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This 2011 NHL free agency period was one of boom or bust for the New York Rangers. WIth such a diminished free agent market, star center Brad Richards was the highly coveted piece -- and he's been their target for quite some time now. Saturday morning, the biggest difference maker in this free agent class decided to join his old coach, John Tortorella, and the Rangers, agreeing to a nine-year, $60 million contract. The deal calls for a cap hit of $6.7 million, with the first five years worth $50 million ... meaning the last four years will pay Richards $2.5 million per.
The Blueshirts desperately needed a first-line center as their rotation of a young and inexperienced bunch never truly meshed with right winger Marian Gaborik and could never take the reigns of the top line. The 31-year-old had 28 goals and 49 assists last season with the Dallas Stars in 77 games. Two seasons ago, he had 24 goals and 67 assists in 80 games. The Rangers sorely lacked a power play quarterback last season, and Richards also fills that need. He had seven goals and 22 assists on the man advantage last year -- and 13 and 27 two years ago.The center has scored 20 goals in nine of his 10 NHL seasons, has a Stanley Cup ring from when he was with Tampa Bay and is also a Conn Smythe winner. He's also known as a leader and a great two-way player, a definite prerequisite to excel under Tortorella.
Richards' decision comes after comes after dozens of pitches from organizations who were interested. The Los Angeles Kings flew to see Richards to show him a video that included Kobe Bryant and Wayne Gretzky, for example.
The center supposedly left a more lucrative contract on the table, offered by the Calgary Flames at nine years, $64 million. Six-and-a-half million dollars (the difference) is certainly a nice chunk of money, but in reality $60 million from the Rangers is not a bargain at all. Still, to see Richards leave money to join the Rangers and reunite with his old coach is a great thing.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post explains why Richards would choose the Rangers:
Richards won the 2004 Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy in Tampa Bay playing for current Rangers' head coach John Tortorella, a selling point. The Blueshirts chose not to send a delegation of executive suitors to meet with Richards in person at the offices of his agent, Pat Morris, outside Toronto, as did so much of the competition.
The Rangers made their pitch by phone. CEO Jim Dolan, GM Glen Sather, Tortorella, and special assistant Mark Messier were among those who spoke to Richards, who apparently has received as clean a medical report as possible in the aftermath of the concussion he sustained last Feb. 13 that sidelined him for four weeks and 10 games.
WIth Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle, Derek Stepan, Mike Rupp and Erik Christensen all centers, this means that other roster moves are on the horizon. It would be surprising to see Christensen last; Anisimov is a growing as a center, Stepan did well but needs work on faceoffs and Rupp is also solid center with good faceoff skills. Boyle could be someone who shifts to the wing.
No matter what the Rangers have to do, this signing of Richards is a great thing for a team that has a solid core of young players and has formed an identity under Tortorella. Expectations will certainly be elevated next season.
Last season, Fedotenko entered training camp on a tryout basis, quickly impressed Tortorella and the coaching staff to earn a spot on the team, and slowly began to morph into a guy in which all the young players could look up to -- and one who knew Tortorella's system back when he was in Tampa Bay. Even though he only had 10 goals and 15 assists in 66 games this season, he was rewarded with a one-year, $1.4 million deal (he earned $1 million last season) for the the part of play that doesn't really end up in the stat books. The 32-year-old also played extremely well down the stretch, especially when Ryan Callahan went down. His hard work along the boards, shot-blocking and generally a "stiff" player to match-up against were aspects of his game that were never lacking. Most of all, he was a player Tortorella could trust. Bergen Record's Andrew Gross said that the Rangers were 39-23-4 in games that Fedotenko was in the lineup for. That says enough.
The coach even hinted at bringing "Feds" back Thursday at the prospects camp:
"You go down the list, but we know what Feds did and if it isn’t good on that list, maybe Feds is the guy," Tortorella said. "That’s where you have to be careful, always looking to try to get someone else, where we already know what these guys are and they know who we are."
While the Rupp signing wasn't good news for the guys on the fringe of making the roster, bringing back Fedotenko likely means that another move or two with the bevy of forwards will occur before the start of the season -- and could happen in the near future.
While it appears that the No. 1 priority this offseason for the New York Rangers -- finding a top-line center in Brad Richards -- will have to wait until at least another day, general manager Glen Sather did make a signing for the fourth line today.
His first order of business of the day was inking 6-foot-5, 230-pound center Mike Rupp to a three-year, $4.5 million deal. The 31-year-old played the last two seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, scoring nine goals and tallying eight assists last year. Bringing him to New York was obviously not a move to bring that scoring punch/talent that coach John Tortorella felt this team was lacking, but it does bring an able tough body, who is very good in the faceoff circle. Many have all spoke of the center's great character -- and for a team that has formed an identity, it wouldn't be worth it to bring in someone with any kind of character issues.
Rupp expressed his happiness for the signing on his twitter account, saying, he's "honored to be part of the Rangers."
"He's going to bring a lot of size and he's big forward," Biron said. "He's very smart getting to the front of the net with his size and it's hard to move him around and he can contribute in any aspect of the game. He's a pretty tough guy and can talk with his fists but he's a force who can play the power play and every situation. With what the Rangers are trying to put together as a club, his addition is going to help toward that identity."
It remains to be seen what will happen with the other forwards lower on the depth chart, but it certainly doesn't bode well for guyslike Erik Christensen, Sean Avery or Wojtek Wolski. Let's see what else is up Sather's sleeves in the coming days ...
I know what you're thinking: "Duh." Maybe I should have added the word "hard" to the end of the title. Again, I know what you're thinking: "Duh, again."
The fact of the matter is, however, the New York Rangers are preparing the ship to do everything within their power to sign the coveted free agent. Money, years and annual cap hit have all been speculated. You hear one thing from one source, you hear an entirely different thing from another. It's the nature of the game.
Chris Celletti had a good write up about Richards. From his article:
Brad Richards - C
The question with Brad Richards likely isn't where he'll end up, but for how much and how long. Richards has been coveted by the New York Rangers for some time now, and recent reports have surfaced signaling that Richards wants New York as badly as GM Glen Sather wants him. Richards would fill a massive void for the Rangers. They need a number one center to pair withMarian Gaborik, and desperately need someone who can quarterback the power play. Richards does both, and does them very well. But how much is reasonable for a 31-year-old player coming off of a concussion?
You can't argue with Richards' numbers -- over the past two years, he has scored 52 goals, 116 assists and 168 points in 152 regular season games. But at the money and terms he could command, somewhere in the ballpark of 8 years and $7 million per year, is he worth it? With the Rangers not being just one player away, it is a dangerous contract to hand out. For the first few years of the contract, he'd likely be a great get, but it's the back four years you have to be concerned about. It could be Chris Drury all over again. The Flyers are interested, as are theMaple Leafs, but it's likely the Rangers will pay Richards what he wants, and he'll be a Blueshirt as early as Friday.
Richards knows how bad Sather wants him to be a Ranger, giving him a significant amount of leverage at the negotiating table. Some reports say he is looking for an eight-year deal, and if he sticks to his guns on that, I don't know if I see Sather walking away from the table.
Richards is an elite talent, he's a rare blend of goal scoring and playmaking skills, and the Rangers are in desperate need of his services.
Friday (or really tonight at midnight), will mark "second one" in which the Rangers can go after him. They got to Marion Gaborik early, and he ended up signing. We should see the same thing tomorrow.
But until Friday rolls around, we'll have to wait. Just like everyone else.