Richards' price right for Blackhawks

Updated 7/1/2014 9:33 PM
  • The addition of veteran center Brad Richards, if nothing else for the Blackhawks, is an upgrade over Michal Handzus.

    The addition of veteran center Brad Richards, if nothing else for the Blackhawks, is an upgrade over Michal Handzus. Associated Press

Sexy and splashy are two words rarely associated with Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman.

And that was certainly the case again Tuesday as the annual free-agent frenzy took hold in hockey cities around North America.

Throughout the NHL, there have been huge headlines involving big-name centers the last few days, and many of them have moved into or around the Western Conference.

None of them involving the Hawks.

The seemingly eternal and external cry for a No. 2 center was not on the minds of team execs when the Hawks signed 34-year-old Brad Richards, late of the New York Rangers and a compliance buyout to the tune of $20 million.

Bowman has said hundreds of times over the last few years -- and again Tuesday -- that the Hawks don't number their lines and aren't worried about finding a second-line center because Patrick Kane elevates every player he skates with, and at least that part is true.

Furthermore, when a team has as many stars as the Hawks, with so much of the cap devoted to so few, there has to be some creativity somewhere in the lineup, and there are only so many dollars to go around.

In other words, you can't always get what you want, and at one year and $2 million the price for Richards was right.

"We're in a different situation from some teams," Bowman explained. "We knew we weren't going to be able to make any of those long-term deals (in free agency). We're certainly comfortable with the group we have here."

In a perfect world the Hawks would have acquired Ryan Kesler (who went to Anaheim), Paul Stastny (who went to St. Louis), or Jason Spezza (who went to Dallas). But in the case of Kesler, the Hawks wouldn't include the young players Vancouver wanted, and in the case of Stastny they simply didn't have the cap space going forward.

So while their rivals improved, the Hawks will hope the line that flourished against Los Angeles -- Kane, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad -- will be productive again next season, also knowing that Joel Quenneville is more likely to shave his mustache than keep a line together for more than a game or two.

So several players will get a chance to center that line, including Richards and 19-year-old Teuvo Teravainen.

"Experience and leadership and character sometimes get overlooked for us because we have such a good group," Bowman said, "but Brad is really the whole package, and we're excited about that."

Richards, the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, doesn't compare to the No. 2 centers on any competitive team in the West, including the Stanley Cup champion Kings, who put away the Hawks and then made Richards a nonfactor in the Final, relegating him to the fourth line for the Rangers.

But Bowman can say with confidence that the Hawks didn't have the perfect player in that spot when they won the Stanley Cup in 2013 and came within a bounce of winning it again last month.

On that account, Richards does compare favorably to Michal Handzus, even though his last two years have been unimpressive. Still, he's just another stopgap as they wait for Teravainen or someone else to grow into a full-time role alongside Kane.

Richards, who collected $60 million from the Rangers, gave up more money and years to choose a spot he felt offered the best chance for ice time and winning.

"To get an opportunity to play with these types of wingers in their top six, you won't find that anywhere around the league," Richards said. "That's an opportunity I feel I can take advantage of, and that's why this is so enticing."

The Hawks have plenty of time left to get under the cap and perhaps make a move that gives them more financial flexibility, and in the meantime they're confident Richards is an upgrade over Handzus.

Low bar that it might be.

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.

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