It 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):
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.