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Blackhawks sign Richards to one-year contract

by Dan Rosen / Chicago Blackhawks
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Brad Richards learned about the Chicago Blackhawks' interest in him from his agent Sunday. The center's ears immediately perked up, even if he met the news from Pat Morris with some skepticism.

"When he mentioned Chicago obviously I was very interested," Richards said Tuesday. "I knew full well of what the challenges were of trying to get a contract because of the salary cap."

Richards' excitement intensified after a conference call he had Monday night with Chicago general manager Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville. Richards' hope became reality Tuesday when he and the Blackhawks agreed to a one-year contract.

Richards goes into Chicago as the favorite to be the No. 2 center behind Jonathan Toews, although Bowman is adamant that the Blackhawks don't number their lines.

"I kind of left it up to Stan and Pat Morris, my agent, to try to figure out how all that works, the cap," Richards said. "They did, and when we got to something mutual for both sides, I knew I could go there and try to help this team win again. It's an amazing opportunity for me."

Richards was an unrestricted free agent because his former team, the New York Rangers, bought out the final six years of his nine-year, $60 million contract to free up $6.7 million in NHL salary-cap space.

Bowman told Richards he could offer only a one-year contract at a reasonable term. Chicago already was tight against the $69 million salary cap for next season and plans to sign Patrick Kane and Toews to expensive, long-term contract extensions that will start in the 2015-16 season. A two-year contract for Richards would have butted into that.

Bowman also told Richards the Blackhawks could offer him a chance to play alongside elite players on a team destined to compete for the Stanley Cup. Richards didn't need much more convincing.

"I think it's a testament to Brad and how badly he wants to win because I don't doubt he left more money and term on the table," Bowman said. "I think it was obvious he wanted to be here. I think that goes a long way."

Richards said the one-year term doesn't bother him because he's not thinking beyond next season anyway. He said a long-term contract pales in comparison to trying to win the Stanley Cup again.

Richards won the Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 and went to the Cup Final last season with the Rangers.

"You get the itch when you get that far and you want to win," Richards said. "I saw an opportunity to play on a great team, fill a role. But also these guys are relevant every year and I just thought this was a great fit. It wasn't about trying to be here long term. If it's one year, that's fine. Hopefully we make it work and who knows what can happen down the road. I can't predict that and I'm not really worried about it. I just want to get there and enjoy this opportunity."

The Blackhawks also re-signed center Peter Regin on Tuesday. Their NHL roster exceeds the salary cap, but they are allowed to be over the cap by 10 percent until final rosters are submitted before the start of the regular season.

Bowman said the Blackhawks have ideas on how they're going to become cap compliant before the season begins, but he did not want to discuss them during his conference call with reporters.

"Right now the focus is on the excitement we have in adding a player of Brad's stature," Bowman said. "He brings a lot to the table for us on and off the ice. It's a great addition for the hockey team."

Richards had 20 goals and 51 points in 82 games last season and became the Rangers' de facto captain after captain Ryan Callahan was traded to the Lightning on March 5.

The Rangers liked Richards, particularly his leadership qualities, but general manager Glen Sather called it a business decision to issue him a compliance buyout. New York would have faced a stiff cap-recapture penalty had Richards retired before the contract expired.

Richards brings those leadership qualities, along with his on-ice experience and ability, to a team that has all three. He said he likes the idea of going to an established team with a strong leadership core so he can play a role rather than have the responsibility to do more.

"It's not going in there to hide or do anything like that, but it's going to be a different feeling and I'm kind of happy about that feeling, to go in and just worry about myself and getting acclimated to Chicago and the team," Richards said. "As I get into the team and find out all the different parts there might be sometimes you can help out, but [leadership] is not a void in their team as far as I can see. Anyone can always help, but it's going to go in and fit in, just play hockey and have fun. That's something that is very underrated at times, when you have to worry about so many different things. That's why it's such a great fit I believe."

Richards' presence should also buy time for Chicago to groom rookie Teuvo Teravainen, who is considered a future star center. Bowman said adding Richards does not change Chicago's big plans for Teravainen, who turns 20 on Sept. 11.

"We're going to see where he's at when he gets to training camp," Bowman said of Teravainen, who made his NHL debut last season by playing three regular-season games. "This obviously gives us an established player who has played many years in the NHL at an important position, and now we have some latitude with Teuvo. We don't have to force anything."

Richards played three-plus seasons in the Western Conference with the Dallas Stars, from the end of the 2007-08 season through the 2010-11 season before he signed with the Rangers as an unrestricted free agent. He tied a career-best with 91 points in 2009-10.

"When you look at the opportunity to play here it's pretty exciting because you know if you're playing center on the top two lines you're playing with a great player, or probably two great players, actually," Richards said. "It wasn't hard for me to love Chicago. It was just trying how to figure out how to get it to work with the cap."

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