Could Brad Richards return to Blackhawks?
While the 2015-16 Blackhawks will feature plenty of youngsters and other new faces, but could we see at least one key veteran return on a new deal?
There was so much to like about the rally for the Chicago Blackhawks at Soldier Field on Thursday. From Corey Crawford doing Corey Crawford things on the mic to, especially, Kris Versteeg awarding the belt to Clint Reif's son, C.J. and beyond. Obviously that whole "Stanley Cup" thing was cool, too. And throughout all of the speeches and the chaos and the confetti, there was one very subtly interesting thing said by a Blackhawks veteran.
Upon his introduction and his hoisting of the Cup, his first since winning with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004-05, Brad Richards made one brief statement to the fans in attendance. In quickly and simply stating,"Kaner has some pull around here. Maybe he'll want me back", Richards immediately ignited speculation that he could be willing to return to the Blackhawks in 2015-16.
His Instagram also gave something of an indication that a return could be in the cards for the 35-year-old forward after he posted this:
Richards came to Chicago after being bought out as a result of his disappointing tenure with the New York Rangers. After coming so close to his second Stanley Cup title in 2013-14, only to fall short against the Los Angeles Kings, Richards joined the Blackhawks to chase a Cup and was, of course, successful in doing so. There was an adjustment period, which may have lasted slightly longer than many would have liked, but we can ultimately declare his season with the Blackhawks to be a success.
After tallying 37 points in 76 games during the regular season, Richards was a much more frequent contributor during the Hawks' Cup run. He racked up 14 points across 23 games, with three of them finding their way to the back of the net. He found himself at the point of the first power play unit at the tail end of the playoffs, a setup which worked quite well for the Hawks in terms of at least getting pucks to the net while on the man advantage.
Then, of course, there's the chemistry with Kane. When all three were healthy, the Hawks' line of Richards, Kane, and Kris Versteeg was one of the most dangerous offensive groups in the league. A player constantly in need of an effective playmaking center, Kane finally found it in Brad Richards. Of the 27 goals he potted in his 61 games during the regular season, 16 of them came with Richards as his center. His CF% when on the ice with Richards was at 54.1%.
At no point was this more evident than on the goal that effectively ended the Stanley Cup Final, with Richards taking a pass from Brandon Saad, sending it to Kane without looking at him, leaving it to Kane to easily fire it past Ben Bishop. It showcased what the two could achieve as a pair on a line together, with Richards completely acclimated to Chicago and Kane completely healthy.
But while the two are a match on the ice, does that mean Brad Richards will be in a Blackhawks sweater on a more permanent basis? It's an interesting question. Financially, Richards is in a unique position where he can afford to take a smaller deal because he's taking in over $20 million over 12 years stemming from his buyout with the Rangers. He was in Chicago on the $2 million deal for 2014-15. Do the Hawks try and bring him back at about that rate, or perhaps less? Would he even consider signing for less? Again, the buyout factor is interesting and Richards has made it known that he is comfortable in Chicago and enjoys the winning aspect (which is an obvious statement in itself).
Assuming that Brad Richards would be willing to sign a one or two-year deal that the Blackhawks can afford, is that something that they should even want? The idea of a playmaking center for Patrick Kane is obviously attractive, but at 35, we have to wonder how much Richards really has left in the tank. Anything more than a two-year deal would probably draw some questions. His hands and vision may not deteriorate, but when you're playing with a player like Kane, the speed factor is also a key. He can't lose his legs (in a figurative sense) and remain effective as a second line pivot. Also to be considered is the fact a new contract for him would fall under the 35+ rule, and remain on the Blackhawks' books even if he retired during its term.
This is certainly a situation to monitor for the Blackhawks moving forward. Richards wants to return. This isn't a secret anymore. He already took a below market deal to sign with the Blackhawks once. Could he do it again? Will the Blackhawks want him to do it again? Stay tuned.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.