As part of our ongoing #AskFFH series, one reader wanted to know what Brad Richardson was going to add to the Arizona Coyotes. That question merits its own separate article, as the rationale for bringing in Richardson is not immediately apparent.
While Brad Richardson is not the final piece that will propel Arizona to a Stanley Cup next season, his signing raises interesting questions about lessons learned from last season, and what the team's vision moving forward is.
Who is Brad Richardson?
Richardson has been a Western Conference and Pacific Division mainstay for years; after being drafted 163rd overall in 2003 by the Colorado Avalanche, Richardson spent five seasons with the Los Angles Kings (including their 2012 Championship year), and two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks.
The Belleville, Ontario native is not particularly tall (5' 11") or big (191 pounds), but he did solidify his status as an NHL with two consecutive 20+ point seasons with the Canucks. In fact, Mike Smith was one of the victims of a deceptively good wrist shot off of Richardson's stick:
The Fancy Stats
Richardson came to the Coyotes as a third line center. When looking at his HERO chart, that seems to be exactly the kind of player he is:
In terms of ice-time and goal production goes, Richardson is firmly within that third line role over the past three seasons. The fact that his primary assist rate per 60 is higher than a typical third liner suggests that Richardson is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer.
Let's contextualize some of these metrics a bit further. Per War-on-Ice, Richardson averaged 53.6 shot attempts for per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time, and 57.9 shot attempts against per 60 minutes of 5v5 time. When you add the two together, you got 112.5 shot attempts total per 60 minutes of 5v5 time.
How does that compare to the Coyotes as a whole? Last year, the Coyotes averaged 112.7 shot attempts for and against per 60 minutes of 5v5 hockey. The year before that? 109.4. So overall, the number of shot events that occur when Richardson is on the ice does not vary significantly from the amount Arizona conceded per 60 minutes last year.
Finally, how does he stack up compared to the player he ostensibly replaced: Mark Arcobello? In the 27 games that Arcobello played for Arizona last year, he took 64.3 shot attempts per 60 minutes of 5v5 play, and allowed 57.5 shot attempts per 60 minutes.
So ultimately, Richardson's averages fall more or less where the Coyotes did as a whole, and the number of attempts against he gave up while on the ice does not differ much from the number Arcobello gave up. The difference is Arcobello averaged about seven shot attempts more per 60 minutes of 5v5 than Richardson did.
So Why Sign Him?
From a purely shot based metrics standpoint, there doesn't seem to be a compelling reason to let Arcobello walk in favor of Richardson. The Coyotes have not shied away from the belief that Arcobello's game away from the puck is why they chose to move in a different direction.
Ultimately, what Richardson seems to bring to the table is less about what Arcobello didn't, and more about what the Arizona Coyotes want from their forward corps going into next season. With a middle that includes Martin Hanzal, Boyd Gordon, and Richardson, the Coyotes appear to be focusing on physicality and grit at the center position, to complement younger talent on the wings.
Richardson is certainly capable of dropping the gloves to defend a teammate, as Matt Stajan discovered during the playoffs this past season:
The goal appears to be to put physical, responsible centers on each line to give the youngsters the chance to learn and make mistakes without every single one costing them. All in all, it's not a bad strategy.
But why three years? Like Joe Vitale before him, the length of Richardson's contract is a bit of a head scratcher. Though he will be paid at most $2.25 million in a single year of his deal, it's not as though the market for bottom six centers has ever been particularly tight.
Perhaps it was because of the latest spat between IceArizona and Glendale. Maybe a different team offered Richardson more money but less term, and the Coyotes decided the best way to counter was to give Richardson an extra year or two. All we have at this point is speculation and conjecture.
Still, Brad Richardson will likely be around after Hanzal, Vermette, and Gordon move on. And he will have the opportunity to mentor many of the younger players who will reach the NHL in the next few years, including Ryan MacInnis and Dylan Strome.
With a cheap contract and a skillset appropriate for the position, Brad Richardson was signed by the Arizona Coyotes to solidify the third line center position with a smart two-way player. We shall soon see if Richardson can accomplish what Arizona envisions for him.