Once Ryan Kesler was traded to Anaheim it seemed obvious that the Blackhawks were going to look for a bargain center on the free agent market. Sure, Jason Spezza was there to be had if they truly wanted him, but he also brought with him a $7 million cap hit that would require a lot of roster shuffling.
On Tuesday, the first day of NHL free agency, the Blackhawks found a solution that just made too much sense not to do.
Brad Richards is 34 years old, and his best years are behind him, but for what the Blackhawks need, he’s just right. First of all, having signed a one-year deal for only $2 million (the New York Rangers will pay Richards $5 million this year) there’s absolutely no risk involved here. If Richards doesn’t work out, and he’s relegated to a fourth line/healthy scratch situation, he’s not breaking the bank.
But I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think Richards could be exactly what the Hawks need next season, and the Hawks are exactly who Richards needs.
He signed a huge deal with the Rangers only three summers ago, and he was paid for the production he’d put up with the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning before that. Richards was supposed to be the man for New York, playing on the top line and going against the other team’s top line. Well, on the wrong side of 30, Richards simply couldn’t do that. Which is why he fell out of favor in New York and they’re willing to pay him so much money to play elsewhere this season.
With the Blackhawks, though, Richards will settle in nicely in the second center role that the Hawks have longed look for an answer at. And while he fell out of favor in New York, it’s not like he sucked while he was there.
Richards scored 20 goals with 31 assists last season before adding another five goals and seven assists in the playoffs. Not the kind of production you want for a top liner, but on the second line in Chicago while surrounded with guys like Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp or Brandon Saad?
Those numbers will actually improve.
He’s also a player that the advanced stats like, as he had a Corsi For percentage of 54% and a Fenwick For percentage of 54.5%. In English that means his team controlled possession of the puck 54% of the time while he was on the ice. Considering how possession-based the Blackhawks game is, he’s going to be an excellent fit.
He’ll also help out on the power play, as Richards can play the point when the Hawks have an advantage. Richards had five goals and 14 assists on the power play last season, and he’ll help a Blackhawks unit that seemed down right anemic at times.
Perhaps most importantly, while Richards may be on a one-year tryout to get himself one last real contract before hanging up the skates, his presence for one season could provide great long-term benefits for the Blackhawks. He can serve as a stop-gap for Teuvo Teravainen next season, allowing Teravainen to get his feet wet instead of just being thrown into the deep end.
Stan Bowman has said that they don’t want to put Teravainen in a position to fail, and signing Richards does just that. If Teravainen is on the roster next season, he’ll have a smaller role and be given the chance to earn more responsibility.
Then he can step into that second-line center role in 2015.
In other words, while this signing wasn’t a big splash move like Kesler would have been, the Hawks didn’t truly need to make the big splash. They’re already pretty damn good, and sometimes a few upgrades here and there are all a really good team needs to do.
And make no mistake about it, from an offensive standpoint, Brad Richards is a huge upgrade over Michal Handzus. Now a guy like Marcus Kruger can slide into that Handzus role of defense and penalty killing, and the Hawks add some scoring pop to the top two lines and power play.
And all for only $2 million.
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