Pending UFA Brad Richardson undergoes ankle surgery; does his injury make a Canucks return more likely?

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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports

Vancouver Canucks checking centre Brad Richardson, a pending unrestricted free agent, is undergoing surgery today to repair the ankle injury that cost him the second half of his season and probably several million dollars on the open market, according to News 1130 Sports

Richardson, 30, managed eight goals and 21 points in 45 games while playing thoroughly excellent hockey on the penalty kill and holding down a key defensive role for the club. He’s a useful depth piece, and has provided the club with tremendous value since signing a two-year deal with an annual average value of $1.15 million as an unrestricted free agent in the cap-crunch summer of 2013. 

It seems probable that Richardson is on his way out the door, but might his ill-timed and frustratingly persistent ankle injury make it more likely that he’s in a Canucks uniform again next season?

Even had Richardson remained healthy throughout the season, he was likely to leave as a free agent this summer just based on the structural composition of Vancouver’s roster and prospect pipeline. 

With Bo Horvat’s emergence, there’s a natural replacement on a cheap entry-level contract. Horvat might be ready ready to supplant Richardson’s third-line role at even-strength and handle more minutes on the penalty kill even were Richardson to return.

There’s also Linden Vey, a player the club invested a second-round draft pick to acquire last summer. Vey was a blackhole offensively in his first full season in the league, but the soon-to-be 24-year-old’s play away from the puck appeared to take something of a step forward as the year went along. 

As Jason Botchford pointed out recently, the club was actually less permissive at 5-on-5 with Vey on the ice, than they were with either Horvat or Richardson:

Lacking the size or the flash of Horvat, Vey quietly stitched together this decent two-way season.

There is actually something to build on.

Opponents averaged 55.37 shot attempts for every 60 minutes he played.

He ranked ahead of Brad Richardson, against whom opponents averaged 57.88 shot attempts, and Horvat, who was last on the team at 61.29.

Vey’s goals-against-per-60-minutes played was 2.47, which was better than both Richardson (2.54) and Horvat (2.81).

The problem with playing Vey at centre is that he’s prone to getting schooled on draws by bigger, veteran centreman. The impact that faceoffs have on actually winning games is debatable, but it’s certainly an issue if you’re forecasting Vey as the club’s third- or fourth-line pivot next season.

Consider that 141 NHL forwards took at least 100 defensive zone faceoffs at 5-on-5 last season. Only two of those 141 NHL forwards had a worse faceoff winning percentage than Vey did in those situations, and those two players – Calgary Flames rookie Markus Granlund, and New Jersey Devils veteran Patrik Elias – aren’t actually centremen. 

If you prefer to look at the shot based impact of faceoff losses rather than raw winning percentage, the Canucks permitted .185 shots against per Linden Vey defensive zone draw (within 10 seconds of the faceoff occurring). That puts Vey in the 13th percentile, the 123rd best forward out of the 141 players that qualify, according to faceoffs.net.

Richardson isn’t necessarily an ace in the faceoff circle, but he’s capable of credibly handling those tough assignments. Not that it matters all that much when the Canucks are coached by Willie Desjardins, who didn’t discernibly zone match in his first year on the job.

Tactical concerns aren’t likely to determine whether or not Richardson is back in Vancouver though. Like most business decisions, market value and money will probably prove to be the decisive forces here. 

As mentioned previously, Horvat is on an affordable entry-level deal, while Vey is a restricted free agent with minimal leverage. If need be the Canucks can probably grind Vey’s salary figure down on a one-year deal that comes out pretty close to his qualifying offer (though that hasn’t really been Jim Benning’s style).

With Vey and Horvat waiting in the wings at bargain basement prices, Richardson is likely to prove expensive relative to his teammates. The 30-year-old handled a bona fide third-line role at even-strength, is an ace penalty killer, and would’ve scored 10 goals if he’d stayed healthy. Throw in ‘Stanley Cup winner’ and ‘versatile enough to play either wing position’ and you’ve got the resume of a player worth close to $2 million on the open market

As valuable as Richardson has been, as crucial as it is to have depth down the middle, and as effective as the 30-year-old veteran has been in 4-on-5 situations, Richardson is very probably not worth $1 million more than either Horvat or Vey (at the bottom of a roster, he might not be worth $500,000 more). 

