Blueshirts Get Their Boy
Maybe it's no surprise in the end. Most people felt that Brad Richards would ultimately become a New York Ranger. And he did, passing over better offers (allegedly) to rejoin his former coach with Tampa here on Manhattan. The surprise isn't that he's now the newest new number one center in New York, the surprise, at least to me, is the flak the Rangers got for signing him.
Richards was the most coveted UFA on the open market this year. Prior to free agency no fan in their right mind would have said they wouldn't want Brad Richards on their team if price tag wasn't an issue. Yet when the Rangers agreed to terms with Richards, the consensus opinion was the Rangers severely overpaid in terms of years if not annual salary cap hit. Some of the comments I saw on TSN called Richards injury prone and overrated. Yeah, why does that sound like someone chewing on a mouthful of bitter?
Look, Richards did have a concussion last year. He also returned for Dallas' final 16 contests and recorded 14 points for the Stars in their ill-fated playoff push. Recent studies have suggested there is NO evidence that players who have suffered a concussion are any more likely to experience another than a player that has NEVER had a concussion. Whether you believe those studies or not, sometimes a team has to take a chance and if the club taking that chance has done their research (as clearly the Rangers have done) then it's hard to find fault.
As far as the term of Richards' contract goes, is the nine-year deal he got which will take him to age 40, any worse than the deal given to Christian Ehrhoff by Buffalo? Ehrhoff's contract is for 10 years and carries him all the way until he is 38.
Richards deal is front-loaded where he will receive $20 million before he takes the ice for the 2012-2013 season. $18 million of that is signing bonus money. Ehrhoff's contract guarantees him $15 million before the start of 2012-2013. The reason some players, at the behest of their agents, are going this route is twofold. First it guarantees them a ton of cash before the existing CBA expires and the possibility of a lock-out is real. Second, it drives the cap hit to the signing team down on a long-term deal making it more likely multiple teams will make offers and subsequently drive up the player's price.
So the Rangers weren't the only team to front-load contracts this off-season. in fact they weren't even the first team to do it. If I had told a fan of a team interested in Richards that they could lock him up to a cap hit of under $7 million that fan would have been thrilled. So what's the problem now?
I will admit the length of the deal is a little intimidating. The fact of the matter is they had to structure it that way to bring the cap hit down and to get the deal done. Calgary at the very least offered more guaranteed money over the same length. Helene Elliot, who covers the Kings, reported that L.A. submitted a front-loaded and very rich proposal to Brad and his agent. Yet only the Rangers took any criticism.
Look, there are only so many legitimate #1 centers out there. They almost never come available via trade or free agency. The best way to acquire one is through the draft and a majority of those come from the good fortune (or bad if you look at it that way) of owning a top three selection.
I think we can safely say that Pavel Datsyuk, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Joe Thornton, Jonathan Toews and Eric Staal are among the top pivots in the game today. All but Datsyuk were chosen within the first three selections in their respective draft years. So if you're not drafting early it limits your options in acquiring a top-flight center.
The Rangers were a playoff team last year. They got by by playing hard and getting good goaltending. The one area in which they needed a boost is offensive skill. Richards brings that at a time the Blueshirts need it and at a position they needed it. With the continued progress of New York's young players, the addition of Richards alone could propel the Rangers high up in the Eastern Conference standings and maybe, just maybe, deep into the post-season.
In addition to Richards, the Rangers added physical winger Mike Rupp to a three-year, $4.5 million deal. He's not to be confused with an all-star scorer though he does have 22 goals in the last two seasons. He also plays about 9:30 per game. He's seen time on the PP and the PK. He's won cups with two different clubs.
What Rupp will do is fight some of the heavies that Brandon Prust was forced to take on last year after the season-ending injury to Derek Boogaard. At 6'5", 230, Rupp has the size to match up with the league's more noted tough guys. By the end of the season Prust was battered, bruised and beaten. Rupp should be able to help Prust stay a little healthier.
Today's deadline for arbitration eligible players to file was today and all four Rangers in that category took advantage of the opportunity. For those who think the Rangers cap situation might cause them to lose one of their cherished RFA's, today's news was welcome. Except it doesn't mean anything other than the Rangers will no doubt have their guys in camp and they won't have to worry about an offer sheet-wielding team setting the price tag on their guys. It also gives them more free time to come to an agreeable deal with their guys.
Here's what to expect; Dubinsky, Callahan, Sauer and Boyle will all be in camp with brand new deals agreed to prior to any of them seeing the inside chambers of the arbiter.