Rangers reel in C Brad Richards with 9-year deal

Brad Richards impatiently waited for this day, the day he could

finally pick a new team from a whole slew of suitors.

After a day of being wooed by teams around the NHL, Richards

chose 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 phone will probably get thrown in a lake later today and

we’ll get on with just relaxing,” Richards said. ”You have to

respect the process but I’m not a person that likes to wait around

for something to happen and it’s kind of been like that for 60, 70

days knowing that nothing can happen until July 1.

”You’re kind of in limbo. Your mind doesn’t really relax like

it might in a regular summer.”

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. The Rangers will likely pick a left winger from

within.

After 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 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. Not even video messages from Wayne Gretzky

and Kobe Bryant won over Richards.

”It’s not easy to say no to people,” he said. ”The offers

being made are very flattering. I am excited to play for one NHL

team, let alone having that many options.”

New York stated its case remotely and did enough to lure

Richards, despite not offering the most lucrative deal. The Rangers

hope Richards can carry them further than their first-round exit of

last season.

”You can find a player like this as a free agent or find a

player like this in the top five (of the draft) and it takes a long

time to develop,” general manager Glen Sather said. ”We needed

somebody like this to take us to the next step. I think it’s a

great opportunity for us. I know he left a lot of money on the

table by accepting the offer.”

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.

”John Tortorella pushes people to be the best they can be,”

Sather said. ”We needed to be pushed a little further. I think

(Richards) pushes us to the next step. It helps everyone move

forward and brings a lot of confidence to the room.”

Richards will occupy $6.66 million of cap space for nine years,

although the length of the deal lessens the amount each season.

Sather said Richards’ work ethic and condition eliminated his

concern about the number of years.

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

against Columbus on Feb. 13 and missed 10 games before returning

March 9.

”I have been training for six weeks, way ahead of any other

training schedule I have been on because I was healthy after the

season,” Richards said. ”My body felt great, my head felt great,

so I got at it pretty quick.

”I know there is a lot of talk about those things, but it’s

really in the past.”

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 last 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.

”He just fits. There are things we need within the club and he

brings quite a few of those things,” Tortorella said. ”At the end

of the day, we’re a better hockey club than at the beginning.”

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 Mike 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.