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Numbers Game: Blackhawks bring in Richards

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Scott Cullen
7/5/2014 7:37:30 AM
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The Chicago Blackhawks filled their hole at second-line centre by securing the services of a veteran at a cut-rate price.

Numbers Game looks at the Blackhawks signing Brad Richards.

The Blackhawks Get: C Brad Richards.

Richards, 34, has been a productive scorer throughout his career, but that productivity has waned as he approaches his mid-thirties. While he finished with a respectable 51 points in 82 games last season, that 0.62 points per game represented a career low and the second-lowest rate of his career was in 2012-2013, when he had 0.74 points per game. The downward trend is pretty clear at this point. He played 18:40 per game last season, his lowest average time on ice since his rookie season in 2000-2001.

Given the massive contract that Richards had with the New York Rangers (nine years, $60-million), and the new recapture penalties that were imposed in the latest collective bargaining agreement, the Rangers had little choice but to buy out Richards, after paying him $33-million for the first three years of his deal.

A long and productive career leaves Richards with few needs financially, so he went into his newfound free agency looking for a good fit and settled on joining the Blackhawks, a Stanley Cup contender who could use an upgrade at their second-line centre spot.

In the past couple years, even as his point production has started to fall, Richards has had his zone starts tilted towards the offensive zone, with more than 65% of his shifts starting in the offensive zone. As a result, he's had strong possession stats, which may be enough to suggest that, even in decline, in a sheltered role, Richards would be an upgrade on Michal Handzus as Chicago's number two centre.

In Chicago, there is a good opportunity for Richards to have a productive year. Any combination of the Blackhawks top scoring wingers includes Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, so playing with two of them ought to give Richards a chance to have decent even-strength production. Whether Richards can match last season's scoring totals, however, probably will have some dependence on power play production and, over the past couple seasons, Richards has really struggled to produce with the man advantage.

Furthermore, Richards' presence likely means that top Blackhawks prospect Teuvo Teravainen won't be starting the season in Chicago and that may be fine for his overall development, but if Teravainen shows that he's ready, it would be easy enough to see Richards bumped down the depth chart, as has happened from time to time with the Rangers over the past couple seasons.

There is a benefit to the contract that Richards signed with Chicago -- a one-year, $2-million deal -- in that his declining production in New York was frequently contrasted with how much money the Rangers had tied up to get him. Now, Richards is a bargain signing and if he gives Chicago decent second-line production, he would bring a positive return on investment.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.



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