Why is Brad Richards the top sleeper pick for the 2013-14 season? Read on to find out.
2013 was a disaster of a season for Brad Richards. The former Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe winner was demoted to the fourth line and eventually healthy scratched under John Tortorella in New York.
However, there are several reasons to believe that Richards is primed for a monster bounce-back campaign in 2013-14. Let’s take a closer look at them.
Reason #1 – The Vigneault Effect
Alain Vigneault used quite a radical and pronounced zone start strategy for his players in Vancouver. Essentially, his scorers (Sedins, and the Kesler line until Manny Malhotra got hurt) saw the majority of their shifts begin in the offensive zone. His defensive players were “buried” with a very high proportion of defensive zone starts (Max Lapierre, Manny Malhotra, and the other checkers).
The strategy makes sense – you play your players in situations that will compliment their strengths. The Sedins are good defensive forwards, but they are elite offensive forwards. Malhotra, before his injury, was an elite defensive center. Lapierre is a good one.
This strategy was a significant factor in the Sedins winning back-to-back Art Ross Trophies, Kesler scoring 40 goals and winning a Selke (Malhotra played way more of a defensive role that season), Burrows becoming a bona fide top line winger, and so on.
We don’t know how Vigneault will use this system in New York. Will he tweak it at all? What players stand to benefit the most?
Nash, Stepan, and Richards should all see the same type of minutes that the Sedins got in Vancouver. Brian Boyle and Dominic Moore are going to do a lot of the hard work defensively. The left wing situation is pretty wide open right now, and the contenders for the top six (edit: LW, so not including Callahan) spots include Hagelin, Kreider, Benoit Pouliot, and Derick Brassard (if he moves from center to wing).
Expect New York’s top six forwards to thrive under Vigneault. The production for the bottom six forwards will fall off across the board.
Brad Richards has a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe under his belt. He has been successful at every level of hockey. And although he was/is very highly paid, you can bet that 2013 was a tough season for him. He didn’t have much of any role on the Rangers, having lost the trust and confidence of John Tortorella (Tortorella isn’t to blame for this – Richards really was out of sorts this past season). Richards was eventually healthy scratched in the postseason in favour of vastly inferior players.
The chip on his shoulder is probably approaching Roberto Luongo-sized at this point, which leads me into my next reason….
Reason #3 – Offseason Training
After years and years of having his buddy Martin St. Louis tell him he should come to Connecticut to train with him, Richards took St. Louis up on his offer this past summer. St. Louis, one of the fittest players in hockey, trains each summer at Prentiss Hockey Performance in Darien, Connecticut, under the watchful eye of Ben Prentiss. Richards spent this summer dialing in his fitness and nutrition regime alongside St. Louis and several other elite NHLers, including James van Riemsdyk, Max Pacioretty, Cam Atkinson, Matt Moulson, and Jonathan Quick.
Ben is one of the most respected trainers in hockey, and I caught up with him earlier this summer. Here is the Richards-specific information from that interview:
I imagine Richards has a lot of motivation this summer.
He does – and that motivates me. When you can take a guy who has been kicked around a bit, and work with him, I’m really excited for him to have a huge year and for him to show people that he has got a lot left in the tank. The Rangers were really wise in not buying him out.
We got him a chef and we went over the whole diet with the chef. So everything is prepared for him. And he has all of the opportunities to really succeed.
Based on the body fat measurements we get, our guys get a meal-by-meal, day-by-day, month-by-month diet. Specific to that they get supplements, and specific to that we retest them after every phase. If there is an issue we address it. We never get to a point where we are like, “What is going on here?”
Reason #4 – Splits
Richards definitely didn’t produce up to expectation in 2013, but his production splits are encouraging.
With 16 points in the final 14 games of the season, Richards was the sixth-leading scorer in the entire league in the month of April.
One area for potential concern – teammate Derek Stepan was one of those five players ahead of him. There is a real possibility that Stepan receives the “Sedin treatment” from Vigneault instead of Richards (although both will see roles that are very offensively-oriented).
Richards is only one season removed from 25 goals and 66 points, two seasons removed from 28 goals and 77 points, and three seasons removed from 24 goals and 91 points. He’s got a lot of hockey left in him, and you should be able to snag him at below market value on draft day.
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Other guides released in magazine format have to be written and submitted for publishing in late June with quick updates on free agency in early July.
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