It is July 1, the day the NHL ‘silly season’ begins each and every year.  This summer, a relatively weak class of unrestricted free agents is headlined by at least one standout: Brad Richards, the rumoured target of just about every team with cap space and the inclination to use it (and sometimes just the latter).

What, exactly, does Richards bring to the table?

To give a more nuanced view of the sort of player that Richards is – something beyond “first-line centre” – I thought it might be helpful to review what he has done the last few years – where he’s gotten his ice-time, his performance in various situations, and contextual data like what zone he starts most of his shifts in and who he is playing with and against.

First up, ice-time.

2008-09 14:16 4:05 2:06 20:28 3rd
2009-10 15:19 5:04 0:27 20:51 1st
2010-11 16:02 5:20 0:20 21:43 1st

Richards’ ice-time on the penalty-kill has been pretty non-existent over the last two seasons, but I wouldn’t read too much into that: top forwards generally don’t get used a lot on the penalty kill simply because they spend so much time on the ice in even-strength/power play situations.

Richards has been relied on heavily at even-strength and on the power play, particularly over the last two seasons, leading the Stars’ forward corps in ice time per game.

Season EVG/60 EVA/60 EVPTS/60 EVPTS/60 Team Rk. EVPTS/60 NHL Rk.
2008-09 0.88 1.11 1.99 5th 103rd
2009-10 0.57 2.00 2.57 2nd 24th
2010-11 1.09 1.42 2.51 1st 20th

The numbers above, as always, courtesy of the excellent  For ranking purposes, only players with at least 40 games played in a given season were included.

The numbers above are superb – not in the league’s highest echelon, to be sure, but excellent all the same.  Richards has, over the last two years, been one of the league’s 30 best players at putting up points at even-strength, and even in a weaker 2008-09 his totals were quite good.

Season PPG/60 PPA/60 PPPTS/60 PPGFON/60 PPPTS/60 Team Rk.
2008-09 0.86 3.72 4.58 6.87 1st
2009-10 1.58 4.12 5.70 7.92 1st
2010-11 0.97 3.25 4.22 6.17 2nd

In 2009-10, Richards finished second in the league in power play points.  Last season, he finished 15th.  The man is an ace on the power play unit, one of the best in the game, and there are no questions for him to answer here.

Season QualComp QualTeam ZoneStart Rel. Corsi
2008-09 1st FWD 4th FWD 46.4% -0.2
2009-10 4th FWD 13th FWD 48.7% -1.7
2010-11 7th FWD 1st FWD 53.5% -0.1

It’s interesting to note the progression under Crawford here.  Dave Tippett seems to have used Richards in a defensive role, which undoubtedly hampered his offensive results but also undoubtedly carried a different load for the team.  Crawford, on the other hand, seems to have worked his way out of that, prizing offensive contributions over load-carrying.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that whichever role he winds up in will play a major part in determining whether fans think his upcoming contract from the Rangers makes sense.

It’s not a surprise to see that Richards is a quality player; I think we all knew that.  He is not an elite, high-end option when it comes to even-strength scoring,but he’s pretty good while carrying other responsibilities and quite good if he’s given a high percentage of offensive opportunities.  On the power play is where he really shines, and I think we could call him an elite forward in that particular category.