Chemistry Between Gaborik and Richards Isn’t a Given

Brad Richards

The most interesting thing about the Brad Richards signing in New York is the assumption that he’ll click with Marian Gaborik.

The assumption is so prevalent, the only question people seem to be asking is who’ll play left wing on the Richards-Gaborik line.

But I think we need to take a step back. Because just because two players are great doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be great together. Especially with a player like Gaborik, who seems to have some idiosyncrasies. For instance, he’s only shows some chemistry, as a Ranger, with the elderly and unsigned Vinny Prospal, the enigmatic Erik Christensen, and the abrasive Sean Avery.

I’m not sure Richards fits the playing profile of any of those players.

The NHL is littered with teams constantly searching for centers to play with talented wingers. The Calgary Flames have struggled with this. The Columbus Blue Jackets have struggled with this. And, since Michael Nylander left a few seasons back, the Rangers have struggled with this.

A huge part of the challenge of matching a center to a winger, especially a star winger, isn’t the challenge of finding talent. Rather, it’s the challenge of finding talent that also complements a specific talent.

Because Richards is a playmaker, it’s reasonable enough to assume that he’ll defer to Gaborik, constantly trying to get Gaborik going, and shooting when Gaborik or the mystery left winger isn’t well positioned.

But there’s no guarantee Gaborik will be comfortable with Richards. It’s entirely possible the two star players will be more effective on separate lines. The Rangers signed Scott Gomez to center Jaromir Jagr and the two never clicked. Not even a little.

Columbus is in a similar situation, banking on Jeff Carter to be the quality center Nash has yet to play with in the NHL. But it feels like every summer, we read about how Nash finally has the center he needs to reach his full potential. And yet, things never seem to work out for Nash or the Blue Jackets.

Chemistry is a tough thing. You can’t always import it, like ordering takeout. In fact, sometimes it seems like the pressure of importing chemistry just makes it all the more elusive.

On the one hand, Richards sounds like he’s prepared for the pressure of playing in New York:

…I’ve been through playoff runs. If you’re getting into a Game 7, it’s as much pressure as you can handle no matter where you’re playing, ’cause we all have pride and we want to win. I think the experience of playing on home soil for Team Canada, playing for the Olympics, that’s a lot of pressure that people don’t realize if you’re a Canadian playing on those teams.

On the other hand, does he realize just how much pressure there is in New York, even during the regular season? It’s one thing to expect pressure during the playoffs or the Olympics, but Madison Square Garden is pretty high pressure, even during game 56. And those Garden renovations and more expensive tickets aren’t making Ranger fans any more patient.

The pressure of New York plus the pressure of needing to gel with Gaborik relatively quickly equals a huge burden on Richards’ shoulders, right out of the gate.

The biq question isn’t who will play on the Richards-Gaborik line. The big question is if Richards and Gaborik will play well together.