Blackhawks sign Brad Richards; NHL update

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-New York Rangers at Los Angeles KingsIt was looking like the Blackhawks were going to let the first day of NHL free agency pass by without making any moves to upgrade their roster. Then out of the blue, they signed Brad Richards to a one-year, two million dollar contract (a great deal for the Hawks). Richards was bought out by the Rangers last week after playing just three years in New York under a nine-year, $60 million deal he signed in the summer of 2011.

The most glaring need for the Blackhawks the past few years has been that of a legitimate second line center. They simply haven’t had one. Somehow, they managed to win the Cup with Michal Handzus filling that role, but they weren’t going to get by with that formula again. Now, I think it’s safe to say they’ve found their man, at least for the time being.

Richards, 34 years old, is not the player he was a few years ago in Dallas or when he was in Tampa Bay putting up 90 points during the season and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup. He’s older now, and he’s lost a step in his game like most guys do when they age. The fact is, however, he’s still a good player and is a major upgrade from what the Hawks have been working with over the past couple seasons.

The numbers don’t lie. Brad Richards has had a pretty solid 15-year career up to this point. You don’t put up 91 points in a season twice by accident. He has some elite play-making abilities and is good for a little over 20 goals a year at this point. Placing him in-between Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad on the Blackhawks’ second line will only increase his productivity, and the potential that line possesses is somewhat scary. The bottom line: this is a big signing for the Blackhawks and Brad Richards. He needed a change in scenery from New York, and coming into a situation like this with the Hawks could be a huge lift for Richards, not to mention the team.

Here’s my projected lines with Richards now on the team (he will wear number 91):

10-19-81

20-91-88

11/28-65-29

28/11-16-12/23

Signing Richards adds a lot more depth to the Hawks’ lineup, which is something they lacked this past postseason. The signing also allows the team to let Teuvo Teravainen progress at his own pace without being pressured or rushed. It’s no secret the team sees him as their second line center of the future, but putting him into that role this upcoming season may be pushing it a bit. He needs time to develop and adjust to the NHL before placing him in such an important role. I am now anticipating him starting the year in Rockford and probably being brought up sometime during the season. He may even begin the year on the NHL roster and play wing. Who knows…

In signing Richards, the Hawks are now a little over $2 million above the salary cap limit, meaning someone will soon be one their way out. The Hawks signed d-man Kyle Cumiskey today, which may or may not be an indication that they are about to trade away one of their defensemen. It’s looking like Johnny Oduya, Michal Rozsival, and Nick Leddy are the top candidates to get traded away. As for which one Bowman deals, it’s hard to say, but trading any one of them would solve their current salary cap problem.

In other news, the Hawks re-signed Peter Regin to a one-year, $650,000 contract. A lot of people, myself included, thought he should have received a lot more playing time than he did this past postseason, and now it would appear he’ll be given the chance to prove himself yet again. Keeping him and signing Richards bolsters the Blackhawks’ depth at center, something they’ll need to compete with teams like L.A.

Also, Brandon Bollig is no longer a Blackhawk. I’m not sure why he was given a 3-year contract extension this past season, but at least he’s gone now (nothing against him as a person). Most knowledgeable Blackhawks fans couldn’t understand why Bollig was continuously in the lineup over guys like Peter Regin and Jeremy Morin (also recently re-signed) during this year’s playoffs, and now we’ve finally been granted our wish of him no longer taking away their playing time. Bollig literally was not good at much of anything, so seeing him go is more of a relief than anything.

REST OF THE WEST

The Western Conference dominated the NHL this season, and now, they’ve only gotten better. Here’s how:

Anaheim: Traded for Ryan Kesler and Nate Thompson

Chicago: Signed Brad Richards

Colorado: Traded for Daniel Briere; signed Jarome Iginla

Dallas: Traded for Jason Spezza; signed Ales Hemsky & Anders Lindback

Minnesota: Signed Thomas Vanek

Nashville: Traded for James Neal; signed Olli Jokinen

St. Louis: Signed Paul Stastny

It’s kind of ridiculous when you think about how brutal it is going to be for all Western teams this season. The Central Division was hockey’s best division this past year, and now they’ve only strengthened with Dallas, Minnesota, St. Louis, Nashville, and Chicago all getting better. Colorado will still be a very dangerous team, but they may not get over 100 points again.

Getting out of the West in next year’s playoffs will not be easy for anyone. I’ll say it right now: Whichever team wins the conference will win the Stanley Cup.

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More Blackhawks rumors

130107_gq_trout_aAccording to a report from the Ottawa Sun, Ryan Kesler has made it clear to the Canucks’ management that he wants to be traded to either the Blackhawks or Penguins. I’ve talked on here before about the likelihood, or lack thereof, of Kesler actually becoming a Blackhawk, and now I guess I have to do it again since these rumors and reports keep surfacing.

