Two of the Rangers’ biggest immediate organizational needs – a top-line center and a power play quarterback – were filled with one stroke of the pen on Saturday.
Brad Richards, the much sought-after 31-year-old veteran from Prince Edward Island in Canada, signed a nine-year contract with the Rangers for a reported $60 million. His annual cap hit will be $6.5 million, the same as Wade Redden’s, and less than the average annual value of both Chris Drury and Scott Gomez’s contracts when they signed with the Rangers in the summer of 2007.
“There were four or five main points that we needed to fill,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella during a mid-afternoon press conference on Saturday. “We talked about center-ice men, an elite center-ice man, we got that with Richie. We talked about a guy to run the power play, we got that with Richie. Something that I think goes a little unnoticed, and I think has got to be more important than the first two, has got to be the mentoring of our young kids.”
TSN in Canada reported Richards will receive $12 million in both 2011-‘12 and 2012-’13, with $18 million of that money coming in the form of a signing bonus spread over those first two seasons. TSN reported he will receive $1 million during each of the final three years of the contract.
Richards will make $20 million of his $60 million within the next 12 months, according to TSN. By front-loading the deal, the Rangers have more flexibility to guard against CBA changes next season, and can more easily buy Richards out during those final three seasons.
“To see an Original 6 team, which is very special as a hockey player to play for, to see an owner that is committed to doing what it takes to win, and obviously what Glen and Torts are doing, I see what Torts is doing, it’s worked,” said Richards, who played under Tortorella for seven years while the two were in Tampa Bay. “I’ve seen that first hand. I can see how he’s bringing that young team along in New York, and it kind of reminds me of what he was doing with us [in Tampa]. When you factor all that in together, at the end of the day this was the right fit for me.”
Richards has been the player the Rangers have sought since neither Gomez nor Drury worked out as Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather had hoped. Last season, in 72 games with Dallas, Richards scored a career-high 28 goals and added 48 assists. He missed ten games last year after suffering a concussion on February 13, but returned for the final 16 games of the season.
“I finished the season feeling great, I’ve been training now for six weeks,” Richards said. “Way ahead of any other training schedule I’ve been on, because I was healthy after the season. Body felt great, head felt great, so I got a head start on it. I feel great. I know there’s a lot of talk about those things, but that’s in the past.”
“We’re at a certain level now, we need to get pushed a little further,” said Sather. “He pushes us to the next step. He’s been a winner, he’s been a leader, he’s been a great player in the league his entire career, and this is just going to help everyone move forward. It’s going to bring a lot of confidence to our dressing room. Confidence is a big part of winning, and believe me, this helps in a lot of places. We needed a little help.”
In the 2009-2010 season, Richards finished seventh in the NHL scoring race by scoring 24 goals and a career-high 67 assists. Now, after ten years with Tampa Bay and Dallas, Richards will play in a pressure-packed environment for the first time in his career.
“It’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to be something different,” said Richards. “I haven’t experienced it, but if you want to be a good player, a great player, that’s something you should relish. What better place to try to perform than Madison Square Garden every night. That’s a dream come true. You can look at it 100 different ways, but I’m looking at it as a great experience.”
“We feel we’re at the process now, our last two or three years our assets have grown, they’ve developed, and now when that right piece comes along, in certain situations within your club, you take a run at it.” Tortorella said. “We continue the process, and I think at the end of the day we’re a better hockey club than we were when we started the day.”
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