I feel for Brad Richards. On the one hand, yes, that nine year free agency contract was WAY too much for a 31 year-old who had little to no chance of replicating his early career numbers. On the other, the outcry over his deal and speculation around a buyout has clouded the fact that he’s been a pretty outstanding player for a long time.
Even today, at the age of 34, his name still carries a lot of weight in fantasy hockey. Many poolies continue reach for him in the early to mid-rounds, hoping that maybe, somehow, he’ll recapture that old magic. It’s rarely the case, and underlines a constant issue with players entering their mid-thirties. We’ll often say “well, he was elite ONLY two years ago, it’s not that long?” Unfortunately two years, when it comes between 32 and 34, can be an eternity.
With Richards’ Rangers in the finals this week it feels like the right time to look back at his fantasy career and contemplate what might lay ahead.
Tampa Bay – 2000 to 2008
His numbers here are reminiscent of Pavel Datsyuk earlier in his career. Consistently piling up points and shots while being an elite power play option. There was a four season stretch, starting in 2002-03, in which he never posted less than 70 points or 244 shots. It’s the kind of consistency that poolies crave.
Everything culminated in 2005-06 when he finished with 23 goals, 68 assists, and 282 shots. At this point, regardless of format, he was a top 10 option in your pool. Reaching those kind of heights at the age of 26 can cause poolies to get a wee bit excited for the future. This was almost a decade ago, when conventional wisdom told us that a player’s prime years were between 28 and 32 (research has recently debunked this to a degree, showing that 23 to 27 may in fact be the optimal years for point production). As a result, most of us expected Richards to have another five years of elite numbers ahead of him.
Playing with a forward group that also contained a young Vincent Lecavalier and a young(er) Martin St.Louis left little doubt as to how Richards would hold up over time. They were an offensive force.
Dallas Stars – 2008 to 2011
The trade to Dallas came as a bit of a surprise. Richards’ was sent away for a package that included Mike Smith, Jeff Halpern, and Jussi Jokinen. From a fantasy perspective it was the first time we would get to see Richards as the focal point of a team’s offence. He didn’t disappoint.
His shot volume returned to an elite level (270 plus) and he managed back-to-back seasons with more than a point per game (91 in 2009-10 and 77 in 2010-11). It was around this time he was being mentioned as a possible first round selection. I’ve said many times that goals, assists, and shots are the three categories I focus on in the early rounds, and Richards had them in spades.
The issue with Dallas was that they were a budget team, barely reaching the cap floor at that time. Questions arose as to whether they could surround Richards with adequate talent. It was those same monetary constraints that prevented the Stars from retaining him in 2011 when his contract expired. It was on to Broadway.
New York Rangers – 2011 to Present
For those of you in cap/salary leagues Richards’ nine year, 60 million dollar contract made him almost impossible to own. In the hockey media, that deal heaped the kind of attention and pressure that a player entering his declining years was never going to live up to.
In fantasy circles there was an expectation that New York could surround Richards with better wingers, allowing him to once again approach a point per game and become an elite asset.
It never materialized.
Year one was good, but far from great, ending with 66 points and 229 shots in a healthy 82 games. Then the lockout hit and rumors were abound that Richards may not have been in peak physical condition when they finally got back on the ice. The result was an alarmingly low 34 points in 46 games to go with barely two shots per game. Being benched by coach John Tortorella during the playoffs (where he is generally considered to be at his best) didn’t help inspire confidence from fans and poolies.
Amazingly, even with the turmoil that was 2012-13, he returned this year in better shape and regained some of his old form. He managed to break 50 points and finished 12th in the league for shots (259). The numbers appear even more impressive when you consider he only had nine secondary assists (which tend to vary randomly from year-to-year). For comparison, teammate Derek Stepan finished with 17. With a bit of luck Richards could have approached 60 points – not that far removed from his mid-round selection days.
What can we expect in the future?
There’s no question that Richards’ days as a point per game threat are likely over. So few guys, outside of perhaps Selanne or Hossa, are able to maintain elite status through their mid-thirties. However, with teammates like Nash, St.Louis, and Stepan possibly around for one or two more seasons at least there is a chance that he can sustain this level of production. If you draft him for 55 points, solid power play numbers, and 240 shots then you’ll be satisfied.
The name on the back of the jersey hasn’t changed, not at all. But we, in the fantasy community, may need to change how we value him moving forward.
Darren Kennedy is a contributor for Mckeen’s. You can find him on twitter @fantasyhockeydk. Make sure to check out our Mckeen’s facebook page.