When you’re a big-ticket free agent in any sport, the minute the ink dries on your new lucrative deal the expectations soar to unthinkable levels. And, more often that not, those players fail to reach those lofty heights.
Add to that the pressure of playing in New York City, the intense media scrutiny, and a passionate fan-base and you have a recipe for potential disaster if you get off to a slow start, right? Except if your name is Brad Richards.
The marquee name in this past offseason, Richards opted to come to Broadway over any other location, realizing a young Rangers’ team, similar to the style he won with in Tampa in 2004, has a great opportunity to win a Stanley Cup. Not to mention, one of the best – if not the best- goalies in hockey named Henrik Lundqvist.
However, there’s a sentiment floating around that Brad Richards has been less than what he’s capable of through the early portion of the season. Not yet a free-agent “bust” but toeing that line ever so slightly. I’m here to to say that is the farthest thing from the truth.
Join me after the jump to find out why Richards has been more than just numbers this season.
6 goals, 7 assists, 13 points in 16 games. Observe that stat line.
Immediately your impressions are it’s fairly good. Nearly a point per game pace, something all offensive players hope for over the course of an entire season.
However, if you add to it the expectations of a 9-year, $60 million deal and you get the ridiculous perception Brad Richards is not living up to his deal. The culprit perpetuating this idea is TSN, who briefly touched on Richards recently and had this to say about the all-star center:
The biggest free agent in the pond this summer was forward Brad Richards, who made a high profile move from Dallas to the New York Rangers. He was expected to drive their offence but the 31-year-old has given New York less than a point per game and has just four goals in 13 contests.
Maybe TSN should have waited to respond as Richards added 2 more goals to his season totals, including a clutch, game-winning goal to defeat the New York Islanders last night. Not to be forgotten is the goal Richards scored against the Montreal Canadiens to maintain a two-goal lead or the late third period snipe against the Anaheim Ducks in Sweden to tie a game the Rangers were out of.
Going beyond the numbers, Richards added necessary depth at the center position for the Rangers. Taking some of the spotlight off of Artem Anisimov and Derek Stepan enables both to continue developing steadily, especially Stepan who is tied for 4th on the Rangers with 10 points (7 of them coming since placed on the GAS line with Anisimov, Gaborik).
Stepan’s growing confidence might stem from a conversation he had with Richards recently, who told the young center to not over think and to just play. Or ask Michael Del Zotto what Richards has meant to his re-emergence this season, admitting to Richards mentoring him on and off the ice. It’s that type of leadership you can’t put a financial value on. It’s an intangible asset only a few possess and use. John Tortorella was already aware of Richards’ leadership abilities from his Tampa Bay days and it’s clearly justifiable why he was comfortable giving Richards an “A.”
The one area Richards was brought in to improve and hasn’t thus far is the power play. Operating at a 13.4% (good for 22nd in the NHL) isn’t exactly the optimal proficiency. Yet, at times you do see the difference Richards brings with his vision and world-class passing ability. His assist to Dan Girardi during the Carolina Hurricanes game last Friday is a prime example of what the club is capable of with Richards in the fold.
The bottom is this: Strip away the money Brad Richards is being paid to be a New York Ranger and look at his total body of work thus far in just 16 games with the team and you’ll discover he has been everything the Rangers hoped for and much more.
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