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Is Brad Richards the Hawks Best Bet at Center?

On July 1st, the first day of the 2014 NHL Free Agency period, every team was out to get those one or two players who were going to take them from a possible playoff team to legitimate contender. The Dallas Stars improved by trading for Jason Spezza. The St. Louis Blues added Paul Stastny to bolster their center depth. The Anaheim Ducks completed a trade for Ryan Kesler. All of these names, and a few more were on the Blackhawks wish list to fill a position that has been in disarray for them the last few years.

The Hawks have had a hole at second line center. Many players have tried to fill that spot, and none have seemed to work out. Most of the day on Tuesday, Blackhawks fans were glued to their Twitters or televisions watching the Western Conference, especially the Central Division, improve drastically with every move. The Blackhawks seemed to be missing out on the action, and all of the players that they were targeting were coming off of the board. Until they signed former New York Rangers center Brad Richards.

Richards was bought out by the Rangers after a down season in 2013-14. Could he have been a last resort for the Hawks, or did Stan Bowman once again prove superior over other GM’s in the league. We won’t truly know that until next season, but by playing with numbers, we can get at least an idea.

The first reason that I believe that Richards could be the best thing for this team, is financial. Before he was bought out, Richards was set to make nearly$6.7 million every year until 2020. The Blackhawks were able to sign him to a 1 year deal worth $2 million. The Blues signed Paul Stastny for 4 years (albeit he is younger) and are paying him $7 million. The Richards signing alone, put the Hawks over the salary cap. If Stastny was truly demanding that much, the Hawks would have to trade at least 3 players to make room for just him.

Joe Thornton was a name thrown around quite a bit with the Blackhawks before the draft. When reports surfaced that Bowman was having discussions with San Jose’s GM, I truly thought that Thornton was going to be a Blackhawk. It ended up only being a pick swap between the two teams. Names that were rumored to be traded from the Blackhawks included Patrick Sharp. That would ultimately break up Chicago’s core group that has made this team successful since 2009. Sharp’s name was also included in trades for Spezza and Kesler. Signing Richards means that Chicago’s core could stay intact while the same need was filled.

Spezza, Kesler, and Stastny are all a few years younger than Richards, and I believe his age is what deterred a few fans from fulling embracing this transaction. Brad Richards is 34. Had he not been bought out, the Rangers would be paying him until he was 40 years old! Thornton (35)  is the only guy who was older than Richards that the Hawks were targeting. He was also the highest scorer with 76 points. 65 of those points were assists. Richards finished last season with 51 points.

The stat that really sells me on the Richards signing is how well his Corsi For Percentage (CF%) and Offensive Zone Start Percentage (OZS%) matched up with the numbers that Patrick Kane, who will most likely be Richards’ linemate, put up. Kane and Richards both start 44% of their shifts in the offensive zone, and both have very good possession numbers (Kane: 55.1 CF%; Richards: 54.1 CF%). Lines in which every player has nearly the same zone start percentage and Corsi numbers usually play pretty well together. An example of that is the L.A. Kings infamous 70’s line that burned the Hawks in the Western Conference Finals. Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter, and Tanner Pearson all had similar possesion and zone start percentage. All of the other Blackhawks targets had a far lower OZS% and some started most of their shifts in the neutral or defensive zones. (All advanced statistics are from Extra Skater)

Richards also knows how to win. He won the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, a year in which he won the Conn Smythe trophy for being the Finals MVP (this makes the Hawks the first team since the 95-96 Avalanche to have 3 Conn Smythe winners on the same team), and was runner-up to the Kings in last years Cup Final. He is the only Blackhawks 2nd line center target who has even appeared in Final.

The Blackhawks were able to fill a position of need with a quality player at a low price. Not only that, but he will also fit well in the teams’ system. If the Hawks want to win the Stanley Cup in 2014-15, Brad Richards may be the best player to fill the hole that may have kept them from advancing farther in 2014.

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