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Will Broadway Brad be headed back to New York this offseason?

Bobby Bevilacqua

Brad Richards

After winning the Stanley Cup in Chicago, could Brad Richards be heading back to New York for next season? Photo courtesy of Nick Laham.

Now that the Stanley Cup Finals are over, with the Chicago Blackhawks crowned as champions for the third time in six years, it’s time for trade rumors, surprise signings and speculations. And today, I’m starting with my own speculation and prediction, something that I have said since before the start of the 2014-15 season.

Brad Richards will be a New York Ranger for the 2015-16 season.

Before I start, this is pure speculation. I don’t have an insider tip, I haven’t talked to Brad Richards or his agent or a family member, and I don’t have contact with any members of the Rangers’ front office. But I do think that I have some fairly strong arguments for my case.

After the Rangers were defeated by the Los Angeles Kings in five games in June of 2014, Glen Sather used his final compliance buy out on Brad Richards, terminating his contract after just three years in New York. It was a foolish contract by Sather, mainly because it kept Richards until he was 40, with a cap hit of $6.67 annually, and it was a contract that realistically never would have been completed. Keeping him at that hit would have handcuffed the Rangers when trying to re-sign younger, core players in the coming years.

This wasn’t an easy decision at all for Sather, as Richards was seen as an important leader in the locker room, and he did produce for the team, putting up 20 goals and 31 assists in his last regular season with the Rangers.

“This was an extremely difficult decision to make because I have so much respect for him,” Sather said following the buyout. “Brad’s leadership and guidance for our young players was invaluable to our organization. Brad has been a very good player for us and an even better person.” (CBS Sports)

brad richards away jersey

Brad Richards was a leader on and off the ice, and a well respected mentor to the younger players. Photo courtesy of Elsa Garrison/Getty Images.

As a result of the compliance buyout, he is owed $12.6 million spread out until 2026, on top of an additional $8 million in signing bonuses, because those cannot. Richards is getting a good amount of money for quite some time.

Last summer, Richards signed a surprising one year, $2 million deal to join the Chicago Blackhawks, likely turning down longer contracts for more money. Chicago didn’t have a ton of cap space, and were not able to commit long term. But there was something really pulling him towards Chicago.

“The last thing Joel said when I hung up was, ‘Come to Chicago, we’ll win a Cup,’” Richards said. “He said it like three times in that conversation. He kept interrupting me, kept saying that, and I kept hearing that, thinking, ‘How does he know that?’” (NHL.com)

So Richards took the risk of a one year deal, signing with the team that he thought would give him the best shot of hoisting the Stanley Cup once again. And less than a year later, he was skating around the ice at the United Center, lifting the greatest trophy in sports over his head.

brad richards cup

Brad Richards celebrates after winning the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games. Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennet/Getty Images.

Now that he’s accomplished his goal, able to win the Stanley Cup again for the first time in 11 years, I think we will see Richards back on Broadway.

For starters, the Blackhawks are going to be in some serious trouble when it comes to managing the salary cap. With Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’ new contracts kicking in next season, each with a cap hit of $10.5 million, there isn’t a lot of room, and it will be impossible for GM Stan Bowman to keep this team together.

The Blackhawks have a total of $53.6 million wrapped up in Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Nicholas Hjalmarsson and Corey Crawford, not including about another $12.9 million wrapped up in other players. That means that Brandon Saad is going to get a big pay raise from his $750,000 salary, and Andrew Desjardins, Antoine Vermette, Johnny Oduya, Michal Rozsival, and Kyle Cumiskey are all unrestricted free agents. Marcus Kruger, Joakim Nordstrom, David Rundblad and Viktor Svedberg are the other restricted free agents. (war-on-ice.com)

The expected salary cap for 2015-16 is around $71 million. There is no way all of those guys listed, including Brad Richards, will be signed for a total of $4.5 million. Richards, one of the oldest players, will be a cap casualty.

I think there are two reasons why Brad Richards signed a cheap, one year deal with Chicago. First off, the promise of a Stanley Cup was alluring, and the deal needed to be cheap in order to fit under the cap. Second, Richards loved New York, wants to win a Cup here, and is open to coming back.

23 September 2014: Chicago Blackhawks center Brad Richards (91) in action during a preseason game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings at the United Center, in Chicago, IL.

Richards signed an affordable one year deal with Chicago to fit under the cap and to ensure himself a shot at winning the Stanley Cup. But did he also do it because he wanted to come back to New York? Photo courtesy of the Chicago Blackhawks.

After winning the championship last night, Richards reflected on his time in New York, and all that has changed.

“It’s hard to believe what’s happened in a year,” Richards said. “I was pretty down and out to be honest with you. I wanted it to work so bad in New York and I knew that was probably my last chance with the Rangers because of what was coming. It was a pretty sad week. And then having to part ways; some days you don’t even think you’ll get another chance at it. Do I want to go somewhere else? All those thoughts.” (NHL.com)

Now I may be reaching a bit here, but that sounds pretty sentimental to me. Richards was a leader and a mentor in the locker room, made lots of friends in his three years in New York, and enjoyed donning the Rangers uniform and playing at Madison Square Garden.

While Richards may be turning 35, he still has some gas left in the tank. In 76 regular season games, he tallied 37 points, struggling at times but finishing with 12 goals and 25 assists. In the playoffs, he added 14 points in 23, including assists on both goals in the deciding Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Due to the fact that he is already being paid, on average, about $1.8 million a year by the Rangers until 2026, maybe he isn’t looking for a lucrative contract. Perhaps he’d take a similar deal to the one that he signed with the Blackhawks, or maybe even a bit of a discount. According to @TheHockeyChat on Twitter, Richards would take a pay cut to return to the Rangers (Note: Not sure how reliable this account/website is, but I wanted to note it anyway.)

If Sather could get Richards back for anything around $2 million or less, he should absolutely jump on it. Yes, he is 35, but speed has never been the main point of his game. Richards is a skilled passer, a smart skater, and has a pretty good shot. He can still man the point on the power play, maybe paired with Dan Boyle, and he could potentially replicate his production from his last season in New York.

If the Rangers want to win the Stanley Cup, cheap depth players are extremely important to the roster. When Sather first signed Richards, he was a premier free agent. Now, he can be that affordable depth player, and help solidify the bottom six, and assuming a bigger role if needed.

Right now, it looks like the Rangers’ centers will be Derick Brassard, Kevin Hayes, Dominic Moore, and Derek Stepan, although he still needs to be re-signed. If Sather brought in “Broadway Brad” Richards again, he could take over the third line center role, shifting Kevin Hayes back to the wing, his natural position. That would also allow Hayes to get more minutes, potentially as a top-six winger with Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan.

Now that Brad Richards has won that elusive second Stanley Cup, and almost guaranteed to be a cap casualty in Chicago, perhaps he will come back to New York, and try and achieve another goal in leading the Rangers to a Stanley Cup victory. If he wants to come back, and Sather can sign him for around $2 million, or better yet, cheaper, it’s a move that the Rangers should absolutely make.

Brush off your old Brad Richards jerseys. I have a good feeling that he is coming back.

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Posted on June 16, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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