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Richards' presence could put Blackhawks over the top

Wednesday, 08.13.2014 / 10:26 AM / Features
By Brian Hedger  - NHL.com Correspondent
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Richards\' presence could put Blackhawks over the top
Brad Richards wanted another shot at winning the Stanley Cup. The Chicago Blackhawks needed more skill at center on their second line. The two sides needed one another and as a result, Richards could wind up a difference maker.
Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks

At first glance, it looks like a perfect match between center Brad Richards and the Chicago Blackhawks.

Each has the goal of hoisting the Stanley Cup again and each has something the other needs.

Richards, who felt the sting of losing the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, needed another Cup contender after the New York Rangers bought out his contract this offseason. The Blackhawks, after losing in overtime of Game 7 in the Western Conference Final, needed more skill at center on their second line.

Square peg, meet square hole.

It didn't take long for Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman to sign Richards on July 1, once Richards indicated his willingness to sign a salary-cap friendly one-year contract worth a reported $2 million. He'll start training camp in the middle of that second line between Brandon Saad and high-scoring right wing Patrick Kane.

"It gives us a lot more options," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "You can never have enough depth in the middle, and I think he's just going to enhance our skill and our talent in the middle of the ice. So, way more options as a coach with him in there and it gives us way more depth in all our lines."

It gives Richards, 34, another legitimate shot at winning it all. He's not getting any younger and losing to the Los Angeles Kings in the Cup Final just reaffirmed his desire to win.

"I told Stan and Joel, I think when we first talked, that when you get that close you get the itch," Richards said. "You really want to get another one. In my case, another one before I retire. So, when the Hawks were talking to me, the first thing on my mind was, 'I want to get back there and have another chance to win.' This is a great chance."

It should be a better means to an end for the Blackhawks. The last two times they won the Cup, they did it with fill-ins playing second-line center. Left wing Patrick Sharp handled it in 2010 and veteran Michal Handzus did most of the heavy-lifting in 2013, at the age of 36.

Handzus was used at times last season with Kane's line, but his age appeared to catch up with him. After finishing with two goals, an assist and a minus-8 rating in 19 Stanley Cup Playoff games he wasn't re-signed. The first crack at that role now goes to Richards, a former top center who won the Conn Smythe Trophy when the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Cup in 2004.

Richards struggled in the playoffs last season. He scored five goals and finished with 12 points in 25 postseason games and his puck-possession stats took a sizable drop from where they were after 82 regular-season games.

Still, Richards spent three seasons with the Rangers, all at age 30 or above, and his puck-possession numbers jumped from where they were with the Dallas Stars. The Rangers were a better team than the Stars, by quite a bit, but Richards' production the past three years shows he still has some talent left.

He finished last season with 20 goals, 31 assists and 51 points, with five of those goals on the man-advantage, where he's likely to find a spot in Chicago. He was also durable for the Rangers, missing only two regular-season games in his three years there.

Should that continue with the Blackhawks, Richards' numbers could go up again with yet another bump in talent on a new team. And if that happens, watch out for Chicago again in the playoffs.

"I've only watched [Kane] and he's exciting to watch," Richards said. "All of that is played out when you get on the ice. It's the part that's so hard to talk about now, because it might or might not work. All that stuff has to happen kind of naturally and then just see where it goes."