Brad Richards was keeping his options open.
The New York Rangers bought out the center’s remaining contract in June, leaving him free to weigh other playing possibilities. It wasn’t about money. It was about getting another opportunity, perhaps filling the right role on the right team.
On Tuesday, the Chicago Blackhawks gave him an option he couldn’t refuse.
Richards signed a one-year deal worth a reported $2 million with the Blackhawks as free agency’s first day moved toward evening. It was the second center inking the Blackhawks made on Tuesday, as they also re-signed Peter Regin to a one-year deal worth $650,000.
With those two signings, the Blackhawks are currently more than $2 million over the salary cap, which is $69 million for the 2014-15 season. As for how he would pare that down, general manager Stan Bowman said the Blackhawks, “have some ideas in what we’re going to do. That will play itself out over the summer as we prepare for training camp. We’ve got an idea and we’ll certainly make it work.”
Richards knew full well about the Blackhawks’ cap situation, how tight they were up against it. He left the numbers up to his agent, Pat Morris, and Bowman to figure out. The chance to possibly play alongside Patrick Kane – or any of the other skilled wings the Blackhawks possess – was too good to pass by.
“To get an opportunity to play with these type of wingers, the four in their top six, I don’t know where you’re finding that type of talent in the league. I feel I can take advantage of that and it’s up to me to do that,” he said via conference call on Tuesday. “What they’ve accomplished, it’s not just about points put up; they seem to find a way to win all the time and they’re always relevant. So it was an exciting opportunity.”
The 34-year-old Richards isn’t the same center who courted several suitors three summers ago and ultimately signed a nine-year deal worth $60 million with the Rangers. He’s not expected to be. The Blackhawks needed depth at center. They needed a veteran who can possibly stop that second-line center carousel from spinning. They needed someone who can play a solid role with them.
“The strength of our team has been depth, the ability for us not to tax one player or one line too much. Brad is coming into a good (situation) where he doesn’t have to carry the load,” Bowman said. “No matter who he ultimately is paired up with and how coaches decide to structure lines, we’re looking for balance among forwards. We can play four lines and have all four of them be offensive threats and be responsible at the same time.”
[RELATED: Peter Regin stays with Blackhawks]
They needed someone who could ease the transition for Teuvo Teravainen. The Finnish forward has shown plenty of promise, and he got a taste of the NHL late last regular season. But he’s still very green in the North American game, and Bowman said often that unrealistic expectations would not be heaped on him.
“This gives us an established player who’s played many years in the NHL at center, and now we have some latitude with Teuvo,” Bowman said. “(Teravainen) is going to dictate that when he’s ready to go. We don’t have to force anything.”
Obviously it’s a short-term move right now. For Richards, it doesn’t matter. It’s an opportunity with a great hockey team, and one of which he wants to take advantage.
“I’ve watched these guys play last six or seven years. Kane is one of the most explosive players in the league, and it’s not just him. It’s just a great group that’s been together and knows how to win. When you get a chance to team up with one of those guys, makes you pretty excited,” Richards said. “I can’t wait to get to work.”