Star unrestricted free-agent center Brad Richards(notes) had three clear criteria in selecting his new hockey home: Stability in ownership, a strong hockey market and the chance to win the Stanley Cup.
The New York Rangers have some of the strongest, and strongest-willed, ownership in the NHL. When they're winning, New York is a stellar hockey town. And now that Richards has agreed to a 9-year, $60 million contract with the Rangers (per TSN), the Blueshirts are in a much better position to win the Stanley Cup.
Richards made the decision on Saturday morning after receiving personal pitches from nearly a dozen teams on Friday, when NHL free agency opened. The Los Angeles Kings flew in to show him a video pitch from stars like Wayne Gretzky and Kobe Bryant. The Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers and Calgary Flames made impassioned pleas.
Why the Rangers? Larry Brooks of the New York Post explained:
Richards won the 2004 Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy in Tampa Bay playing for current Rangers' head coach John Tortorella, a selling point. The Blueshirts chose not to send a delegation of executive suitors to meet with Richards in person at the offices of his agent, Pat Morris, outside Toronto, as did so much of the competition.
The Rangers made their pitch by phone. CEO Jim Dolan, GM Glen Sather, Tortorella, and special assistant Mark Messier were among those who spoke to Richards, who apparently has received as clean a medical report as possible in the aftermath of the concussion he sustained last Feb. 13 that sidelined him for four weeks and 10 games.
Although the Rangers had the right to match any offer, several reports stated that Richards actually left money on the table with other teams to sign with New York. Perhaps geography was a factor for the Prince Edward Island native?
Also, the Rangers initially didn't want to go as long as nine years. Perhaps that changed too in recent days.
Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet writes that the Rangers front-loaded the contract, with Richards making $50 million in the first five years of the deal. Assuming the contract is approved, the $6.67 million annual cap hit makes Richards the Rangers' second-highest paid forward behind Marian Gaborik(notes) ($7.5 million), who should be on his second bottle of champagne as you read this, celebrating the chance to play with one of the NHL's top passing centers.
The Rangers face some issues with this contract. They have to resign RFAs Brandon Dubinsky(notes) and Ryan Callahan(notes), among others. Brooks estimates that the Rangers will have $3.5 million in cap space after they ink their RFAs
Richards is the playmaking center the Rangers hoped Scott Gomez(notes) could have been. He's a leader on the level of a Chris Drury(notes), and still very much in his prime. But he's not a mega-star; he's just the prize of the free agent derby.
Nine years are too long. The $58.5 million is too much. There's no question the Rangers have found the No. 1 center they covet; question is whether they'll regret either the money or the term as his skills diminish … or if the pressure in New York becomes unbearable.
Bottom line: The Rangers have been quietly building a young, aggressive contending team under Tortorella, with an all-star goaltender as its backbone. It's been an offensively challenged one, to the point where one goal here or there could have meant a higher seed in the conference or an extra playoff win.
They've now added a player who is better than a point-per-game, who generated 40 points on the power play alone two years ago.
The term and treasure in this contract are extraordinary for a 31-year-old veteran. But there's no question the Rangers are closer to a championship with Brad Richards, and it's not like they can't afford him.