If the phrase “oh how the mighty have fallen” could apply to someone
in the NHL, you could make a great case for New York Rangers forward
Brad Richards. Nine years ago, he won a Conn Smythe Trophy with the
Tampa Bay Lightning during their Stanley Cup Championship run. Five
months ago, he was a healthy scratch during the postseason.
Such a steep decline would be understandable if Richards was in the
twilight of his career, but at age 33, he’s hardly washed up, at least
by league standards. His overall points have seen a decline, from the
91 he posted during the 2009-10 season with the Dallas Stars to the 66
he posted in his first full year with the Rangers two years ago.
Still, 66 points isn’t awful, and surely a player of Richards’ skill
level could bounce back.
Problem is, he didn’t. Last year, in the lockout-shortened 48 game
season, his points saw a significant decline. It was in the
postseason, though, where he reached troubled water. In ten games
played, he registered just one goal. It was his only point of the
playoffs, and Rangers coach John Tortorella had seen enough. Richards
watched the final few games of the Rangers’ playoffs from a box suite
as the team was bounced in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by the
Richards is in the early stages of a nine year, $58.5 million
contract. Something tells me nobody in New York’s front office is
thrilled about having that kind of money sitting in a press box.
However, during the offseason, things were shaken up as Tortorella was
fired, replaced by former Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault.
Since then, the team’s new bench boss has shown a curious amount of
faith in Richards, specifically in placing him on the team’s first
line with Rick Nash and Derek Stepan. The real kicker, though, is the
fact that Richards is currently slotted on the wing, with Stepan
centering the line.
It’s a bold move, and at first glance one has to wonder if the best
way of shaking Richards out of his funk is to move him out of
position. At the same time, sharing ice time with Nash and Stepan will
clearly open up a ton of scoring opportunities. Perhaps Vigneault is
hoping Richards can improve via association with this much talent.
If the move works out, Vigneault will have made a huge step in winning
the faith of Rangers fans everywhere. You would be hard-pressed to
find anyone who would complain about Richards playing out of position
if the move ended up revitalizing his career.
At the same time, if this backfires, and if Richards indeed just can’t
seem to shake out of his funk, the results could make a big negative
impact. Richards’ struggles could bring down the entire line, and with
Nash and Stepan being two of New York’s scoring weapons, you’d hate to
see the group fall apart together.
For the Rangers’ sake, they need to see results, and fast. Otherwise,
the team may be forced to eat up the rest of Richards’ contract, which
you better believe they want nothing to do with.