about the North American game before he would be ready to play on a regular basis.
The Blackhawks sent Teravainen down to their AHL farm team in Rockford, Illinois, and he needs to stay there for at least the majority of the season before he can give it another try in the NHL.
If Richards is not the answer for the Blackhawks, they may be forced to consider the possibility of bringing Teravainen up before he is ready. That would be a mistake.
Despite the possible problems associated with bringing an aging player aboard, the signing of Richards appears to have a very good chance of working out for the Blackhawks.
General manager Stan Bowman has proven to be an adept personnel man, and this could be one more move that works out well for the team. Quenneville is the kind of coach who understands what makes his players tick, and he should not have a problem of getting the most out of Richards.
Richards will be very motivated because he knows that many hockey people think he doesn't have much in the tank. After demotions by John Tortorella in the 2013 playoffs and Vigneault last year, he knows he has quite a bit to prove
Richards has a chance to surprise a lot of NHL observers. He'll get an opportunity to work with one of the most gifted players in the league in Kane, and Richards should be able to put accurate passes on his stick.
If he can come close to holding his own on the defensive end of the ice, the Blackhawks will have solved their No. 2 center problem—at least for now.
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