Pressed against the upper limits of the salary cap last off-season, former GM Mike Gillis had to get creative when dipping into the free-agent pool. Upon checking into the clearance isle, Gillis found his man in Los Angeles Kings castaway, Brad Richardson.
The move was met with disinterest and cynicism. Richardson had spent much of the last few seasons in Daryl Sutter’s doghouse and was healthy scratched for large parts of the season prior to signing with Vancouver. It also did little to address the Canucks most glaring need that offseason, for youth and scoring punch in their top-six.
When looked at in a vacuum, though, Richardson provided the Canucks with value that greatly exceeded his two-year contract, valued at a total of $2.3 million. Looked to as a replacement for the departed Max Lapierre, Richardson’s play and a dearth of center depth necessitated his role expanding beyond that.
That alone makes the Richardson signing one of the last great coups by Mike Gillis. Let’s look at this a little more in depth, on the other side of the jump.
There’s no shortage of circumstances that played a part in Richardson’s role on the Canucks turning into that of a third-line center, from injuries down the middle on an already center deprived lineup to the play of Brad Richardson himself. Unfortunately, though, it’s not a role that Richardson was able to handle with any proficiency.
Spending most of the season with Zack Kassian and David Booth on his wings, the trio was able to drive possession and exceed their expect goals-for%. To look at these totals though, presents an incomplete picture that is shining quite fondly on that threesomes anchor down the middle, Richardson. It doesn’t necessarily take WOWY’s to realize who was driving the bus on that line.
[line stats can be found at www.progressivehockey.blogspot.com]
There’s also the matter of their sky-high PDO of 1016 and the fact that they were far enough down the food chain that they didn’t face the most difficult competition. Put onto a similar line in a similar role, I find it difficult to believe Richardson replicates this 5-on-5 success with any regularity from season to season.
On an individual level, though, Richardson’s play as a utility forward was best exemplified when placed on the penalty kill. No player on the Canucks with 100 or more minutes of ice-time had a lower goals-against/20 than Richardson last season. Richardson was just outside the top-10 league wide in shorthanded Fenwick Against/20, preventing shot attempts at a nearly identical rate to two-way aces such as David Backes, Sean Couturier, Alex Steen, and Patrice Bergeron.
It’s easy enough to surmise at this point that Richardson was punching above his weight class last season. I’m not entirely sure that he’s ever been a third-line quality center, and I have serious doubts that at any point he will develop into one. This doesn’t take away from the fact that he provided excellent value as a bottom-six utility forward, especially on the penalty kill, on a team that desperately needed it.
While it’s been some time since Richardson’s seen the ice, due in large to an injury, when he does return to the Canucks it will be in a role that should be more suited to his skill set. Going into this season, many have Richardson pegged as the team’s fourth-line center. His biggest competition at this position, Bo Horvat, is also convalescing from injuries. At center or otherwise, it seems reasonable to expect Richardson to play on the Canucks fourth line, anyways.
Accompanying Richardson on either of his flanks, could be any two of Derek Dorsett, Shawn Matthias or
Top Sixtito Tom Sestito, although it’s not out of the question that someone as proficient as Jannik Hansen falls down the lineup too. The aforementioned Horvat could also make the odd appearance at wing – nothing’s really out of the question. Consider for a second the fourth line that the Canucks took with them to battle last season, and it’s easy to be more optimistic about this unit’s chance at success.
In a prescribed role on that line, Richardson is set to have himself a solid year. The points will be fewer and so too will be the ice-time. His contributions though, both in the defensive zone and as a penalty killer, should continue to be top-notch for his price-tag, and there is immense value in that.
There’s also the matter of this being a contract year for Richardson. From the four-hole, it’s not difficult to foresee Richardson earning himself another contract for similar money to play in a similar role. Hopefully Richardson can continue to excel as a bottom-of-the-lineup guy under the tutelage of Willie Desjardins.