The Chicago Blackhawks didn't do much in free agency over the summer, and that was for a couple of different reasons. For one, they didn't necessarily have to. The majority of the holes in their lineup have the ability to be filled with talent from their minor league system. Additionally, they simply didn't have the cash to throw around, as we've seen early this year with their living right up against the cap.
The lone addition of the summer, prior to Daniel Carcillo being picked up for a few bucks at the tail end there, was Brad Richards. Richards came to Chicago on a one-year, $2 million deal after being bought out of his deal and dumped after a disappointing tenure with the New York Rangers. While there's still a long way to go before the signing can be declared a true victory, Richards is certainly making strides in the right direction.
Not that it got off to the prettiest of starts. Richards took a bit to get his legs under him with the Hawks. He looked slow out on the ice and ended up getting demoted to the bottom six before the season even got underway. He started to find his groove with Bryan Bickell, though, as the two combined for a few outstanding possession games on the third line. With the second line on Sunday night, though, we received a true glimpse of how much Richards has the ability to pay off.
The Hawks went off against the Dallas Stars, turning a 2-1 first period deficit into a 6-2 victory thanks to a third period explosion. Leading the charge there was the second line of Richards, Patrick Kane, and Kris Versteeg. The trio combined for eight points on the night, with Richards taking home a pair of those on helpers in his 1,000th career game. While that may not be the most stout defensive grouping, it has the potential to be an offensive weapon for the Blackhawks, while allowing Richards to maximize his role in this lineup.
Having a true offensive talent next to Patrick Kane has already flashed its benefits. He had an excellent goal off of a Richards assist to take the lead in the third period on Sunday. He also sailed a pass to Kris Versteeg, which Versteeg fired past Kari Lehtonen to increase the edge later on in the period. Those are a couple of examples of what Richards is capable of.
On the season to this point, Richards has gone for 11 points in 18 games. His performance at the dot hasn't been great, as he's claimed victory in only 46 percent of draws, but he's still managed a Corsi% of 65 for the year. He's also fifth among forwards in takeaways and has limited his turnovers. With offensive talent around him, and not bottom six players like Bickell, his statistical output could lead to him being an outstanding source of secondary offense behind the big guns.
Which is why his current situation needs to remain constant. Joel Quenneville finally has the lines in a good position, as we saw against Dallas on Sunday night. They're logical. The top two provided the bulk of the offense, while the bottom six was relied upon for what a bottom six should primarily be utilized for. No one knows how long this will stick, but Richards next to Kane is something that works. It can produce high end offense and perhaps finally help the Hawks grasp the consistency they've been lacking throughout the year on the stat sheet.
But, as we've stated multiple times throughout the year, this is Joel Quenneville we're dealing with, folks. Look for Richards to saddle up in between Ben Smith and Andrew Shaw or something ridiculous like that in the near future.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.