Yesterday was the official opening of the NHL free agency season, and it started off with a bang. Some teams came out wheeling and dealing (was there anyone the Buffalo Sabres didn’t sign?), others made some deals that had the entire hockey world scratching their heads.
Lost in all of this, though, was a coup made by the Chicago Blackhawks. Desperately seeking a second-line center, Chicago signed former New York Rangers forward Brad Richards. Not only does he fill an important need, Richards took a big-time pay cut that certainly helps the Blackhawks. Thanks to Richards signing a one year, $2 million deal, Chicago made one of the best signings of free agency.
The Blackhawks made it pretty clear they were looking for someone to center their second line. Just last week, they were rumored as one of the front-runners to trade for then-Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler. Even though the Anaheim Ducks ended up acquiring the American center, Chicago moved quickly to find other solutions, eventually landing Richards and convincing him to take a monstrous drop in salary that appears to have GM Stan Bowman very surprised and impressed.
“It’s a testament to Brad and how badly he wants to win,” Bowman said. “I don’t doubt that he left more money and term on the table.”
He’s definitely right on the last point. Richards’ last deal with New York was for nine years and $60 million, a contract which ended up being too heavy for the Rangers, forcing them to buy him out at season’s end. There were most likely a good deal of teams interested in Richards’ services, and they probably would’ve ponied up much more than Chicago. Instead, the Blackhawks made a deal for the 34-year vet that doesn’t put them in a salary cap nightmare.
Would Kesler have been the better acquisition? Perhaps. He’s five years younger than Richards, and would’ve been with the team for two years at least. That said, he would’ve come with a cap hit $3 million higher than what Chicago is going to pay Richards. On top of this, Richards has actually had more success than Kesler lately, scoring 151 points in the past three seasons compared to Kesler’s 105. This includes the disastrous 2012-13 campaign for Richards in which he was benched during the postseason.
You have to think Richards is incredibly excited with the change of scenery, as well. Consider what his line looked like in New York compared to now. With the Rangers, he centered a line with Chris Kreider and Derek Dorsett. Both are quality players, sure, but now Richards will have Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on his wings in Chicago. It doesn’t take a ton of research to see how this is an upgrade.
Despite the discounted deal, the Blackhawks still have some work to do with their salary cap. According to CapGeek, Chicago needs to shed a little over $2 million from their roster. They also still need to address the pending contract negotiations with stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. There are a handful of players who will likely be considered for potential trades in order to make enough room.
That said, this would be a bigger issue if they weren’t able to convince Richards to sign so cheaply. Richards wants another shot at the Stanley Cup that eluded him last month, ditto for the Blackhawks. With this signing, the chances at doing so improved for both sides.