The Free Agent Agenda: Should The Canucks Re-sign Richardson?


This off-season, the Canucks have a lot of decisions to make. With a couple high-priced contracts already on the books in the form of the controversial Sbisa and Dorsett extensions, and with a myriad of useful-ish depth pieces and prospects either hitting UFA or RFA status, the Canucks’ front office is definitely looking at a juggling act that I would not want to be responsible for in any way other than theoretical.

Fortunately for me, theoretical is all I can do, so from the anonymous comfort of my blogging basement (yes I actually do live in a basement), I’m going to spend the off-season looking at what options are available to the Canucks, with regards to the players they already have on the roster or in the system. Each week, I’ll take a look at an upcoming UFA or RFA or controversial roster player, and try to dig deep to decide what I would do with them, with the goal of building the best team going forward into next year.

(Note: “best” is a pretty ambiguous term, I realize, because everyone has a different idea of what it might look like. Some people might want to blow it all up and give the keys to the kids, and shoot for as many high draft picks as possible. I definitely see some merit in this line of thinking, but I also subscribe to the current management’s idea that the team should try to remain competitive, while getting younger and faster. So, instead of any heavy tank tactics, I’m just trying to predict, for better or for worse, how I think management should proceed to meet their own goals effectively.) So with that established, let’s get to it!

During the season, I looked at whether or not the Canucks should re-sign Shawn Matthias (the day before he exploded for a hat-trick against Boston, actually), and came to the conclusion that his underlying stats showed that he wasn’t worth the investment if his counting stats priced him out of the Canucks’ range. Well, it looks like that’s exactly what’s happened, and it would be something of a surprise if the Canucks are willing to match what will surely be an overly large payday for a guy who finished off a career year pretty quietly, on the fourth line.

I don’t want to re-hash my thoughts on Matthias, which haven’t changed drastically since my last look at him. Instead, let’s take a look at the Canucks’ other depth UFA center, the recently repaired Brad Richardson.

In the past two seasons since joining the Canucks, Brad Richardson has carved himself out a nice little niche, as a guy who holds down a mostly fourth line role, can slide up the lineup somewhat, chip in the occasional point, and most importantly, absolutely dominate on the penalty kill.

For the visually inclined, here is a chart, courtesy Domenic Galamini’s fantastic ownthepuck site:

What this chart shows us is that, given third line minutes, since 2012, Richardson has generated chances and goals at a respectable 3rd to lower 2nd line rate, while suppressing chances and generating chances all at very reasonable rates considering his usage, role and cost of only $1.15 million a season. At this price, and given the fact that Richardson was probably on pace to set career highs in goals and assists last year (some of this might be do to Richardson’s 12% shooting percentage, compared to his career rates of 8% however), and given that the team’s penalty kill fell off pretty hard in his absence, it’s pretty easy to make the argument that a competitive team, seeking to bolster its depth would be happy to have Richardson back.

The only problem is, a lot of other teams are probably going to be looking at this information, and looking to add a player of Richardson’s exact caliber. A lot of these teams, presumably, are going to be looking to contend sooner, and will have a bit more contract and roster flexibility than the Canucks currently do. I’m betting that there’s some team out there willing to pay  Hansen, Higgins or Dorsett money (i.e. in the $2-2.5 million range) for a guy like Richardson, and with the amount of contracts the Canucks have left to deal with, and the amount of cheaper in house options they have, it seems hard to imagine the Canucks willing to commit that kind of money to an aging depth player when a prospect could conceivably come in and fill his spot on the roster.

Having just come off ankle surgery, there is a chance that this injury suppresses the market for Richardson’s services somewhat. However, I’m just not sure that the Canucks are in the spot where they can justify committing more money to an aging veteran player, at the expense of some younger, in-house replacements that will be knocking on the door anyway. Bo Horvat has already demonstrated that he’s more than capable of 3rd line duty, and had begun to take on a more prominent PK role near seasons’ end. There’s also the fact that Linden Vey, while struggling to generate much offense, and who was legitimately horrendous on faceoffs, actually seemed to develop a strong defensive game toward the end of the year.

Believe it or not, with all the talk of Vey’s lack of size, him and Richardson are actually quite comparable in height and weight: both are listed at 6 feet tall, with Richardson listed at 197 lbs to Vey’s 189. With an extra summer of strength conditioning, it’s not inconceivable to imagine a world where Vey takes a step forward to fill Richardson’s absence. (Plus they’re both former Stanley Cup winning Kings, am I right?).

Additionally, there is the fact that both Cole Cassels (who just single-handedly crushed Connor McDavid to dust to take his team past the Erie Otters–no hyperbole or bias, I swear!) and Jared McCann will be competing for roster spots, and it becomes harder and harder to see a world where the team can justify bringing Richardson back on any kind of contract larger than the one he’s currently sporting.

I also don’t think the difference between having Richardson place-holding for one or more of these younger players, between having these players develop on the fly at the bottom of the line-up would make a huge difference for the team’s playoff chances overall, provided they don’t sell off too many other core pieces before the draft.

Overall, then, my thoughts are this: Richardson, while in-arguably valuable as a depth hockey player, is probably more useful to another team than he is to this current version of the Canucks. With the way the team’s cap is structured, they can’t afford to give him a raise, and he’ll be unlikely to take a discount to stay on, especially with so many other players knocking on his door in the lineup. It may hurt the penalty kill a bit next year, but overall I don’t think the team would suffer too much to let Richardson walk and fill his position from within, with whoever has the strongest camp amongst the team’s prospects. Richardson will be a tough guy to let go, and I sure wish that this past year had worked out better for him injury-wise, but in the best interests of getting both younger and cheaper, I think it’s time to bid Richardson a fond farewell.

Next: Canucks Should Trade Vrbata

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