Brad Richards may go down as the best free agent signing when the 2014-2015 National Hockey League season concludes next summer.
Richards signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Chicago Blackhawks on July 1st. The 34-year-old Canadian center made his second appearance in the Stanley Cup Final this past June with the New York Rangers. Richards had the remaining six years of his 9-year, $60 million deal with the Rangers bought out to free up cap space in New York.
The intrigue of the Richards signing really came out of nowhere because of the Ryan Kesler sweepstakes, which was won by the Anaheim Ducks. After missing out on Kesler filling the need for a second-line center, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman signed Richards like a thief in the night.
Personally, I thought the signing was perfect. Although Richards is on the back nine of his career, as a Blackhawks fan, you have to be ecstatic. You get a proven center with playoff experience (and a Conn Smythe Award from his Tampa Bay days) who can provide a consistent pop on a line with two of the best young talents in hockey.
Not only did Richards play in all 82 games last season, he logged 51 points, including 20 goals. I’ll take 20 goals between Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane any day of the week. And yes, I’ll stress this again: Richards signed a one-year, $2 million deal. Basically, you signed a proven veteran for nothing.
“If I was going to go to Chicago, it was going to be this way. I didn’t go into free agency thinking anything. I was very flexible coming in because I’m pretty confident I can still play a lot of hockey in this league. I just went to the Stanley Cup final. You get the itch when you get that far. You want to win.”
-Brad Richards after signing with the Blackhawks, ESPNChicago.com (Katie Strang)
Plus, Bowman and the Hawks knew a move had to be made. When the three top center options in free agency all join Western Conference playoff teams, a signing for the Hawks was imminent. Kesler joined the Ducks, former Ottawa center Jason Spezza signed with the Dallas Stars and premier free-agent option Paul Statsny signed with the division-rival St. Louis Blues.
Sure, Richards was demoted to New York’s fourth line during their run to the Cup Final, but let’s make this short and simple; would you rather have a 34-year-old Richards who still play effective hockey or a 37-year-old Michal Handzus who can barely get up and down the ice?
No disrespect to the one they call “Zus”, but the Blackhawks’ window to win the Stanley Cup is still wide-open. Making the move to sign Richards was not only a smart move, but helped solidify a need for the Hawks moving forward.
Pending the Blackhawks making more moves, the top six for the Hawks could be this in ’14-15:
LW: Patrick Sharp, C: Jonathan Toews, RW: Marian Hossa
LW: Brandon Saad, C: Brad Richards, RW: Patrick Kane
Not bad, right?
The Hawks have many options on their plate and in-house matters still to take care of (Example: keeping Toews and Kane in Chicago), but Brad Richards should help bring comfort, stability and production to the Blackhawks in 2014.