I know. I know. You’ve heard this story before. The Rangers sign who they want over the 4th of July holiday and then when fall turns into winter the fireworks sputter.
We’ve seen it with the Scott Gomez. We’ve seen it with Chris Drury. Heck, even Marian Gaborik had a subpar season in his second year.
And let’s not forget the some of the secondary signings. Has anyone heard from Donald Brashear lately?
So yesterday when the Rangers went out and signed elite center Brad Richards, sure there was some excitement, but you have understand, I am waiting to open the champagne bottles.
But before you can say “Remember Ales Kotilik?” take a closer look at the Richards signing and maybe, just maybe, this one will buck the trend of failed Ranger free agent acquisitions.
Richards is the guy the Rangers wanted all along. He fits their needs. The biggest glaring hole in the lineup is a No. 1 center and Richards fills the void.
“When we met as an organization after the playoffs, we felt that there were four or five main points that we needed to fill,” said coach John Tortorella. “We talked about center ice men, elite center ice men, and we got that with Richie. We talked about a guy that runs the power play, and we got that with Richie.”
Richards will come into New York with his eyes wide open. Since he played for Tortorella already – and is now choosing to play for him again – he knows what he is getting into with coming to the Garden. As we have seen over the past two-plus seasons, Tortorella can be a tough coach on players who don’t play his way. Now, the situation changes.
Add to that, the leadership void. It’s generally assumed Ryan Callahan will be the next Rangers captain. He is still a young player though and Tortorella may go with the more experienced Richards.
“Something that I think goes a little unnoticed is, along with the first two, is the mentoring of our young kids,” the coach said. “We’ve got some guys right on the cusp of really understanding what it is to be a pro. I think we’re still learning what we have to do in playoffs, moving along in that situation. Richie has done that. So, forget what the stats are. It’s some of the mentoring, and teaching kids what it is to be a pro. That’s very important, and he really fits the bill there.”
Add to that the stability in the lineup Richards brings to the table. Unless there is a Jaromir Jagr vs. Scott Gomez like breakdown in chemistry on the top line, Gaborik should flourish with Richards as his pivot. That will give the Tortorella the ability to construct more stable lines and frankly give No. 10 more chances to score.
“I know that Gabby’s very excited that Brad is here,” said Rangers general manager Glen Sather. “He’s the kind of player that shouldn’t be handling the puck an awful lot. He’s the kind of player that should be getting in and out of holes, with somebody giving him the puck at the right time. There’s sort of a sixth sense that players like this have, and if you watch Brad play, he possesses this, and there’s not very many players that have it. I was fortunate to have a couple of guys that I coached in my career, and Brad has the same sightlines on the ice.”
Let’s not forget the New York factor. Too many times a players comes to Broadway and gets caught up in the bright lights. Could it happen to Richards? Sure, but that seems unlikely as the center has Stanley Cup playoff experience, something that usually cancels out the New York factor.
Plus, Richards is not shying away from playing at Madison Square Garden. In fact, he took less money to come to New York. If he wanted to just get paid the most cash, he would have accepted Calgary, Los Angeles, or Toronto’s offers, instead of leaving a few million on the table to play with Tortorella.
“It’s going to be a challenge, for sure. It’s going to be something different,” Richards said. “If you want to be a good player or a great player, it’s something you should relish, and what better place to perform than Madison Square Garden? That’s a dream come true, really. You can look at it in 100 different ways, but I’m looking at it as a great experience and at a time of my career where I really want a chance to win again. It’s been too long. This will just motivate me even more. I find it easier, probably. There will be some tough days when things don’t go right, but I find it easier to go to the rink every night when you know that type of atmosphere and those type of fans are behind you.”
If he produces, the Richards will be a hero in the big city. Even at 9-years and $60 million, the center is a worthwhile risk for the Rangers and more importantly give the club a chance to win a few rounds in the playoffs.
And maybe Richard will finally break the Rangers free agent jinx once and for all.