By now, essentially everyone with even the slightest knowledge of the Blackhawks organization knows what they are going to be looking for when free agency opens up on July 1st.
There are a few areas of need for this team, but the biggest is that second line center spot, which will be difficult to fill in a thin free agent class. However, there still remains that slight possibility that the Blackhawks could be in the running to sign Dallas Stars center Brad Richards.
Last season, the hole in the middle on that second line was evident. Even during their Stanley Cup year, the Hawks’ lack of a second line center was pretty obvious. Last year, they spent the season filling it with the likes of Tomas Kopecky and Michael Frolik, with Dave Bolland proving that he’s much better in the defensive role on the third line.
With Bolland all but set in that role, and Marcus Kruger not looking like he’s ready for a role above the third or fourth line, yet, the Hawks are going to have to make some sort of move to fill that void this summer, whether it’s through trade, or grabbing the biggest prize on this year’s free agent market: Brad Richards.
Now, if you read pretty much any news outlet relating to the NHL, you’ll probably feel that it’s a done deal that Richards will be donning a New York Rangers sweater for the next few years. These assumptions come despite both Richards and his agent’s best attempts to convince us that they are open to any team.
Richards just wrapped up his third full season in Dallas, having spent the previous years of his career with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He led a surprising Dallas Stars squad with 77 points, which included 49 assists. Those 77 points were good for 10th in the league, and he added 29 of those on the power play.
There are a couple teams in a position to drastically overpay Richards. The Rangers are one, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are another. The Blackhawks do have some cap space to fool around with, but likely won’t be able to keep up with some of the $7 million offers that are rumored to be a possibility for the 31-year-old center.
But what the Blackhawks would offer Richards goes beyond just the dollars and cents. What Stan Bowman and co. would probably more comfortable with is something in the range of $5 or $5.5 million, which is still a solid sum for the veteran center.
But unlike the situation would be in Toronto or New York, Richards could play for a contender now. He’d have an opportunity to play for a dynamic second line next to winger Marian Hossa, as well as being part of the best young core on the National Hockey League. With the other two, sure he’d be the top dog on the top line, but really how soon can we expect either the Leafs or Rangers to be in real Stanley Cup contention?
At the end of the day, is the money and spot on the top line going to look more attractive to Richards than winning another Cup? In all likelihoods, yes. But even if the Blackhawks don’t want to commit a Brian Campbell-like salary, it would be very surprising if Bowman didn’t at least look into it, and try and coax him with some other aspects of the organization, rather than just the money.