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.