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Blackhawks Wed Jul 02 2014

During Free Agency Spree, Blackhawks Steal Brad Richards

Thumbnail image for GB blackhawks icon.png One by one, players from all around the league slowly began to learn their fate by way of free-agency acquisitions for big money and long-term deals. All the while, Hawks fans waited patiently while refreshing their Twitter feeds in hopes that their team would make a splash while not creating massive waves in the process.

First it was Jason Spezza, moving on to the Dallas Stars in a trade with the Ottawa Senators, a pretty big move for a team within the Central. Then, just before lunch time, the St. Louis Blues announced they had signed Paul Stastny for $28 million over four years.

One by one, from big names to role players, general managers across the league began opening up check books as if it were Black Friday. But all the while, the Hawks hung back and quietly worked through a strategy that ended up surprising most of the league at the end of the day.

If former Hawks and current Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon, who opened the Wirtz vault to setup the 2010 Stanley Cup, is known for making a big splash in the market (he really let loose Tuesday, inking five players at an average of $20.25 million per year -- including former Hawks forward Dave Bolland for a whopping five-year, $27.5 million deal), then Bowman is his Yang, relying on the development of young players as well as sneaking in under the radar to snag someone as a role player.

Bowman got his skill last weekend at the draft, and then grabbed his diamond-in-the-rough in Brad Richards, who will fill the need as second-line center, likely in between Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad on opening night in October.

Richards, 34, signed with the Hawks right around when the U.S. was getting underway on the pitch against Belgium in the World Cup for a one-year deal worth $2 million against the cap. Richards became a free agent after spending the last three seasons in New York and scoring 51 points (20 goals, 31 assists) while playing in all 82 games and then scored 12 points (five goals, seven assists) during the Blue Shirts' run to the Stanley Cup Final.

To give you an idea as to how much of a steal the deal is, Richards' previous contract was nine years and worth $60 million (the Rangers bought him out of the rest of his contract on Friday, June, 20, to the tune of $12.67 million over the next 12 years, as well as $8 million in bonuses over the next three years -- none of which affects the Rangers' cap). Once he was contacted late last week from the Hawks' organization about potential interest, Richards knew a pay cut was coming, but one he'd be willing to make in order to play for a contender.

"You get the itch when you get that far and you want to win," Richards said in an interview yesterday. "I saw an opportunity to play on a great team. But also these guys are relevant every year and I just thought this was a great fit. It wasn't about trying to be here long term. If it's one year, that's fine."

That's comforting to hear, especially from a guy who apparently still has a little left in the tank. Richards had a down year a few seasons back with the Rangers, but seemingly rebounded last season, upping his shot attempts per 60 minutes from 7.6 to 10.2. His CORSI-for line reveals a pretty good handler of the puck in his team's own zone, holding at 54.1 percent the last two seasons.

But the one thing on which Richards will be called on a nightly basis at the dot is his ability to win face-offs. Last season, Richards won 512 of 1,029 face-offs during the regular season for a 49.8 percentage -- seventeenth in the league amongst those who played in all 82 games. He managed to win 140 of 296 face-offs during the playoffs last season, which was good for 47.3 percent after 25 games -- twelfth amongst all centers. This will help create a lot more scoring opportunities on the potentially lethal second line, which Hawks fans got a sneak peak of during the playoffs.

Another added bonus for the Richards' signing is that it will help alleviate some pressure off of Teuvo Teravainen, the 19-year-old phenom, who likely will grow into the second-line center spot over time. Not to mention, Richards has plenty of playoff experience to help carry the Hawks for a deep run, considering he helped the Tampa Bay Lighting go all the way in the 2003-'04 season, collecting the Conn Smythe along the way.

Granted, that was over 10 years ago. But while Richards may have lost a little speed over the years, he's already going to be faster than Michal Handzus was at the position.

There's still plenty of time to worry about the cap (the Hawks currently are over by $2.2 million), and re-signing Toews and Kane still continues to be a major priority for Bowman and the Hawks. But for now Hawks fans can rest a little easier, knowing the brass filled a pretty big hole while not breaking the bank as the rest of the league tries to catch up.

 

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