Vancouver is entering a rebuild mode right now. They traded away Roberto Luongo this past spring, they fired their head coach John Tortorella after just one season, and they are really focusing a lot of their attention on their younger players and prospects with the hopes to build a new, younger and better team in the near future. Ryan Kesler is a 29 year old veteran on that team who wants out. If the Canucks are to trade him, which it looks like they certainly will, Vancouver is going to want good, young talent in return. If not that, then they’ll want a star player who will be a good role model to the younger guys on that team. Enter the names Patrick Sharp, Teuvo Teravainen, and Brandon Saad.

The Canucks will almost positively be seeking one of those three players from the Hawks in return for Ryan Kesler. The question is, is Kesler worth that price?

Odds are it would have to be Patrick Sharp leaving town to get Kesler simply for the money reasons. Sharp is due $5.9 million annually for three more seasons, so trading his contract would open up the cap space for Ryan Kesler and his five million dollar contract. With Ryan Kesler, the Hawks would be getting a 20-30 goals per season center, as well as a former Selke Trophy winner as the league’s best defensive forward. Kesler is also one of the more physical forwards in the league, which makes him that much tougher to play against. He would no doubt be as good of a fit for the Blackhawks’ number two center position as anyone. As for Sharp, the Hawks would be losing probably a more talented player than Kesler (especially offensively), a proven leader, and a two-time Stanley Cup champion and one-time Olympic gold medalist. Not to mention his presence would no longer be in that Blackhawks locker room, and I don’t think it’s any secret how well liked he is among the other Hawks players.

Clearly, it’s a tough call to make if you’re Stan Bowman as to whether or not it’s worth trading Sharp for Kesler. I think one thing the Hawks like about Kesler over Sharp is the fact that Kesler is just 29 years old, while Sharp is 32. This is one of those potential trades that has it’s definite positives and it’s definite negatives.

So what about Teravinen and Saad?

Originally it was believed that the Canucks wanted Brandon Saad as part of any deal that involved Ryan Kesler coming to the Hawks. Obviously, the word on the street is that the Blackhawks said “no way” and those talks ended. The only reason the Kesler rumors have picked up again is because it would appear Brandon Saad no longer has to be part of the deal. Some people have said that in place of Saad, the Canucks now want Teuvo Teravainen, the Hawks’ top prospect. While I’m sure they do want him, there’s no way they’re getting him. Even if the Hawks were willing to part ways with Teuvo or Saad, neither of those players has a large enough contract to open the cap space for Kesler (the cap space would be there right now, but not in two years after the Hawks re-sign Kane and Toews). And there’s no way the Hawks trade Saad/Teravainen and Sharp.

So that leaves Patrick Sharp as being the only real possible candidate to get traded for Kesler. I’m sure the Hawks would gladly trade Seabrook and his contract for Kesler, but I’m not sure the Canucks would go for that. The Blackhawks are looking for ways to get their young defensemen (Clendening, Dahlbeck, and Johns) into the NHL, and trading Seabrook or Oduya would open up that door.

Another name that has really come onto the scene recently is that of Jason Spezza. He wants out of Ottawa, and the Senators appear to be trying to grant his wish. Spezza is another center that would fit perfectly on the Hawks’ second line, and he might even come at a cheaper price. Still, a big contract would have to be moved from the Hawks to get him. I’d say the Kesler thing is a bit more likely than this one.

WINTER CLASSIC

7327531TSN’s Bob McKenzie confirmed yesterday that the Blackhawks will be Washington’s opponent in next year’s Winter Classic. This will be the second time that each of these teams has taken part in a Winter Classic, with Chicago having done so in 2009 at Wrigley Field, and Washington in 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

Personally, this matchup makes very little sense to me from a hockey standpoint. These two teams have zero rivalry between them, and the Capitals aren’t even a playoff team. The only reason Washington is in this game is because they have Alex Ovechkin and they’re an east coast team. The NHL always seems to need an east coast team in these big games just to be “safe” with their TV ratings.

If I’m a west coast team like Minnesota, Colorado, or St. Louis, I’m pretty hacked off at this point. All three of them just made the playoffs, and all three could fill up an outdoor stadium for a Winter Classic. Yet other teams are already playing in their second Winter Classic, some of them not even playoff teams. If you put them (Minnesota, Colorado, or St. Louis) up against a team like the Blackhawks, it would make for a much better game than a Hawks-Capitals one. The Hawks share a “rivalry” with all three of those teams, and the Blackhawks generate large TV ratings, which would make it a “safe” game for the NHL. But what do I know?

Thanks for reading.