Blackhawks News

Chicago Blackhawks Sci-Fi Part I: Put Brad Richards on Defense

By Tim Lively

Oct 11, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Brad Richards (91) with the puck during the first period against the Buffalo Sabres at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Blackhawks Sci-Fi is a mini-series I’ll periodically be doing here on Blackhawk Up that is for fantastic hypotheticals. I consider the following speculation science fiction at this point because as of now, it’s pure fantasy, but who knows what the future will bring…

When our beloved Chicago Blackhawks picked up center Brad Richards from the New York Rangers this offseason, he was toted as the solution to the Hawks’ second line center problem. Well, so far, he’s been anything but; his underwhelming play has already landed him a gig on the third string.

Richards is certainly a decent player, but he’s awfully expensive for a third line forward. Furthermore, with the acquisition of Daniel Carcillo and the eventual return of Kris Versteeg from injury, the Hawks’ offensive ranks will have to undergo some shuffling, and I’d hate to see a forward that’s been producing get the shaft because Richards is simply too expensive to be a healthy scratch.

So what’s the answer? Complex problems require creative solutions, and here’s mine: put Brad Richards and the Hawks’ third defensive line. This may seem far-fetched, and yes, it will likely never happen, but if we take a closer look, I think we’ll find like in all science fiction, it’s more feasible than at first glance.

First and foremost, during his career Richards has been recognized for his two-way playing ability. It’s probably this attribute that made him so attractive to the Hawks to begin with, given Coach Joel Quenneville’s penchant for desiring his forwards to possess an equally strong defensive side of their game. Richards may be a strong defensive forward, but to successfully thrive with the Hawks’ dynamic offense you can’t simply be a North-South player.

Richards thrived on the Rangers because then-coach John Tortorella played to his defensive strengths. I say that the Hawks take this a step further by placing him opposite rookie D-man Trevor Van Riemsdyk. Again this likely isn’t going to happen, but I see putting Richards on the blue line yielding a whole heap of benefits.

So far, Van Riemsdyk has been holding his own, but as we all know, defensemen are only as strong as their line-mate enables them to be, and that puts Van Riemsdyk in a bit of a spot. With Kyle Cumiskey being moved down to the Rockford IceHogs, Van Riemsdyk is left between skating opposite an underwhelming David Runblad or an old and injury prone Michal Rozsival. Putting a proven leader in Richards with Van Riemsdyk would not only allow the first and second defensive lines to remain intact and effective, but also give Van Riemsdyk a valuable mentor and anchor to help him weather the inevitable trials he must face as a rookie.

Not only could Richards’ veteran vision help Van Riemsdyk, but it could also help the Blackhawks in an area that Nick Leddy’s departure has left them wanting: defensive zone clears. Say what you want about Leddy, but you couldn’t argue that his ability to take the puck coast to coast and set up offensive drives was one of the strongest aspects of his game. This role was pivotal for the Hawks, especially on the power play. Leddy was able to excel in this area because of his speed. While Richards may not have comparable speed, he does have the ability to see the whole ice in a way that only a player with his vast experience can, and that can translate into critical cross ice passes that can lead to odd man rushes and breakaways. It be great for the Hawks to have another D-man capable of doing this other than veteran defenseman Duncan Keith.

Shifting a player outside of his normal position is not totally a foreign concept for the Blackhawks. Coach Q often moved defenseman Sheldon Brookbank to wing while he was with the Hawks. Yes, moving a forward to defense is a different animal, but it’s not unheard of, and in fact the Hawks have in-house knowledge on the matter. Blackhawks’ Senior Advisor of Hockey Operations Scotty Bowman often had talented forward Sergei Federov play shifts on defense while he was coaching the Detroit Red Wings.

Once again, I doubt we’ll ever see Brad Richards on the blue line for the Blackhawks, but it sure is an interesting concept to entertain, and only time will tell if this is more fantasy than reality.