Brad Richards is now a free agent, with the New York Rangers electing to buy out the remainder of the 34-year-old’s expensive contract. This is some of the best news the Chicago Blackhawks have heard in months.
Chicago’s lack of a second-line center is a well-known issue with the roster that has been there since 2010, and it finally bit the Blackhawks during the Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings. Joel Quenneville‘s inane stubbornness essentially lost the series for Chicago, largely due to his insistence on throwing the horrifically ineffective Michal Handzus out on the ice as the second-line center for most of the first four tilts of the series en route to a 3-1 deficit in games. When Quenneville removed Handzus from the line, finally seeing the light that the rest of Chicago saw during the first game of the season, it was too late. A second line centered by the far-more-useful Andrew Shaw nearly led the Blackhawks to a series victory, but the Kings came out on top in Game 7.
Of course, Shaw isn’t the solution either. He is the prototypical third-line center, capable on the forecheck and responsible defensively, but lacking high-end offensive skill. Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad made do with what they had and dominated Games 5 through 7 against Los Angeles, but they could have been even better with a true top-six player between them.
This is where Richards enters the equation. He is no longer the 75-plus point producer that he was with the Dallas Stars, but he is still solid; a 20-goal and 51-point 2013-14 season with a weak offensive team like the New York Rangers is nothing to sneeze at. Richards remains a very good playmaker and skater, and would fit quite well in Chicago’s puck possession scheme.
After the buyout, Richards is set to make gobs of money from the Rangers for a long while. Accordingly, he may be willing to take a little less money to play for a championship contender like the Blackhawks. A one-year deal would make the most sense for Chicago, with the talented Teuvo Teravainen coming up the prospect pipeline as the second-line center of the future.
Other options like Joe Thornton and Ryan Kesler sound a lot better than today’s version of Richards, but they will cost an arm and a leg via trade. It has been reported that the Vancouver Canucks want both Saad and Teravainen in a swap for Kesler, which would be a dreadful exchange for Chicago. A trade for Thornton would require a similar package in terms of value. Further, the Blackhawks (literally) cannot afford another huge contract on the books with Kane, Saad and Jonathan Toews lined up for sizable raises soon.
The only asset Chicago needs to nab Richards is a bit of cap space. Signing him rather than pursuing Thornton, Kesler or Jason Spezza is much more fiscally sensible and also allows the team to hold onto Teravainen. Richards is still a great passer and would fit beautifully on the second line with Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.
Look for Stan Bowman to get a deal done.