The NHL free-agency period opened with a slew of signings all over the league. Refusing to be left out, the salary-cap-battling Chicago Blackhawks inked Brad Richards to a one-year deal worth $2 million.
This was hardly a move out of nowhere; the Blackhawks plainly needed a second-line center, and it was priority No. 1 heading into free agency. Richards is coming off of a 20-goal, 51-point season with the New York Rangers, not exactly one of the league’s most gifted offensive teams. The regular season numbers are quite good, although it should be noted that Richards trailed off badly in the playoffs and was ultimately demoted to the fourth line for the second postseason in a row.
With that said, this is a tremendous move by Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks. Richards is a great passer and consistently wins 50 percent or more of his face-offs, which are key to the puck possession game on which Chicago makes its hay. You’ll hear plenty of whining about Richards’ supposed defensive deficiencies, but these are overblown; matters tend to get exaggerated when a player has a bad playoff run, to which Patrick Sharp can certainly attest.
Chicago now has the second-line pivot it has lacked for each of the last four seasons. Richards should slot nicely in between Sharp and Marian Hossa, making for a solid mix of playmaking, cycling ability and goal-scoring talent. This leaves Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane to playing together on what would be an extremely strong first line.
The rest of the Central Division was busy making enormously expensive and often blatantly silly moves on Tuesday, but the Blackhawks are coming away with a significant improvement on the cheap. It seems probable that Michal Rozsival will be shipped out in order to make room for Richards’ contract. This is addition by subtraction; the Blackhawks have a number of impressive defensive prospects vying for a spot on the roster who are already better than the aging Rozsival, including Stephen Johns and Klas Dahlbeck.
Getting Richards for the price and term that Chicago did is undeniably a huge win.