Editor's Note: Here's a great fanpost looking at Brad Richards who has been tabbed as brian Burke's ideal UFA signing this summer.
I'll admit it - I'm a Brad Richards fan. Not just because he is #32 in ALL-TIME point production for centers <= 30 years old. Not just because he won the Conn Smythe and the Lady Byng in the same year he hoisted the Cup.
It's because once upon a time I drafted him in my very first fantasy hockey league and he has been rewarding me ever since.
I don't care if it's a stupid reason. It's the same reason I probably had irrational admiration for Kris Versteeg while he was still a Blackhawk and Zach Parise even though he's a Devil. But needless to say, as rumours persisted that Brad may or may not be returning to the Stars, I jumped aboard the "Sign Richards on July 1" bandwagon.
Which brings me to this post. As I'm sure you all know, Burke is committed to pursuing a #1C this offseason:
Fetching a first-line centre is Burke’s top priority, "no question about it", but where this player resides is anyone’s guess. Brad Richards is the only obvious fit on the free agent market, but his desires for a long-term contract could shift him out of Toronto’s interest. "As always, we intend to be active on July 1st," said Burke. "We have a ton of cap room and we intend to be a factor on July 1st."
As the article mentions, Brad Richards jumps out as being the obvious cream-of-the-crop possible free agent center on the market. Before you choose whether you're for or against such a move, let's get to know Brad Richards the player.
For the purposes of this analysis, let's put cap hit aside for now. Like any other job, before an employer looks at salary demands, he reads over a candidate's resume:
A few points:
- Brad Richards shooting % is quite low: 9.0% average over the last 5 years, 8.8% over his NHL career. His 10.3% this year (His 3rd highest year) ranks him around 250th, among names like Mikkel Boedker, Paul Gaustad, and Dominic Moore.
- To make up for that (or maybe because of it?) - He shoots a lot. His 272 shots this year tied him for 14th in the league with some kid named Steven Stamkos. Hell, he's #13 on the all-time most shots list for centers <= 30 years old. Not bad for a guy who is primarily known as a playmaker. He also gets plenty of time on the ice each game (his 21:43 this year put him 6th among forwards)
- His PIM is ridiculously low. It's no surprise he won the Lady Byng trophy. The guy just doesn't take penalties. More on that later.
- I don't give a hoot about +/- and neither should you.
- I used 5 years as a completely arbitrary cutoff point to see how he produces as a player recently. I also didn't repeat per-game stats as they didn't shed any additional light above and beyond what the hard stats did. His career and per-game data is available here.
Even Strength vs. Special Teams Production
|ES Points||ES ATOI||PP Points||PP ATOI||SH Points||SH ATOI|
A few points:
- Brad Richards is good on the PP: His 29 PP Points this year ties him for 12th in the league among forwards with Eric Staal. He also gets plenty of opportunity - 5:20 of average PP time per game ties him for 3rd in the league among forwards.
- It seems that for a time, TBL and DAL were willing to use Brad on the PK, giving him around 2 minutes of PK time per game. For the last two years however, Brad has seen his icetime during shorthanded situations drop to negligible levels - less than 30 seconds on average per game. Whether this is due to DAL just having a better set of penalty killers available or lack of faith in his defensive game is up for debate, but it seems clear that Brad Richards would not be brought in to assist our woeful penalty kill.
|ES F/O%||PP F/O%||SH F/O%|
Not much to say here, his numbers are pretty average. One thing to note is that in his rookie and sophomore NHL seasons, he posted a 41.4% and 41.2% F/O win percentage respectively, and didn't breach the 50% mark until his 5th season in the NHL. Seems like a pretty learn-able skill to me.
I'm not going to get into advanced statistics, as that's not where my strength lies. I get the calculations and understand their usefulness - but knowing what they are and being able to contextually provide cohesive analysis with them are two different monsters altogether. To get a better understanding of Brad Richards in terms of Corsi, Qual Comp, On-Off Ice +/-, Zone Starts, On-ice Shooting (including PDO), or even who he most often lined up with and against, check out BehindtheNet.ca.
