Tempted to sell high on Brad Richards? Maybe you should hold your horses...
Last week, I wrote about a player in Jason Garrison, who I predicted would translate a hot start into a strong season. This week, I am going to profile a guy who I drafted in the Dobber Experts league that I am not exactly sure what to do with: Brad Richards.
I’ll admit, when I sat down to write this article, I fully intended to write a piece on how I should probably sell high on Richards. He is not a very well rounded player by any stretch and it was going to be my strategy to use his name power and current point per game pace to flip him into a more useful all around performer. I still think this is probably a good strategy, but because of some insights I gained using the tools at Fantasy Hockey Geek, I am not so certain any more.
Why have I always been so low on Richards?
I often reference Brad Richards in my columns as the player you should avoid drafting, while you wait for another player that I am proposing you draft later who will provide similar value (It was pretty much a year ago today when I told you to target Mikko Koivu and pass on Richards). I ended up looking pretty smart, when I passed on Richards as he was drafted in the top 50 of most leagues last season and then proceeded to have one of the worst seasons of his career.
I had been down on Richards because:
• His shots were down. Even in 2011, when he played well for the Rangers, he shot 43 less times than his previous year with Dallas. It got worse last season as he shot at a pace that would have him come below 200 in an 82 game season.
• He doesn’t hit or collect PIMs. If your league counts either of these stats, then Brad Richards is a major drain on those categories.
• He is a career -68. We all know that +/- isn’t exactly a reliable stat, but Richards has only come on the right side of even 3 times in his career, while being a double-digit minus five times.
• With all of those “drains” on other categories, I didn’t believe that Richards provided enough in the offensive categories to make up for it. His goal totals are ok, but really the only category that he excels at is assists.
• He was overvalued. This is the crux of it all. I always wanted to stay away from Brad, because he had a big name and point total, which leads to a high draft position. I just cannot justify using a pick that high on a guy who is really only good in one or two categories. That’s how you lose your league.
All of the above is what I already believed about Richards before sitting down to write this and most of it does still ring true. Taking a look at this season, Richards has eight points in as many games and has been one of the lone bright spots for the Rangers. I mentioned that I drafted Richards in the Dobber Experts League which may surprise you considering how down on him I was, but I got him 135th overall and I needed to add a guy with some points, since I so often draft multi-cat guys. At a point per game pace, I know that he will have some value on the trade market, but I also know that the amount of value he is actually providing me is not that high.
I ran the Dobber Hockey League in Fantasy Hockey Geek to see how he is doing for me:
So far this season, Richards is the 167th most valuable player in the Dobber Experts League, below the likes of Patrick Hornqvist. Eight points in eight games is great but he is a -4, he has only thrown two hits all season and only a pair of his points have come on the power-play. At quick glance, Richards is who I thought he was. Even though he puts up points, he just doesn’t seem to be helping my team.
So before pushing the “send” button and mailing this article in, I thought that I would take a look at how valuable Richards was back when he was actually good – my intention being that I could say something along the lines of “even when he’s at his best, Richards isn’t that valuable”. So I ran the Dobber Experts League for the 2009-10 season when Richards hit 91 points:
Whoa – hold the phone! Richards was the 25th most valuable player in the league? How can this be? I thought that I KNEW he was only good at one category? Let’s take a look at what makes Richards circa 2009-10 so much more valuable than the current Richards:
• Again with the shots: At the time, Richards shot total was great; his total of 284 was 6th highest in the league amongst players with C eligibility. A category that was a weakness for Richards last season was in fact a strength for him when he was at his best.
• Power-play points: Richards’ phenomenal output of 40 power-play points was the second highest total of any player in the league that season and is probably the single largest driver of the difference in value for Richards. PPPs are a very rare stat and a player who can contribute at this elite rate will help your team greatly.
• His -12 and his hit total were still fairly large drains for fantasy owners that season, but he more than made up for it with elite production in assists, shots and PPPs, while also contributing a decent amount of goals.
Looking at this really took me aback. I knew that Richards wasn’t at his full potential last season, but I had figured that even at his ceiling – his value wouldn’t crack the top 50. Seeing him ranked so highly and understanding how he actually can provide that much value, I had to take a step back before submitting this article and before trading a guy who could potentially help my team this season. I had to ask myself – what do we have ourselves this season? Is it last season’s Brad Richards who is probably worthy of the spot I drafted him in – or do I have a potential top-25 player here? The FHG numbers from the early parts of this season would indicate the former, but I want to be sure. Let’s look at the major variables:
• Shots. When he was good, he was shooting. When he was bad, not so much. This season Richards has 34 shots in eight games -a 348 shot pace! He certainly won’t keep that up, but maybe that points to him being able to return to the 280ish level
• Power-play: One of the main reasons he isn’t worth more this year is his lack of power-play production. He is currently on pace for about 20 PPP which isn’t bad, but it’s half of what it was in 2009-10. Looking at his TOI though, he is first on the team in power-play time per game. A quick look at the Rangers line combos confirms that Richards is getting tons of power-play time with all of the right players. I doubt he will get to 40 PPP again this season, but there is hope that he could get into the high 20s.
