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Under Pressure: Brad Richards

Aug 4, 2014, 10:50 AM EDT

2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Two Getty Images

“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Chicago Blackhawks, we pick … Brad Richards

Brad Richards is probably used to pressure.

For years, he’s been making big money — stemming in part to his Conn Smythe run with the Tampa Bay Lightning — but largely because he’s often been one of the most prolific offensive players in the NHL. Either way, his consistently large checks (Cap Geek estimates his career earnings at $85.78 million) often meant that being a very good scorer, but rarely top-10, left people occasionally disappointed. If nothing else, he’s been in “prove it” mode, especially recently.

But in Chicago, he’ll face a different kind of pressure.

From “overpaid” to a bargain?

Following being bought out by the New York Rangers, the 34-year-old is now a low-risk, high-reward bargain at a $2 million cap hit. Any money-related questions will instead revolve around “can he make big money next summer?”

Instead, the bigger pressure will come from proving that he can cure what’s been ailing the Blackhawks in bad times and even some good times as well: not having a quality second-line center.

While there’s a chance that Teuvo Teravainen might grab the role he’s being groomedfor, the expectation is he’ll need to acclimate himself to the NHL game and should find himself in the AHL for at least portions of the 2014-15 season.

In other words, the Blackhawks would prefer that Richards can be their short-term second-line center. So what are the odds he pulls it off?

A lot rests on Coach Q

That’s a tough call. If you can set aside Richards’ rather disconcerting work in the last postseason or two, he at least put up the kind of boxcar numbers you hope for; he scored a very nice 20 goals and 51 points for the Rangers last season. Anything in the realm of that production would be great for Chicago, especially since a second-line gig could mean working with some combination of Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and so on.

Most signs point to Richards needing to be sheltered, though, which makes the argument that it’s imperative to put him with a guy who gets a lot of offensive zone starts in Kane (both were in the top five in easiest zone starts last season). While Richards’ possession stats look very good in the regular season — and glaringly worse in basically every measurable way during the postseason, for whatever reason — he also played what seemed like an offense-only role that might limit his versatility if his skills really are declining as much as it appeared at times during the Rangers’ deep run.

The burning question

It’s weird to imagine a guy taking a cut in salary as someone who might be a scapegoat, but Richards lands into a situation that could be lucrative … unless he just doesn’t “have it” anymore.

Basically, if he thrives, he can make a lot of money and maybe even win a second Stanley Cup. If he flounders, Richards could find himself as someone facing blame if Chicago gets eaten alive when he’s on the ice during the postseason.

With all that in mind, there’s a lot riding on the 2014-15 season for Richards, even if the potential spoils of victory would come in about a year or so.

  1. patthehockeyfan - Aug 4, 2014 at 11:04 AM

    ” … feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.”

    Okay, O’Brien. My apologies for jumping all over you for spotlighting Mike Richards on the LA Kings’ day. Now that I see that it’s a daily feature coinciding with that team’s day, I understand. Plus, you weren’t far off the mark in your analysis (though you were a bit over-the-top nasty with some of your words). I also understand why you didn’t include the link to the Dean Lombardi story about Mike in the introductory story about LA Kings Day. Don’t agree with it; but, understand.

    Secondly, maybe with the spotlight off of BRAD Richards being the go-to guy, I think his time with the ‘Hawks will surprise most. He’s 34 – somewhere just on the tip, maybe towards south side of the peak of his career. He’s got a few more good years left in him. As I commented in another post, the ‘Hawks are consistently good to great. He’ll prove no exception to that.

    Thirdly, is the Comments Section Off on the Caps’ Laich story because of the inevitable Ovechkin-bashing fest?

  2. Mike Halford - Aug 4, 2014 at 11:12 AM

    Comments turned on now for Laich. Some sort of WordPress glitch.

  3. endusersolutions2013 - Aug 4, 2014 at 11:16 AM

    One thought in looking at his poor playoff results the last 2 years is that he has played all but 2 games the past 3 regular seasons.

    II wonder if it might be beneficial for the ‘hawks to only play him in only one of the back to backs they’ll face. Combining that with coach Q’s approach to limit practices could result in Richards having more gass in the tank with prime-time arrives.

    • anthj99 - Aug 4, 2014 at 12:09 PM

      Or he could focus on being better conditioned like every other professional getting paid millions. There are, and have been, plenty of guys much older than him who can play an entire season plus the playoffs because they hit the gym hard during the offseason. He’s only 34, don’t start making excuses or special exceptions for the guy. You perform for an 82 game season or someone else will.

      • endusersolutions2013 - Aug 4, 2014 at 1:01 PM

        Perhaps you are not aware that coach Q takes a little different approach, giving his vets some days off during the season as needed.

        And you can’t compare everyone to Selene or Lindtrom for expected longevity.

    • mikec98 - Aug 5, 2014 at 8:10 AM

      Even if coach q likes to give his veterans a day off there is still no excuse to not be conditioned to play hockey when the rest of the team does(now coming back from injury is an excuse) but to a guy getting paid millions to PLAY HOCKEY there is no excuse. Look at jagr, salnne(I know he retired but he was 43 I think last year) stepniack,St. Louis, they are all 35 and older and still playing good hockey and playing ever day.

  4. anthj99 - Aug 4, 2014 at 11:47 AM

    I’m still holding out hope that Vinny Scarsella, aka Scarsy, will center Kaner’s line this year.

    • endusersolutions2013 - Aug 4, 2014 at 1:05 PM

      What the? – ‘hawks have several centers on their AHL team approaching NHL readiness.

