There are 20 forwards in the NHL with larger cap hits than Brad Richards. Most are the elite players of the league, like Alexander Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos. Some are just wildly overpaid, most notably, Scott Gomez. But they are the benchmark to use when evaluating the performance of the Rangers alternate captain.
It is early into the season, or so it seems. However, 16 games is a bit less than 20% of the season which makes for a decent sample size. To this point, Richards has recorded 13 points in those games, giving him .81 points per game. That doesn't quite have the ring to it like "point-per-game-player" does, but its definitely a good number.
It looks even better when you compare that number to the 20 forwards who eat up more cap space than Richards. They have posted .82 points per game this season, just one hundredth of a point more than Richards has. It is definitely impressive to see him jump into a new team and immediately keep pace with players who are making up to 2.8 million more than him.
What is even more impressive is how and when he has scored these goals.
Before doing any research for this article, we had a feeling that Brad Richards goals and assists seemed to "count" a lot. This feeling is in contrast to the impression given off by Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez; all his big hits seem to come in blowouts, never when they are truly needed. Richards on the other hand, seemed to score in big moments when the points were most essential.
Indeed, four of Richards's six goals, and five of his seven assists, have come in one-goal or tie games. The Rangers have played a lot of close games, and nonetheless have managed to post the best record in the NHL to this point. A big part of it is the ability of Richards to score at opportune and crucial times.
There is even more data to suggest that Richards plays the best in big situations. He has two game-winning-goals, one game-tying goal, one-game winning assist, and one-game tying assist. Basically, he has been involved in the goals that got the Rangers eight of their 23 points this season.
Obviously game-winning-goals is a misleading statistic because its completely dependent on how much other teammates and the opposition scores, but it does give you a sense that the points scored by Richards have been difference makers.
When Marian Gaborik did not form immediate chemistry with Richards to start the season, despite showing flashes of brilliance, the fanbase started to get a bit concerned. Not as concerned as John Tortorella, apparently, who "demoted" the center to the 2nd line at the start of the winning streak. That move, initially thought to be a mistake by most, turned out to be a blessing for this team. The "GAS Line" combination was discovered, making Gaborik and the top line a big threat offensively, and it gave Richards the opportunity to center a second scoring line.
Richards, skating along with Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky for the most part, has turned the Rangers offense into a two-headed monster. On nights when the GAS Line has not produced, Richards has been there. In turn, there is less pressure on Richards to produce because the top line will be there to support him. Of course, based on what we have seen to this point, pressure might be a good thing for Richards. But it does give him some breathing room that he must appreciate.
Callahan and Dubinsky are great players, there is no denying that. But how good would this line be with a different center, say Brian Boyle?
Well, as mentioned previously, Richards has 13 points on the season. He has been on the ice for a total of 18 Rangers goals in that span. So over 70% of goals scored while he is on the ice have gone through him.
That stat looks even better during even strength play: Richards has recorded a point on nine of the 12 goals scored while he was skating 5 on 5. Clearly, he is a driving force behind the success of the 2nd line, and the results for the Rangers have been very apparent.
The scariest part, for opponents at least, is that Richards is just getting started. If the line combinations stay the same of an extended period of time, which they should given recent success, it will only make Richards more comfortable with his new team. That means more goals, more assists, and, if the trend continues, points in key situations.
Brad Richards is the new Captain Clutch.
And although he really isn't a captain like his predecessor, this Captain Clutch actually deserves the "clutch" moniker.
Chris Drury can weep.
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