• He is -3 this season, but the Rangers have started very poorly. There is no reason to believe that he will have a worse number than the -12 he had in 2009-10.
On the three above factors that are the biggest keys in distinguishing good-Brad from bad-Brad, there is a reasonable amount of evidence pointing towards the emergence of good-Brad this season. Here are a couple of other things I had to consider:
• The team: The Rangers are currently a mess. They started the season off as a train-wreck and a number of key line-mates are out of the lineup with injuries. Despite this bad situation, Brad is already putting up good offensive numbers. If and when the key players come back and the Rangers start to play better as a team, it is conceivable that Richards’ production will go up -particularly on the power-play (Callahan and Nash were #1 and #3 on the team in power-play goals last season).
• The coach: The Rangers are just learning a new system under AV and these things take time. As they adjust, the players should get more comfortable and again I would say that the power-play stands to benefit most. AV has shown that he wants to put Richards in offensive situations, so I think that the coaching change will continue to help Brad going forward.
• The schedule: The Rangers have yet to play a game at MSG. Richards is playing at a point per game all while being on the road. This is not an easy thing to do. Even in his 91point 09-10 season, Richards had 36 points in 40 road games. His home point pace should exceed his road pace this season and 65% of the Rangers remaining games are at home.
• Power-play: The Rangers have had the lowest number of power-play opportunities in the league this season (24), well below the league average of 36 and half of the league leading Sharks (48). I am not sure if there is a reason for this – maybe they just don’t draw many penalties, maybe it is a function of having so many road games or maybe it is just an aberration. I do know this though – this trend can’t get any worse, so if anything there is upside in terms of power-play opportunity. Last season, the Rangers had 153 opportunities which was right around the league average of 159, so I would think that this year they should trend back towards the mean. More power-play opportunities = more power-play points.
So now that I have essentially written two articles for the week (one on how terrible Brad Richards is and one on how awesome Brad Richards is) where does that leave us? Personally, I plan on treating Richards as a 75 point, 25 PPP guy. I’m not saying he’s a lock for those totals, but as an owner of Richards, I am not going to trade him as if he’s anything less. Let’s see what those numbers would make his value looks like, by running a what-if analysis in FHG:
|30||Brad Richards-What If||25||50||-15||280||25||20|
If these projections come through, Richards could actually be the 30th most valuable player in the league. Whoa – how am I suddenly looking at this guy I hated (and couldn’t wait to sell) as a top 30-60 player? This is the beauty of FHG – by checking the history and running scenarios on Richards’ potential value, I may have just prevented myself from making a very large mistake.
The danger with Richards
Everything that I have gone through to this point with Richards perfectly exemplifies the risk when dealing with players like him. If Richards is producing at his high end, contributing around a point per game and putting up points on the power-play, he will be a very valuable commodity. If his production ever dries up though (as it did last season) then you are stuck with a player who is worth virtually nothing. Players like David Backes will at least continue to provide PIMs, hits etc when they aren’t scoring. Players like Richards are scoring or they’re doing nothing.
This is why I don’t use high picks on players like Brad Richards. I have always been anti-Richards, because he would cost a high draft pick and you would have to be lucky for him to just provide fair value. There is no upside to using a high pick on him, and if you were unlucky, he would have a down year and his downside is very low. All downside and no upside sounds exactly like a guy I want to avoid.
This season is unique though because Richards’ perceived value finally dropped at the draft table. Drafting him 135th overall, expecting his value to remain in the 100’s, but knowing there’s a chance at him regaining top 25-60 player status is a scenario I can live with: low downside, high upside.
Where do we go from here?
For me, nobody is ever untradeable and the projections I laid out above are all based on a fairly optimistic scenario so trading Richards is definitely an option if you own him. I wouldn’t accept anything less than a top-50 player in return for Richards though and I would base any potential trade on need (if you need hits, then use Richards in an effort to get Brown). For me personally, my team is in bad shape for points so I think I’ll be holding Richards for a while, unless somebody wants to pony up a more reliable point producer.
If you don’t own Richards, then I would go out and try to get him – hoping that the rival GM is down on the Rangers and seeing Richards’ production in the first 8 games as an aberration. I wouldn’t pay overly high though, because the downside with Richards is pretty low. Remember, the reason that Richards is a good own for GMs this season is/was that the price is presumably low.
Brad Richards is a great example of a player that is extremely tough to value. I look at players’ values and stats quite regularly and it seems that my gut feeling may have been off with this guy. Fantasy Hockey Geek and the suite of tools it provides can be a great asset in trying to understand exactly how valuable a player can be. Sign up today…and check back next week for another Geek of the Week.
Read more from Terry Campkin