First, this series is not over. I want to be clear on that. Obviously the chances of us winning took a severe hit with Wednesday night's loss. But, if we take it one game at a time, this Rangers club is capable of winning 3 games in a row.
This post is going to look at something else that's been close to the minds of Rangers fans. It's actually something we've talked about most of the season; the possibility of signing soon-to-be-free-agent center Brad Richards.
Richards is the legitimate, top line center we lack. Most of us feel he would be the perfect complement for sniping winger Marian Gaborik and would go a long way toward solving our PP woes. I don't think you'll find many Ranger fans that don't believe Richards would address several of our shortcomings. However, still fresh in our minds are the horrible contracts Slats bestowed on 2 other big-name free agent centers; Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. We don't want to repeat those errors.
While there is no doubt Richards is a legitimate top line center, and Gomez and Drury were not, there is still concern over Richards' age. He will be 32 in May. The feeling is that anything more than 5 years (age 32 - 36 seasons) might end up being a case of paying too much money to a declining asset. That fear is justified of course. So what's a guy like me to do? I look to recent history and find a comparable player to see how that guy performed during the seasons he was 32+.
Now it isn't always easy to find a perfect comparable. In fact, if I was Glen Sather, I would do a far more in-depth search than the one I did. I don't get paid to do what Slats does and until I do I am more than justified to cut some corners. I am simply making an argument that suggests the conclusion I will eventually reach constitutes food for thought, so to speak.
So, which player have I chosen as a close comparable to Brad Richards? One of the first names to come to mind, and a guy I remember watching a lot as a youngster, is Adam Oates. Both Richards and Oates are, or in the case of Oates, was, a top playmaking center known more for setting up goals rather than scoring them. Neither player is a big guy nor did they play a physical style of hockey. Is it perfect? Maybe not but it's close enough for me.
To exemplify the similarities, Oates for his career scored 1.06 PPG. Richards has posted 0.93 PPG. Of course Oates played part of his career in an era where goal scoring was much more prevalent. In 1993-1994 for example, teams scored an average of 3.24 GPG. This season, clubs averaged 2.71 GPG. That is a 16.4% decrease. It is greater than the 12.3% difference between Oates' and Richards PPG marks. Once we normalize the differences, it is clear Oates and Richards are similar players insofar as offensive production.
The following will show how many points-per-game (PPG) Oates recorded each season from 1994 - 1995 through 2001 - 2002; Oates' 32 to 39 year-old seasons.
94-95 1.10 PPG
95-96 1.31 PPG
96-97 1.03 PPG
97-98 0.93 PPG
98-99 0.92 PPG
99-00 0.87 PPG
00-01 1.01 PPG
01-02 0.975 PPG
That's a total of 700 points scored in 659 games or an average of 1.06 PPG. That average is surprisingly the same as the career level for Oates.
Oates' point scoring decline from 94-95 to 01-02 measured 11.4%. The overall drop in offense in the NHL was 12.4%. That means there were 12.4% fewer goals scored in 2001-2002 than there were potted in 1994-1995. That suggests Oates' production didn't really drop at all relative to the league average.
I'm not saying this should be the only evidence we, or the Rangers rather, examine prior to feeling confident in extending Brad Richards a contract that makes him a Ranger until he is 38 or 39. What this does show is that it is possible Richards can maintain his level of production enough to warrant a contract of that length that also pays him a fair amount of money.
This exercise has actually made me more of a believer. If I had the time, like Slats does, I would certainly look at other players who are similar to Brad Richards to gauge how they aged into their mid-30's. In today's salary cap world, knowing we may have to add term in order to keep the cap hit down on any potential Richards contract, having this type of information allows for us to make better decisions.