      Care to flesh out your rationalle?

      • anthj99 - Aug 4, 2014 at 11:15 PM

        It was a joke. Kane played in a beer league game in Buffalo this summer and there were plenty of headlines about it. Kane had 10 points and an unknown ECHL player was on his line and had 7 or 8 goals. The side story was about giving him a shot with the Hawks. Gimme a break man, this no hockey crap is killing me.

  5. gbatap - Aug 4, 2014 at 12:33 PM

    I’m not sure “under pressure” is the right tag in Brad Richards situation. He’s the #2 center on a top 5 team in the league and is on a minimal money/term contract. This is probably the least amount of pressure he’s been under since winning the Conn Smythe with the Bolts.

    • Mike Halford - Aug 4, 2014 at 12:47 PM

      But the 2C position in Chicago is one that carries an inherent amount of pressure, especially after Handzus got carved up against the Kings in the WCF.

      • endusersolutions2013 - Aug 4, 2014 at 1:22 PM

        Agreed. 4th line averaged 6-7 minutes, including OT games. It was handzues complicated by an incompletely rehabbed Versteeg, who skated tentatively, played poorly defensively and was very inaccurate. Vs. the Kings who did roll 4 lines, Hawks top 3 lines were progressively less fresh.

        The year before when the Hawks won the SC and beat the Kings 4-1 in the WC finals, they rolled 4 lines.

        So an additional issue for the ‘hawks this year is has Versteeg rehabbed to the point where he’s gonna be effective? If not, they have yound guys ready with a lesser cap hit.

  6. blomfeld - Aug 4, 2014 at 1:28 PM

    “if Chicago gets eaten alive” …

    “LA inflicted ‘horrendous’ damage upon them” …

    “after Handzus got carved up against the Kings in the WCF” …


    The bottom line is that you don’t have to be Wernher Von Braun (rocket scientist) to appreciate the fact that O’Brien & crew must now ‘also’ subscribe to the notion that the Blackhawks are no longer a ‘relevant’ threat in the dynamic WC.

    hey Kaner & Twinkle Toes …
    sorry man, but unlike us Kings, you clowns can’t dance worth a crap !!!

    GO KINGS GO !!! … TODAY, TOMORROW AND FOREVER !!!!!! :) :) :)

    • endusersolutions2013 - Aug 4, 2014 at 1:52 PM

      They are profoundly relevent. See ya in the WC finals, and I suspect the result will be reversed.

    • endusersolutions2013 - Aug 4, 2014 at 1:56 PM

      Last year, the Hawks had to shortest time off between the delayed SC finals start and training camp. They also had the most players of any NHL in the Olympics, and they were clearly not as good following the olympics. Neither of which will be in play this year.

      You know what would provide a load of “shock and awe” effect on ProHockeyTalk? You spend a week posting on point stuff, with substantiating facts, without the irrelevent vids.

      Folks might wonder if someone had stolen your handle;)

      • blzebub - Aug 5, 2014 at 1:57 PM

        Let’s not forget that the Kings were also up 3 games, yet barely won the series, having to go to OT in Game 7, and only winning it on a fluke goal against this supposedly “no longer relevant” team.

  7. phtjoey - Aug 4, 2014 at 1:40 PM

    we’ve read how players who just signed a big contract are under pressure….. i.e. subban. don’t think a 34 year old bargain player on the decline is under pressure. hawks management are more under pressure for choosing him to be their answer to fill the 2c spot.

    • mikec98 - Aug 5, 2014 at 2:03 PM

      EXACTLY management is under more pressure then Richards.

      Richards doesn’t play against other teams 1 and 2 lines last years Kane line did. Richards defensive ability sucks. He’s slow makes stupid decisions with the puck and looks dead after starting up the ice after spending about a minute behind the rangers net on the powerplay. He’s slow and makes stupid decisions with the puck. I can’t see why/how the Blackhawks expect Richards to play alongside a superstar Patrick Kane. Richards doesn’t play with the goalie pulled at the ends of games, in shootouts, penalty kills, he’s not the extra skater on delayed penalties. Unless Kane is going to play against 3 and 4 lines next season Richards won’t play with Kane. Hawks mangement is under huge pressure in my opinion. If I were hawks management I would trade Richards and picks and prospects for a good center/player.

  8. krbmjb - Aug 4, 2014 at 1:40 PM

    I think teams like Chicago and LA want their players conditioned EVERY year to play 110 games (regular season plus 4 x 7 game playoffs). Brad Richards keeps bouncing from team to team as he was expected to be the “go to guy”, and his new pressure will be if he can’t step up with the best of the best of Chicago, then it will prove he is an above average player, but not a great player.

  9. guitarhunterdude - Aug 4, 2014 at 1:42 PM

    If he’s worse than Handzus, I’ll be very, very surprised. With that contract, it’s hard for me to see him as a scapegoat.

  10. 950003cups - Aug 4, 2014 at 8:27 PM

    Richards getting 2/3 of an albatross contract to leave NY. Getting a small check from the new team. Being considered by many as “washed up”.

    Sounds like it’s all gravy from here on out. If he can’t handle 2nd line duties, he’ll take 3rd or 4th line duties. He has a boatload of experience on the 4th line as a ranger.

    I don’t think anyone is “expecting” him to zip 30 pucks over the goal line.

  11. mikec98 - Aug 5, 2014 at 8:12 AM

    The New York rangers are paying Brad Richards about 6 million a season for the next 4 or 5 years. So although he is only a 2 million dollar cap hit for the Blackhawks he is getting paid about 8 million a season.

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