Brad Richardson certainly deserved his contract extension this summer; I won’t dispute that. Unfortunately, the expectations laced in the deal aren’t being fulfilled. Richardson became a prominent fixture on the third and fourth lines last year, breaking out with a career-high 27 points tallying 11 goals and 16 assists.
If his numbers didn’t catch your attention, his nuisance to the opposition should have. His greatest strength is applying consistent pressure to the puck on both ends of the ice. Richardson created plays, whether it was closing lanes in transition or with his ability to force turnovers causing skittish puck movement. Offensive depth was crucial to last season’s success; Richardson stabilized it. With the recent struggles Kings forwards have endured, a return of last year’s Brad Richardson could provide a bigger boost than many realize.
In his first full season in a Los Angeles Kings uniform, Richardson was a pleasant surprise. His NHL experience was still a bit shallow and he had yet to separate himself from AHL assignments, so expectations weren’t too high. Ruthless on the forecheck, he quickly became a reliable asset. As a result, his line-mates thrived on loose pucks. His presence in front of the net is no Ryan Smyth, but he disrupted the crease, opening up the slot and creating second-chance rebounds.
I’m not seeing the same presence he held without the puck this year and that affects his numbers. In 25 games, he’s posted four goals and two assists, with three of those goals coming in one game. He’s not going to hit the highlight reel with his output—neither will the majority of the back-end of this offense. Scrappy play is his key to success and that feeds his surroundings.
The constant shuffling that has been adjusting line combinations on the third and fourth lines this season can’t be helping the cause, but in Richardson’s case, that’s no justification. He set clear guidelines for himself last year and that granted him a contract extension. He’s getting paid to create opportunities with gritty play along the boards and in the crease, and he’s failing to fulfill his role. Oft-forgotten players such as Richardson are just as valuable to overall team success as the coverboys. The Kings saw enough in him last season to take another shot—it’s critical that he proves his worth in solidifying offensive support.