Player Profile: Brad Richards
Born: May 2, 1980
Birthplace:Murray Harbour, Prince Edward Island Canada
Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
On July 1, I vividly remember listening to the ill-fated sports talk radio show hosted by Drew Lane on WMGC 105.1. They were doing a special NHL free agent signing day interview with Mickey Redmond. The Mick's first response to signing of Mike Green and our pal, Brad Richards?
"IT'S JUST LIKE THE GOOD OL' DAYS, GANG!"
Um, yeah, good ol' days in the sense that had it been 2011 it would've been a classic (pre-cap) off-season for Ken Holland where he scored two elite players. But unfortunately for all of us, it's 2016. Green is far from his 2011 form and Richards--well, Richards, once the most coveted free agent in all of hockey just five years ago, has faded. He fell to the depths of classic veteran center Holland crams into the line-up to fill a void that he deludes himself into believing is there--certainly not the "good ol' days" but a reminder of the deep philosophical rut Holland has tethered the organization into.
The Usage. It's Always With The Usage.
It's not fair to Richards, by all accounts, a great guy and good player, who has been railroaded by some hard ass coaches and unfair expectations in New York. I don't want to make this criticism about him. He had a nice redemption story winning a Stanley Cup as a role player with Chicago in 2015. I want him to keep what he deserves.
The problem is--as with quite a few players on the Red Wings--usage, and even the simple idea that Richards was miscast joining a team like the Red Wings in the first place.
Richards spent some time on the powerplay with a loaded Stanley Cup Blackhawks squad in 2015. Similar to the Red Wings, they tried him on the second unit manning the point opposite Brent Seabrook. After only two regular season power play goals, that got tiresome so they scaled back his role into more of defensive center and even had him play horsey for Patrick Kane at various points in the playoffs. Minimizing his role and putting him out there with elite talent sheltered him and got him a magic carpet ride to a second career Cup.
That's good coaching on the part of Joel Quenneville, not stubbornness to make a dry-rot veteran quarterback the powerplay for an entire season into the playoffs despite continuous failure. This was arguably the most maddening aspect of a drywall-punching season. The Wings powerplay struggles suffocated them and they refused to change despite having the creativity of Tomas Jurco, the size of Anthony Mantha, the intelligence of Dylan Larkin, the shot of Teemu Pulkkinen and raw speed of Andreas Athanasiou. All were parked in Grand Rapids or nudged into lesser roles for Richards.
WIIM's analytics and analysis guru Prashanth Iyer broke down the Wings powerplay late in the season. One of the key factors he hit on was Richards' struggle to break the puck out and get good possession started. He often faced pressure early, couldn't handle it and would have to concede to his second break out option, disrupting the flow of the play. You have an older, slower player consistently displaying that he was overmatched and Jeff Blashill kept making the decision to start and end the second powerplay unit with him. No surprise the Red Wings went from having the second best power play in the NHL last season to just barely thirteenth best this season.
What He Did Vs. Expectations
My problem isn't with Richards. I believe Richards would've been better served on a veteran team with a little more top-end talent and less need for development; a team like San Jose that could've sheltered him and allowed him to be the savvy complimentary player he was in Chicago and still can be. The Wings brought him into a weird spot as one part stop-gap for Datsyuk injury/one-part Stephen Weiss/one-part Daniel Alfredsson--the equation just didn't make sense for Richards or this team in its current state. He took the contract because he was sold a larger bill of goods and probably better term than elsewhere. Who can blame him?
At one point, WIIM's editor J.J.FromKansas raised the question of where Richards sat with fans, because he was always kind of just there. When he wasn't stalling out the power play like an old Mercury he was hardly noticeable, like an old Mercury. That was my expectation, even after the $3 million July 1 signing, even after assigning him to the power play, even after the heartwarming redemption story he had in Chicago last season.
Final Grade: C-
Richards was another casualty in what was a rough season for the Red Wings front office and rookie season for Blashill that had its share of hiccups. It's confirmed Richards and the Red Wings will move on from each other, which is best for both parties. What's next for Richards I cannot speculate. He did the best he could in a situation he really didn't belong in on a team he really didn't fit in with.