"So what? Okay he's a good player, but we've already got a pretty solid set of young forwards in Kessel, Lupul, Grabovski, Kulemin and MacArthur. We don't need to overpay and prevent young prospects like Kadri, Colborne from getting big minutes."
Fair enough, hypothetical nay-sayer. But before you go making up your mind, let's take a quick look at how Richards compares to current Leafs. Due to Burke's mass turnover on the club, it seems only appropriate to compare the most recent season when most of the Leafs' top forwards were established in our lineup:
Comparison Analysis - Top Leafs Forwards
*represents full-season totals including pre and post trade
A few points:
- Excluding Phil Kessel, Brad Richards has the lowest shooting % of all the players, but the highest number of total shots taken. Hmm... there seems to be something to this "shoot more" trend.
- Richards is head and shoulders above everyone on the roster in terms of point-production - 13 more points over our leading point-getter (Kessel), in 10 less games played. Oh he also notched up 28 goals, no biggie. Having another possible 30 goal scorer in our lineup? I like the sound of that.
"I'm still skeptical. It looks like Richards is good, but how long will he stay this good? He's likely past his prime production years, and I don't want Burke to overpay on a long-term contract for a guy who is going to put up less and less points each year. Those contracts become boat anchors, limit cap flexibility and put the Leafs in a disadvantageous position relative to other clubs who wisely didn't overpay on July 1. Look at contracts like Scott Gomez, Brian Rolston, hell even Mike Komisarek - there are plenty of examples of players who were once good, sign a huge contract, and now teams can't even give those players away."
Well phrased, hypothetical counterpart. Let's take a quick look at where Brad Richards' production might be heading. A warning for the next section - it is not a robust statistical analysis, nor is it using a full pool of sample data.
- As comparables, I ran a search for centers from age 25 to 35 with single season point totals >= 60 points, between 99/00 season up to the current season, and compiled their career stats. I called this one Large Sample, and it included 71 players, some with multiple seasons of reaching the criteria.
- That list was useful, but I noticed that there were a number of one-hit wonders, or players that haven't been around long enough to prove they can consistently put up points season after season in that age range. So I created a Sub Sample from that list which includes 26 centers who put up 60 points 3 times or more in that age and date range.
The lists include some NHL legends (Lindros, Sundin, Datsyuk, Forsberg) as well as cautionary tales (Brendan Morrison, Rolston, Lang, Nylander, Gomez). I'll let you decide whether or not it's representative. Data used for this comparison is available here.
Comparison Analysis - Career Stats
|Sub Sample||Large Sample|
|Category||Brad Richards||Rank||Percent Rank||Rank||Percent Rank|
*For the purposes of ranking, I used the inverse (1 / PIM) to associate a HIGHER ranking with LOWER penalty minutes taken per game.
A few points:
- Even among some of the most elite names in the game, Brad Richards excels in many of the standard per game categories.
- Excluding Goals/Game (where he is mid-range in both samples) and Shooting % (where he is right near the bottom), Brad Richards' career numbers are in the top quartile of both samples. This of course includes being #1 in terms of PIM/game (lowest in both samples with a career 0.23 PIM/game. The guy just doesn't take penalties).
- He makes up for that low shooting % by shooting a lot. Like, a lot.
Graphically, the samples show a prominent downward trend after the age of 29 for high-end point producing centers, and likely the direction that Richards' career will take over the next 5 years:
That being the case, is he still worth it to have an elite playmaking center for the next 5+ years? Are there better options available through trade? Is doing nothing an option?
You'll notice I didn't touch on a number of topics - expected salary demands, effect of his recent concussion (cough Marc Savard), what type of impact he would have on the players around him (i.e. could he finally put Kessel over the hump to be that 40+ guy we know he can be?). These will be discussed in a roundabout way in my next post, Center of Attention: The Art of the Trade