When Brad Richards set out to find a new NHL address to hang his skates, he compiled a checklist of items he hoped for in his new hockey home.
Even though the New York Rangers haven't advanced past the second round of the playoffs since they met up with Eric Lindros and the Philadelphia Flyers back in the 1997 East final, the Blueshirts simply had more to offer in Richards' eyes.
After instability at the top with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars, do the Rangers have solid ownership? Check.
Are the Rangers amid a strong hockey market that could offer an exciting place to play each home game? Check.
Is Manhattan in the East, closer to his friends, family and off-season home on Prince Edward Island? Check.
Do the Rangers play a system and have a coach in John Tortorella that Richards would be comfortable with? Considering he won a Stanley Cup playing for Tortorella in Tampa Bay seven years ago, check.
Are the Rangers a legitimate contender? Well, they aren't quite living in the same neighbourhood as Eastern Conference foes like the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers, but they do have an outstanding goalie in Henrik Lundqvist, a solid young defence and a high-end wing for Richards to play alongside in Marian Gaborik.
That was enough for the Rangers to beat out the other teams on Richards' shortlist, which included the Los Angeles Kings, Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs. All those teams offered more or about the same money. But the 31-year-old Richards signed on the dotted line with the Rangers for nine-years and $60-million.
The native of Murray Harbour, P.E.I. will make in his front-loaded, no-movement deal $24-million in the first two seasons, followed by salaries of $9-million, $8.5-million, $8.5-million, $7-million and $1-million in each of the last three years, which will take him to age 40.
Even though the deal includes the three final years at a ridiculous low price, it was key for the deal to not extend beyond Richards' 40th birthday, otherwise it wouldn't pass the NHL's smell test like Ilya Kovalchuk's last summer. Kovalchuck's initial deal was not approved because he would have been in his mid-40s at the end of that contract.
"If you want to be a great player then a challenge like this is something you should relish, and what better place to perform than Madison Square Garden, that's a dream come true really," Richards said during his late-afternoon conference call on Saturday. "With these kind of fans behind you and that kind of atmosphere, it's going to push you. I look forward to the challenge.
"This is an original six team, which is very special as a hockey player to play for, and to see an owner that is committed to doing what it takes to win, and obviously what [Rangers general manager] Glen [Sather] and Torts are doing, I've seen how Torts operates, it's worked. I know that firsthand, and I can see how he's bringing this young team along in New York.
"You factor all that in together, this was just the right fit for me."
Flames captain Jarome Iginla called Richards as part of the pitch made by his former GM with the Lightning, Jay Feaster. The Kings showed messages on a DVD from Wayne Gretzky and Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant.
Shortly after Richards agreed to terms with the Rangers, the Kings signed left wing Simon Gagne to a two-year, $7-million contract and the Maple Leafs inked centre Tim Connolly to a two-year, $9.5-million deal.
Sather remarked that he didn't travel to Mississauga, Ont. to make an in-person presentation to Richards and his agent Patrick Morris on Friday because he didn't want to be part of the "circus." Instead, Sather was confident that Richards would sign with his club because Tortorella was the Rangers' coach.
"There are some things we need within our club and he brings quite a few of those things," Tortorella said. "I know him, he knows me. He just fits.
"Forget what about the stats are, forget about what on-ice [ability] is, it's the mentoring and just teaching the kids what it is to be a pro. That is very important. He certainly fits the bill there. He has matured a lot since we were last together [in 2008]. I am anxious to be able to see him every day again."
The Rangers were considered the favourite from the outset. They sent special assistant Mark Messier to keep an eye on Richards late in the season with the Stars after he returned from a concussion. This is a player who has 716 career points in 772 games and didn't slow down in his 3 ½ seasons in Dallas with 227 points of production in 220 games with the Stars.
(Photo courtesy Ben Margot/Associated Press)
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