The NHL wasted no time creating buzz after the Stanley Cup playoffs. While the player-movement freezes in the NFL and NBA have made things a little duller transaction-wise, the NHL has picked up the slack with major names switching organizations on a daily basis.
The Los Angeles Kings, looking to upgrade their offense, leadership and grit, traded for former Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards, even though he brought with him a Marian Hossa-like contract.
The New York Rangers, as desperate for a first-line center as Jim Carrey is for a hit movie, coughed up $60 million for free-agent Brad Richards, formerly of the Dallas Stars. This move hopefully means that Rangers franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will not be on the short end of as many 2-1 and 1-0 losses as he has during the last couple of seasons.
So which of these Richards’s are going to have the better fantasy season in 2011-12? Here is a look at what their roles should be, who they will play with, and their projected point totals for next season.
Brad Richards, New York Rangers
Unlike Alexander Ovechkin or Ilya Kovalchuk, Rangers right wing Marian Gaborik cannot create scoring opportunities on his own. He needs a play-making center to be a more productive goal scorer as much as Britney Spears needs a taped vocal track to put on a more entertaining concert.
Gaborik has been good, but not great (134 points in 138 games), as a Ranger because none of the centers he has been stuck with—Brandon Dubinsky, Vinny Prospal, Derek Stepan—are Adam Oates clones in the passing department.
Gabby can slide into great shooting spots and has a deadly wrist shot, but when his centers are passing pucks into his skates it’s hard for him to score. He has the talent to be a consistent top-10 point-getter, yet his center men, and his brittle body, normally become roadblocks the size of Dion Phaneuf.
Enter Richards, one of the premier playmakers in the NHL. He is a pass-first pivot who averaged over one point per game in his last two seasons with Dallas. Richards always elevates the fantasy values of the lucky line-mates who flank him. He did just that with the Stars when he helped turn left wing Loui Eriksson into one of the scarier snipers in the league.
While Richards and Gaborik are not going to be the next coming of Gretzky and Kurri, you would think they should mesh as well as Franklin and Bash. Barring any further Richards concussions or Gaborik groin tweaks, they should both average over one point per game while playing major minutes on the power play and seeing 20 minutes of ice time per game overall.
Prediction—Brad Richards scores 86 points (21 goals, 65 assists) in 75 games, Gaborik scores 67 points in 60 games (he will miss six weeks with a torn toenail) and Lundqvist loses fewer low-scoring games and wins more high-scoring contests.
Mike Richards, Los Angeles Kings
Los Angeles already had a No. 1 center in Anze Kopitar, so consider Richards No. 1-A. Now the Kings are more solid in the middle than the Houston Rockets were when Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson patrolled the lane.
The key to Richards’ fantasy value could be tied into who his line-mates are. In Richards’ case he might not play with more talented wingers than Kopitar, and that could actually be better for his offensive output.
While Kopitar will likely play between power forwards Dustin Penner and Dustin Brown, Richards sounds like he may be slotted between fellow former Philly Flyers Justin Williams and Simon Gagne. Williams is coming off a 57-point season, while Gagne just signed a two-year deal with the Kings after coming off back-to-back 40-point campaigns.
There are not many NHL duos who have combined for as many injuries as Williams and Gagne have over their careers, so you cannot predict how long they will stay on the ice or how well they will play when “healthy.”
But familiarity and chemistry are two factors that cannot be ignored. Richards missed Williams by a season in Philadelphia, but he played with Gagne, and Gagne played with Williams, so Mike’s adjustment period with his line-mates in L.A. should not be as long as Brad’s will be with his in N.Y.
Richards is in no danger of shrinking in a big-media market like Los Angeles, either. The pressure to immediately produce will have zero affect on him, considering he did just fine being the captain and a prime point producer in Philadelphia—a much more vocal and ardent hockey city than Los Angeles will ever be.
Richards may also benefit from playing in the more wide-open Western conference instead of the neutral-zone clogged Eastern conference. Many forwards have seen their fantasy worth and offensive numbers shoot up once they went west.
Prediction—Mike Richards scores 70 points (31 goals, 39 assists), is a plus-18 and has 75 penalty minutes.
Mike Richards is a different type of player than Brad, thus his fantasy value is different as well. Where Brad racks up assists and points, Mike is the all-around player who helps in more fantasy categories across the board. Mike should score more goals, have a higher plus-minus and accumulate more penalty minutes. Brad only has 177 PIM in a decade and is a career minus-72, so I’m not exactly going out on a limb on the last two predictions.
Neither Richards should see a dip in fantasy value while playing with their new teams, and both will continue to provide what they always have in the past.
If you need offense, draft Brad higher. If you want a little bit of everything, draft Mike higher. And if you want the best player in fantasy hockey, go after Washington’s Alex Ovechkin or Anaheim’s Corey Perry instead.