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DENVER, CO – FEBRUARY 27: Detroit Red Wings center Brad Richards (17) celebrate his game winning goal with Detroit Red Wings center Luke Glendening (41) during the third period February 27, 2016 at Coors Field. The Detroit Red Wings defeated the Colorado Avalanche 5-3. (Photo By John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Brad Richards had 932 points in his NHL career, which began in 2000 and ended officially this week with his retirement. He’s one of those offense stars who straddled two eras – the methodical trap years before for the 2005 lockout, and the NHL 2.0 rules changes that stretched the ice and mandated speed.
“The game has changed so much from when I came into the League,” Richards told TSN Radio 1050. “I don’t want to sound older, and ‘everything that’s better back in the day,’ but a little bit of creativity is gone from the game.”
But the game is faster than ever, right? Heck, Richards skated with Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou as a member of the Detroit Red Wings last season, and cited the fact that the players are so damn fast today as one of the reasons he’s retiring.
Speed doesn’t equate creativity, according to Richards. In fact, he believes as the game has adapted to post-lockout rules, it’s produced a style that’s beholden to putting everything towards the net at all times, shot-blocking defensive systems and (somewhat unrelated) goalies who take up most of the net.
Here are Richards’ full comments on the state of the game:
“That’s part of the reason why retirement has become reality for me. These guys now are 20 years old, they’re machines. The game has changed so much from when I came into the League. Even since the rule changes in ’06, it’s such a straight-forward sprint out there now, and the east-west … there’s not many guys that play that way anymore. Kaner in Chicago a little bit. Crosby a little bit. But it’s so straight forward and that’s just the way it’s coached now. Driving the net, the speed, and crashing … everything is get pucks to the net, create rebounds. It’s a different game. I don’t want to sound older, and ‘everything that’s better back in the day,’ but a little bit of creativity is gone from the game.”
“I would say it’s a little bit of how the game is going, and a little bit of, uh, you can trickle-down from the use of salary caps and the new age players coming in, and the new age coaches. The coaching is definitely a lot different. It’s a lot more structured now than when I came in the league. They’ve got analytics teams, they’ve got all the stuff. Obviously, I think everybody gets to have a job and work in there. It’s great. But it’s a little too much, but that’s just the way it is. I don’t think you’re going to change that anytime soon. I don’t think the rules are going to change. That’s just the way the game is played right now.”
“It’s hard. It’s hard to get space out there. The goalies are massive, the shot-blocking – I mean, you can’t see the net half the time. It’s just a different game, and it’s probably going to be a lot harder to dominate this game going forward unless something changes.”
Richards said the most fun he’s had in recent years is playing 4-on-4 and 3-on-3, which is very much not “get pucks to the net/create rebounds.”
Are these valid critiques, the rantings of a “back in my day!” veteran or the laments of a frustrated offensive player, giving us the antithesis of what you might hear from, say, a goalie?
I don’t think he’s wrong. There’s a reason why overtime, in either form, feels like shock paddles to the chest: the odd-man rushes, the East-West creativity, etc. Part of that is the open ice, and most of that is the way it circumvents the defensive systems that otherwise have increased this offensive malaise for creative players at even strength: Pucks to the net, pray they’re not blocked, hope for a deflection or a rebound in front of a goalie that’s outgrown his net, rinse and repeat.
But that said: Isn’t that, like, hockey?
The very nature of 5-on-5 means that you have to get your pucks past a five-player front before it gets to the goalie. It’s always been like this; but in Richards’s defense, the emphasis on shot-blocking in today’s version of the game has made it all the more difficult.
The “solutions” – such that this is a problem – would be radical. Like going 4-on-4 at all times, or fiddling with the size of the goal net.
But what do you think: Does the NHL need more creativity?