The bold moves by the Blackhawks’ Central Division rivals came early on the opening day of free agency.
A short time after the Stars acquired Jason Spezza in a blockbuster trade Tuesday, the Blues opened their pocketbook to sign the coveted Paul Stastny to a huge contract and the Avalanchescooped up veteran sniper Jarome Iginla. The Wild followed by bringing Thomas Vanek into the fold and the Jets even got into the act when they added Mathieu Perreault to bolster their center position.
All the while, the Hawks were relatively quiet, only re-signing veteran center Peter Regin to a one-year, $650,000 contract.
Just when it seemed the Hawks would be content entering the 2014-15 season with Andrew Shaw, who is better suited as a winger, or unproven prospect Teuvo Teravainen as their second-line center, general manager Stan Bowman landed a bigger fish with a late-afternoon signing of veteran Brad Richards to a one-year, $2 million contract.
Just like that, the Hawks had a legitimate No. 2 center.
“It’s a big moment for us to be able to add someone of (Richards’) caliber as a hockey player and as an individual,” Bowman said. “He brings so many things to the table for us. There are a lot of options for our coaching staff now. We’ve certainly been searching for someone that is an experienced center in the NHL. He’s played a lot of years and done a lot of incredible things.”
Richards, 34, was a key member of the Rangers team that reached the Stanley Cup Final with 20 goals and 31 assists in 82 regular-season games. New York used its final compliance buyout on the remainder of Richards’ nine-year, $60 million contract signed in ’11 to make him an unrestricted free agent, and the Hawks pounced though they were offering only a one-year, cut-rate deal.
“If I was going to go to Chicago, we had to work out something in this fashion,” Richards said. “I was very flexible. I’m coming in because I’m pretty confident that I can still play a lot of hockey in this league. I saw a great opportunity to play on a great team and fill a role. If it’s one year, that’s fine. Hopefully, we make it work and who knows what can happen down the road?”
Joining a Hawks team loaded with offensive talent and a chance to center a line with Patrick Kane was a big lure for Richards.
“When you look at the opportunity to play here it’s pretty exciting because you know that if you’re playing center on the top two lines you’re playing with a great player — probably two great players,” Richards said. “Patrick Kane is one of the most explosive players in the league. When you get a chance to maybe team up with one of those players on a line … it makes you feel pretty excited. I can’t wait to get to work and try to make it a great experience for everybody.”
The deal appears to be a bargain for the Hawks, and that’s the only way they were going to bring in a player who can assume a big role. Factoring in Teravainen making the roster after a summer spent in Finland developing, the Richards signing puts the Hawks about $2.2 million over the NHL’s $69 million upper limit to the salary cap. Bowman will be forced to make a move at some point to clear cap space, but he said that is not a concern.