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Numbers Game: Richards chooses New York Rangers

Scott Cullen
7/2/2011 6:46:48 PM
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Once the presentations by all suitors were complete, Brad Richards decided to go where most expected he would months ago.

Numbers Game examines the New York Rangers' latest high-priced acquisition.

The Rangers Get: C Brad Richards.

Richards, 31, was the prize of the free agent market and because this year's free agent class was relatively weak, that meant a substantial payday awaited him. Tried and true as a big ticket free agent suitor, willing to spend what it takes to acquire talent, the New York Rangers also had an ace in the hole, head coach John Tortorella.

Not only is Tortorella capable of providing great sound bites, but he also coached the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004 and his leading playoff scorer on that Cup run was none other than Richards, so it's not even remotely surprising that Richards' preference was to re-unite with his old coach.

So now that the Rangers have come out on top, spreading $60-million to Richards over nine seasons, what exactly are they getting? Is this more free agent folly along the lines of Scott Gomez, Chris Drury and Wade Redden -- big ticket moves that ultimately backfired on the Blueshirts?

For starters, Richards' deal has three years at the end of it that will pay him $1-million per season, which drives down the annual value of the contract for salary cap purposes, but also makes it very easy to buy out Richards in the final years (if he doesn't retire) when his cap hit is so much higher than the actual cash remaining on the contract.

If Richards plays it out, then it's not salary cap circumvention, but suspicion understandably exists now regarding future intent.

Leaving that aside, what will the Rangers get in the meantime? From his second season in the league, 2001-2002, Richards has played at least 19:48 per game in each of the last nine seasons, playing 21:43 for the Stars in 2010-2011  Since 2003-2004, Richards has tallied 518 points in 528 games, good enough for .98 points per game, a total which ranks 12th among NHL players that have played at least 500 games over the course of those seven seasons.

As expected, then, Richards can play the role of point-producing centre. It might be a reach to believe it will continue into his late thirties, but for the next four-to-five seasons, it would seem fair to expect 70-plus points from Richards, a total he has surpassed six times in his career. If he finds chemistry with Marian Gaborik, perhaps he could even challenge his career high of 91 points, set in 2005-2006 and tied in 2009-2010.

Richards has scored at least 25 points on the power play eight times in his career, so he ought to help a Rangers power play that ranked 18th in the league last season.

Aside from his point production, though, Richards isn't a big goal-scorer -- last season's 28 goals represented a high-water mark for his career -- and last season's plus-1 rating was his best since 2003-2004. Richards' plus-minus has been troubling; in the previous four seasons, he was a combined minus-62, so that may have contributed to his use at even strength last season.

According to www.behindthenet.ca, Richards had the lowest five-on-five quality of competition rating (using relative Corsi numbers, for those into the advanced stats) among any Dallas forward that played more than 50 games. Richards may not be looking at those protected minutes with the Rangers, so it will be interesting to see if his plus-minus can stay on the right side of the ledger.

If anyone, other than Gaborik, might be poised to benefit from Richards' presence, it could be Brandon Dubinsky, an emerging power forward, who scored a career-high 24 goals and 54 points last season and could be raised to even higher levels with a proven playmaking centre.

From the Stars' perspective, they're going to have a sizeable hole to fill after losing their number one centre. Since it's easier to find scoring help on the wings, perhaps it would make sense to move rising star Jamie Benn to the middle.

The New York Rangers got their man and, despite any misgivings noted, should have a better team next season because of him, but the long-term ramifications of the deal are fraught with risk. A player who is 31 and suffered a concussion last season may not be the safest bet for a long-term contract, but he was the best available on July 1, so the disparity between supply and demand for quality point-producing centres results in an inflated contract value and term.

To wit, the Rangers reportedly didn't even offer Richards the most money, so there is little room to complain about the Rangers' largesse. If the Calgary Flames were willing to spend more, doesn't that suggest that the market for Brad Richards dictated a relatively fair price for his contract under the circumstances?

Now that he's signed, the contract isn't what matters so much. Richards' production is what matters to the Rangers and adding a potential point-per-game centre at no cost to your current roster is a move many NHL teams would be happy to make in free agency.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.




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