It would seem that unless Richardson’s injury has truly sapped his market value, parting ways this summer probably still makes the most sense for both sides. 

  • peterl

    If Richardson’s contract value is so low (with this impending surgery), then financially the Canucks could retain him. Let’s say he is paid 1.5 million (low estimate according to above) to 2.0 million (high estimate, estimating Horvat/Vey at 1 million). Only one roster player on the Canucks (be it the suggested Bieksa, Higgins, Miller, Burrows, Hansen, Hamhuis etc…) would need to be moved to accommodate Richardson.

    It does make sense to retain Richardson. The Canucks lack a right-shooting center for faceoffs. If Linden Vey isnt the answer (as suggested above) nobody in the AHL or system fulfills this role either. Resigning Richardson makes A LOT more sense than resigning Sbisa. (Left-shooting defencemen prone to giveways are all over the place)

    The Canucks resigning Sbisa/Dorsett has all but quashed Richardson/Matthias returning, even before this injury announcement.

  • peterl

    Any corsi analysis of the 1415 Canucks should be done ‘without Dorsett’ by default.

    Would be interesting to see Vey’s possession numbers at centre and on the wing.

  • peterl

    Assuming the ankle surgery goes well, the Canucks should try to resign Richardson. He’s a great fourth line centre and that’s something that the Canucks would need to find if he leaves.

  • orcasfan

    It’s interesting to read about how favorable Vey’s stats are defensively, when, actually watching him play, it seemed a rare event that he won board battles for the puck in his own zone! Surely what has influenced his stats are the players he’s on the ice with, especially the D. The implication, when you compare his stats with Horvat’s or Richardson’s, is that there are no variables, such as who else is on the ice – both Canucks and opponents.

  • wojohowitz

    They really need Richardson unless there is a better free agent available. Benning might surprise us by picking up a center from the KHL. The last one to fill that role was Santorelli. It is a big hole for the Canucks and Linden Vey will never be the answer. I don`t think Bonino is a second line center either. Cole Cassels looks ready for the fourth line if Coach Willie can use him like he used Horvat this past season.

    The big question is how long Benning will go with Vey and Bonino until he realizes neither one is a quality NHL center.

  • Vanoxy

    Richardson really is the prototypical “warrior.

    Gets his nose dirty, great penalty killer, decent face off man, likely 10-15 goals as a bottom 6 forward, mentor to the newbies and a leader in the room.

    All this for 1.5-2MM per……Benning says he wants a “meat and potatoes team”….so is he serious? If so, he keeps Richie b c he would need to get the exact same type of player to replace him…and likely at the same or higher $’s.

    Or is this another in the growing list of players that MG brought in being phased out under the rather unspectacular (so far at least) mgmt team of Lin-benning?

    gents, it is not a sin to carry residual from your predecessor(s)……this is starting to look a lot like a concerted effort to put their “brand” on a team that already has a brand……add in RGWD’s insistence on not always icing the best 20 players based on his “loyalty” gene and this mgmt. team is looking pretty fragile and insecure.

    Give me MG’s performance and background–and, yes, his arsewhole demeanour, any day over the vacuous and insipid clichés of this unproven and, so far, uninspiring group of mgmt. rookies.

  • Vanoxy

    Absolutely he should be signed, if it is under $1.5 mil.
    I would try for 2 years.

    If Vey and Horvat continue to develop then you flip Richardson to a cap-tight contender at the deadline for a 4th or 5th rounder.

    He’s the perfect insurance policy incase of injury or regression by our young C’s and a nice trade chip, it’s good asset management to bring him back when his market value is low.

  • Ruprecht

    It’s hard to speculate here and now, as there’s a degree of market uncertainty with what is going to happen to the cap ceiling. It could create another crunch that might force us to look at other options. It could also flood the market with cheaper and comparable players.

    At this point I don’t think we can afford to sign one way or another until we know what’s left in the bank. But then I thought the same about Sbisa…damn why did we sign that guy?

