NHL Free Agency: Richards headlines area team additions

Brad Richards will have lots of pressure on his shoulders next season to help the Rangers offense.

The New York Rangers’ unspoken — but widely understood — need on breakup day was Brad Richards.
 
The need was filled 68 days later.

The Rangers and Richards agreed to a nine year, $60 million contract Saturday morning.  The pact, in which there is a no movement clause, calls for Richards to earn $57 million in the first six years and $1 million in each of the final three years while being an annual $6.67 million hit to the Rangers cap.
 
The Richards signing should improve the Rangers’ offensive production in the foreseeable future. The Rangers were a playoff team in 2010-11 due to its willingness to grind along the boards and forecheck. But the lack of skill was evident in the first round playoff series loss to Washington. The Rangers lost the series in five games and were outscored 13-8.  
 
“We have to add skill within our lineup. We need to look at all avenues. We’re building the right foundation. We had some really good growth and some surprises,” Head coach John Tortorella said on breakup day. “When you get into the real stuff of the playoffs and play a skillful team like Washington, you can see where we need some help in that area. We’ll have to look at all areas.”
 
During a Saturday afternoon conference call in which Rangers President Glen Sather and Richards also participated, Tortorella said that organizational decision makers determined that the Rangers’ biggest needs were “an elite center ice man” and “a guy to run the power play.
 
“We got that with Richie.”
 
The Rangers power play was mostly ineffective in the regular season as they connected on a 16.9 percent rate in the regular season. The ineffective power play in the regular season became impotent in the playoffs. The Rangers only scored once on 20 man-advantage chances against Washington.
 
Moreover, the Rangers finished 16th in the NHL with a 2.73 goals per game average in 2010-11. Richards has scored 716 points in his 772 career regular season game, an average of 1.078 points per game. He finished last season with 77 points in 72 games. He will center Marian Gaborik on the top line. Gaborik fell from 42 goals in 2009-10 to 22 last season. Tortorella moved the right wing throughout the lineup, trying to find the linemates that boost his production.
 
“I know Gabby is very excited that Brad is here,” Sather said. “It’s going to make him a much better player.”
 
Along with signing Gaborik, Sather signed former Pittsburgh center Mike Rupp to a three-year, $4.5 million contract, and brought back Ruslan Fedotenko. The Rangers are $15 million under the cap but have to agree to terms with restricted free agent forwards Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Brian Boyle, and RFA defenseman Michael Sauer. The organization could also re-sign UFA defenseman Steve Eminger to add depth.  

Grading the moves

Rangers: Added the “elite center,” to quote John Tortorella, by agreeing to the nine-year, $60 million contract with Brad Richards. Added a respected veteran in Mike Rupp, who should fit nicely alongside Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust. Organizational decision makers will be ecstatic if that line contribute 30 goals, 300 hits and kill penalties effectively.

Re-signing Ruslan Fedotenko means that one of the third line wing slots is filled, leaving an intriguing job battle between Erik Christensen, Mats Zuccarello, Dale Weise and Sean Avery. Tortorella often spoke glowingly about the organizational depth, especially at AHL Connecticut. At least two of the four players that lose the third line wing job will start 2011-12 with the Whale. Glen Sather has $15 to lock up his RFAs. Grade: A

Devils: Lou Lamiorello was limited to re-signing Andy Greene and Johan Hedberg due to the Devils’ cap situation. Greene is serviceable as a third or fourth defenseman. Hedberg should play 20-to-25 games next year in order for Martin Brodeur to be fresh down the stretch. The Devils hope Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson, whom they selected with the fourth overall pick in the draft, becomes the No.1 defenseman the franchise has lacked since Scott Stevens retired and Scott Niedermayer left Jersey for Anaheim. The one must-sign is Zach Parise. The wing and Devils went to arbitration before the start of free agency, with the popular thinking being the two sides agree to a one-year deal while working out a long-term extension during the 2011-12 campaign. Grade: Incomplete

Islanders: The Islanders were conservative in free agency, signing Marty Reasoner. He’ll help on ice by winning faceoffs and contributing offensive production from third line.  With the Islanders not all that far away from contending for a playoff spot, the organization desperately needs to make bold, decisive moves in the RFA market. Should Lightning center Steven Stamkos and/or Kings defenseman Drew Doughty not sign long-term pacts with their teams, the onus will be on the organization to present lucrative, multi-year offer sheets to one or both worth over $100 million. While their production make Stamkos and Doughty worth the offer sheet, the real benefit would be to the perception of the organization in the eyes of players, league executives and, with the New Nassau Coliseum referendum vote scheduled for August 1, in the eyes of voters. Grade: Incomplete

Follow Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.



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