After a day of being wooed by teams around the NHL, Brad Richards picked the one that was the front-runner all along -- the New York Rangers.
Richards, considered the biggest prize in this year's underwhelming free-agent market, struck it rich Saturday when he agreed to a nine-year, $60 million deal. The 31-year-old center will be reunited with coach John Tortorella, with whom he won the Stanley Cup in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He'll be alongside Marian Gaborik on New York's revamped top line.
Despite a presentation from Los Angeles, and a lucrative offer from Calgary, Brad Richards believes the road to the Cup goes through Manhattan and his former coach, writes Scott Burnside. Story
"The transition should be very easy," Richards said of the move to New York. "Obviously with a guy you've won with, you feel very comfortable.
"You look at what Torts did with us as a young group in Tampa. I can see that here."
After posting a career-high 28 goals and 49 assists last season with the Dallas Stars, Richards jumped to the head of the free-agent class and was highly coveted by the Rangers. The Los Angeles Kings and Toronto Maple Leafs also made in-person pitches at the office of his agent, Pat Morris, in Ontario.
The Calgary Flames also made a late push Friday, the first day of the free-agent shopping season, to try to land the Prince Edward Island native.
Tim Leiweke, the chief executive of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Kings, was part of a group that included general manager Dean Lombardi and several others who went to Canada to meet with Richards face to face. Not even video messages from Wayne Gretzky and Kobe Bryant, and a contract thought to be similar to the Rangers' offer, won over Richards.
New York stated its case remotely and did enough to lure Richards, despite reportedly not offering the most lucrative deal.
"I was going back and forth every hour in my mind," said Richards of the final teams it came down to. "That's the problem. They were all good fits."
The Rangers hope Richards will end their search for a center to power their top line and run their often struggling power play. New York thought it filled its hole in the middle four years ago when it signed Chris Drury and Scott Gomez on the first day of free agency, hoping for a good mix with Jaromir Jagr.
It didn't work.
Gomez was traded just two years into his seven-year, $51.5 million deal, and this week the Rangers bought out the final year of Drury's contract -- a five-year, $35.25 million pact -- ending the captain's stay with the team and opening more cap space to squeeze in Richards.
Richards will occupy $6.66 million of cap space for nine years, although the length of the deal lessens the amount each season.
The Rangers have been burned many times on lucrative contracts with veteran players. New York stashed defenseman Wade Redden in the minor leagues all of last season to get his $6.5 million off the cap. Redden still has three years left on his deal.
Richards carries another risk -- he was sidelined for a month last season after a concussion. He was struck in the jaw on a check in the closing seconds of a game against Columbus on Feb. 13 and missed 10 games before returning March 9.
Two seasons ago, Richards had 16 goals and 48 points in 55 games before breaking his right wrist when he was checked by Columbus' Jakub Voracek. He missed 15 games, but a broken left hand against San Jose in his first game back ended his season.
In 11 NHL seasons with Tampa Bay and Dallas, Richards has 220 goals and 496 assists in 772 games. Among active players, Richards is seventh in the NHL over the past two seasons with 1.11 points a game. During his career, Richards ranks 20th at 0.93 points, and 13th in the playoffs with 0.98 points.
Richards had 12 goals and a NHL-best 26 points, seven power-play goals and seven game-winning goals during the 2004 postseason to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP to go with the Lightning's Stanley Cup title. He was traded to Dallas during the 2007-08 season in a big deal after six-plus seasons with Tampa Bay.
New York was relatively quiet Friday, agreeing to a three-year, $4.5 million deal with former Pittsburgh Penguins forward Mike Rupp, and re-signing forward Ruslan Fedotenko for one year, $1.4 million.
Now that they have secured their biggest target, the Rangers can move to re-sign restricted free agent forwards Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Brian Boyle and restricted defenseman Michael Sauer.
Unrestricted free agent defenseman Matt Gilroy left the Rangers on Saturday after two seasons by agreeing to a deal with the Lightning. New York also traded minor league forward Brodie Dupont, who played one game with the Rangers, to Nashville for right wing Andreas Thuresson. Both players are restricted free agents.
Thuresson has been with Milwaukee of the AHL for most of the past four seasons. In 25 career games for Nashville, including 22 in the 2009-10 season, he has one goal and two assists. Thuresson was pointless in three games last season with the Predators.