GLENDALE - The Coyotes continued to stockpile centers this off-season by re-signing Brad Richardson to a two-year contract on Tuesday.
Richardson, 33, became an unrestricted free agent on Sunday. He tested the market for a few days but decided the best fit was back with the Coyotes, for whom he's played 174 games since first signing with Arizona as a UFA in 2015.
"It was always a priority of ours to bring him back in the fold and a priority of his to stay in Arizona," General Manager John Chayka said.
Richardson, who notched 15 points in 76 games last season, said being a UFA this time around was not a fun experience.
"I'll be honest, I thought it was going to go a little different and so did my agent," Richardson said. "I had a lot of interest early. I probably talked to 10 or 12 teams. With that kind of interest you think there's going to be a lot of things going on, but in the end I had a couple choices I had to make, and I just felt like picking up and moving and doing all that for the deals I was getting, I just didn't think it was worth it … I didn't sleep very good for a couple nights. You want things to work out perfect and the way you envision it, but sometimes it doesn't go that way. Having said that, I'm very happy. This was my first choice the whole time."
With Richardson under contract, the Coyotes appear set down the middle of the ice with a plethora of centers, some of whom can also play wing, from which to choose: Richardson, Derek Stepan, Alex Galchenyuk, Christian Dvorak, Marcus Kruger, Nick Cousins and Dylan Strome. Even first-round draft pick Barrett Hayton is a center.
"Flexibility and optionality is a positive, it's a valuable thing," Chayka said. "Look across the league and see how many teams are desperate for centers and would love to have our depth. I think we're in a situation where we've got a lot of value there … It's going to be the most competitive training camp that I can remember, and that's a good thing. My focus is to put the best team forward and give that to the coach so he can work through his lineup."
Richardson cracked wise when asked about the team's sudden surplus at center.
"I think it's good because we're the smartest players on the ice," Richardson quipped. "You need a lot of them."
Richardson, who led the Coyotes in face-off winning percentage (52.1) last season, has played 50 playoff games as an NHLer. He's eager to play his 51st with Arizona and thinks the chemistry the team built in the second half of last season is strong.
"It's a very tight-knit locker room," Richardson said. "We all get along well, especially after the way we ended last season. We were all disappointed that the season was over. We were playing so well and we wanted to keep playing. It was nice to see how positive it turned. You want to be on a team that's on the upswing, and feel like you're pushing for something."
Chayka said Richardson's leadership skills serve the younger team well.
"He wears a letter for us," Chayka said. "He's a great leader, a great person, and works extremely hard. The coach doesn't have to worry about what he's getting with Brad, night in and night out. He's a competitive player who loves to win and hates to lose. That's a big part of why we brought him back."