Photo: Bruce Bennett
Brian MacLellan has said the Caps intend to upgrade their third line this offseason. This is part of our series looking at free agents who the Caps may target.
Brad Richards is an accomplished NHL player and an offensively gifted one at that. But he also turned 36 in May, which should give the Caps pause about pursuing him if their goal is a third line that plays faster, more up-tempo hockey in 2016-17.
Courtesy of Own the Puck
Richards has posted at least 51 points in all but two seasons in which he’s appeared in 65-plus games. The trouble is, the 51-point season came three seasons ago and the two seasons in which he didn’t reach 51 points (37 and 28 points) were the last two seasons. This isn’t alarming as much as it is expected, given Richards’ age. And really, his production the last couple of seasons has been more in line with a third line player, which is what the Caps are looking for.
The main concern with Richards, given his age, would be his skating ability. It’s not that fast skating is the only thing or an absolutely necessary thing to play up-tempo hockey, but it sure would help. Richards has never had blazing speed and, now quickly approaching his late thirties, he’s only going to get slower. But Richards has always had exceptional play-making skills and moves the puck well, something that’s essential to play fast hockey, so there’s hope that these skills and instincts can help him overcome the lack of foot speed to still be an effective player on an offensively oriented third line.
The biggest question here is whether age has caught up to Richards to the point where the Caps shouldn’t consider him a viable candidate to play on the third line. Just two seasons ago, Richards was centering the second line of a very competitive Blackhawks team. But in 2015-16, his rate production fell off, as you can see from his production over the last four seasons as he’s moved into his mid-thirties:
However, Richards has maintained excellent possession numbers throughout these seasons.
Brad Richards wouldn’t be my first choice for the Caps to go out and sign, and I doubt he’s tops on the team’s list of free agent targets. But one reason he might be more appealing than players who would be a better fit is salary. He’s shown a willingness to take one-year, cap-friendly deals on his last two contracts in order to play for a team that he thought gave him a shot at winning. If he’s willing to do that again, and some of the higher-priority targets start to creep out of the Caps’ price range, Richards could become a more appealing player for the third line next season.
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