There is a developing irony regarding the tenure of Brad Richards in a New York Rangers uniform. Both the player and Rangers fans likely have very strong feelings about the time Richards has spent on Broadway, but the prevailing sentiments could not be more polar opposite.
For Richards, his time with the Rangers has to seem like a success. After all, the Rangers did advance to the Stanley Cup Semifinals a season ago, and Richards was an integral part of what was one of the most successful Rangers campaigns in decades. And his feelings have merit, as Richards did have his fair share of success during his inaugural Rangers campaign.
But to Rangers fans, there can’t be a waiver to the fundamental belief that, “Here we go again.”
What lies in the middle is an enigma of sorts as the season approaches its halfway point: Is Richards a key component of a team that – despite an inconsistent start – is a contender for the Stanley Cup? Or, is he yet another Broadway Bust? The remainder of the season may go a long way to determine exactly how his tenure as a Ranger will be characterized. If this is indeed, “The Year,” Richards needs to become “The Man,” and if that does not happen, the fate of the Rangers could hang in the balance.
Here is what we know about Richards thus far:
- He hasn’t always been a good scorer, but a great set-up man, which is why the Richards/Marian Gaborik combination was supposed to be a can’t-miss prospect when he was signed to begin with.
- Richards has always been a defensive liability despite his gaudy offensive statistics. He is a career -73 despite playing for some good teams.
- The Rangers’ greatest deficiency during the John Tortorella tenure has been the power play. Richards was brought in for many reasons, the biggest of which being was his ability to quarterback a power play unit. During the 2013 season, the Rangers power play has been among the worst in the NHL, and playing 5-on-3 has been a nightmare for this team. If a big part of Richards’ role was supposed to be power play specialist, this part of his game has been a complete failure to date.
- Despite the presence of Rick Nash to go with Gaborik, Richards has played his best with non-superstars such as Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan, and Ryan Callahan. A playmaker such as Richards should be magic for pure scorers like Gaborik and Nash, but that has yet to happen.
- Finally, after this season, there are seven years remaining on Richards’ contract, and it just got a heck of a lot tougher for NHL teams to shed bad contracts.
So is Richards’ presence on Broadway a genuine boost for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, or is Richards another Glen Sather free agent bust? If you listen to what Tortorella has had to say about Richards this season, he has spoken of Richards leadership to the younger players, his overall effort, and some big plays … the same rhetoric we heard from previous Rangers coaches to describe the efforts of Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Bobby Holik, etc.
This (if in fact there is an issue) came to light more than ever on Thursday during 4-3 loss to the New York Islanders. For a player hired for his great decision-making with the puck, there were times during that game when Richards looked like he forgot which team he played for, and he was a key culprit as the Rangers allowed a solid first period effort to collapse into a shootout loss. Overall, he has brought nothing to the Rangers’ power play that Michael Del Zotto and Anton Stralman and others are bringing, and he has been completely inadequate at best in the faceoff circle.
Richards is third on the team with 11 points, which is not terrible after 14 games, but here’s the deal: This is a team not built for 2-1 wins. Adding Nash and the development of younger players were supposed to mean more depth and an added scoring punch for the Rangers. The fact that the Rangers have struggled offensively, particularly on the power play, is of major concern for this team, and in his second year playing for the Rangers, Richards’ dependability is becoming more of a question mark.
There is no doubt that Richards entered New York as one of the best center-icemen in hockey two summers ago, but there is equally little doubt that the Rangers have a nasty habit of signing big-name free agent centers who turn into complete busts by the time they leave. Will Brad Richards be the next bust? We may soon find out.