    • wojohowitz

      Out of that group, Baertschi is a lock. He would have to clear waivers next season if sent down. I would also think Grenier makes the Canucks. He had a decent season and is doing well in the playoffs.

      DeFazio is another guy I’d give a long look. O’Reilly is likely a career AHL guy but is still intriguing. I’d also consider Archibald for line 4.

      I’d sign Richardson for 2 years at 1.5 per. He’s a solid leader and combatant for the team. He’s cheap and a safety net at centre if a prospect can’t handle the spot (Vey etc).

  • wojohowitz

    Oilers will have the next Gretzky in the coming draft to talk about and the Canucks have brad Richardson to talk about. Something’s really messed up in Canuckland.

    • pheenster

      Totally agreed. It’s clearly Jim Benning’s fault that the Edmonton Oilers got rewarded for a decade of management and on-ice ineptitude with the best player to come down the pike since Crosby.

      Oilers winning the McDavid lottery is like some con man who preys on unsuspecting old folks winning the Powerball; karmically reprehensible but given the randomness of the process just as valid as any other result. I guess.

      • argoleas

        Like winning power ball, yet the Cancuks have never won even power ball once…

        And even as you comment about it the Canucks are still NOT going to get McDavid.

        Knock Knock. Who’s there? Who’s wasted a whole season NOT getting McDavid?

        • Canuck4Life20

          Yes, what young Canadian boy doesn’t dream of growing up to play the game that he loves professionally and be rewarded for the years of sacrifice with the ultimate prize – watching his team win first overall pick from the golf course clubhouse after another disappointing and embarrassing season. Bravo on your clever posts, and congratulations on the big win by not wasting another season on trying to ice a competitive team.

          • Canuck4Life20

            Really? How many days did the Canucks avoid the golf course? That must have been a better season, to make the play offs only to lose in the first round..again. A pat n the back is must. Let’s do that again next year and call it a success.

            Wasting a season? you either win with a purpose or you lose with a purpose. Seems like the Canucks can’t win when it counts and they sure as hell can’t lose when it counts. A never ending landscape of futility, a celebration of futility, a pride in futility. pat yourself on the back for yet another successful season of a first round loss. The man who can’t dance who keeps going up to the stage to be embarrassed year after year always feels no shame.

            That wasn’t a clever post, it was the truth you can;t and won’t accept. Only the fool thinks that a 13th place finish is a success compared to a 14th place finish.

  • Dirty30

    If Vey had Richardson’s size and grit with the same skills it would be Vey to pick as a keeper.

    But Vey is simply going to be replaced by Sven so what’s the point in keeping him? Get back a pick, package it and get either a higher pick or better prospect.

    The guy that excites me is Cole Cassels — if he’s even half the player his dad was for the Canucks it will be a definite improvement for this team.

    • argoleas

      Apparently Cole Cassels is also something this team needs badly – a very good right handed faceoff guy. With him and Horvat, they could end up with a potent left-right faceoff combo in the future. Richardson is left-handed. Personally I would prefer Cassels spending one year in Utica, but who knows, he may impress the team the way Bo did, in which case, he would stay with the team. 4th line duty could be the way to start, just like Horvat.

      Still would like to have Richardson’s insurance, at least for a year. With a two-year deal, he could be insurance, and be traded for something later if Cassels works out sooner (or at all).

      Wow, nice to be excited for a change, even if later it proves to be an illusion. I just wonder whether 2013 for Vancouver could end up being know as “The Draft”.

  • argoleas

    I was hoping that the Canucks were going to trade Vey for Weircoch at the Trade Deadline. Wishful thinking I know. There is no way that deal gets done now.

    I think insurance and mentorship are exactly the right words when it comes to Richardson. Heck, didn’t he even outproduce compared to Bonino? I would want Sedin – Soderberg – Horvat – Richardson down the middle. Richardson’s versatility would enable McCann to get an audition for 9 games and Cassels to come up for a cup of coffee. He’s supposedly one of the most vocal & lead by example guys in the room and I think when mentoring young players that can count for something.

    Clearly I’m dreaming when I think the Canucks can get Soderberg with their current cap structure – but David Clarkson’s contract was traded so crazier things have happened.