Jun 3, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; New York Rangers centerBrad Richards
(19) during media day before game one of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
About a month ago, a friend of mine asked me which player on our beloved Chicago Blackhawks would stand out the most this upcoming season, and was surprised when I didn’t say it would be Brad Richards.
My friend’s sentiment got me wondering if his high expectations for Richards were a commonly held belief amongst Chi-Town denizens. Is Richards really the answer to the second-line center problem that’s been plaguing the Hawks as he’s been made out to be? Or will he just be another version of Michal Handzus
At 34 years old and coming off a 20-goal, 31-assist season, Richards is certainly an upgrade from Michal Handzus on paper, but one aspect about Richard’s game that has me concerned is his speed.
While Richards has great offensive instincts, his lack of speed has the potential to significantly sap his impact. Richards was brought on by the Blackhawks to essentially set Patrick Kane up with scoring opportunities, but if Richards ends up not being able to keep up with Kane, or other speedy line mates like Brandon Saad, the Hawks may once again be facing a very Handzus-like problem at second line center.
Kane and Saad’s strength lie in their speed and agility, and as long the center on their line can keep up with them, regardless of his talent, they thrive. We saw this happen twice last season: first with Brandon Pirri at the dot, and later Andrew Shaw. So again, if Richards can’t match Saad and Kane’s stride, the second line center problem really hasn’t been solved.
I do take solace however in the fact that Richards is certainly not as a one-dimensional player as Handzus, and his skill-set could easily land him in other niches on the Blackhawks outside of the face-off dot. For example, as a seasoned veteran center, one such niche Richards as a proven leader hopefully fills on the Blackhawks is providing some guidance to the Blackhawks younger centers like Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, and Ben Smith. I could certainly see Richard’s influence helping one of these centers improve to a point were they’re effective enough at the dot to helm the second line, allowing Richards to move to line more his speed.
All in all, I think we all need to remember Brad Richards isn’t as much a long-term solution as he is a bridge to allow the younger Blackhawks centers the time they need to develop. He may not be a giant leap for the Hawks, but he’s certainly a step in the right direction.
FOR THE DAGGER!