Brad Richards sat in the Mississauga, Ontario, office of his agent, Pat Morris, on Friday, listening as suitors from N.H.L. teams pitched woo to him for roughly 10 hours. Rangers General Manager Glen Sather called by phone. Tampa Bay General Manager Steve Yzerman called in person, and so did an eight-man delegation from the Los Angeles Kings, who as part of their two-hour presentation brought a video that included Wayne Gretzky and Kobe Bryant urging Richards to sign with L.A.
“I’m just flattered that people would even show up to talk to me,” said Richards, the biggest prize of the N.H.L. free-agency period that opened on Friday, as he went home to consider the offers. He called the whole day “not really fathomable.”
On Saturday, Richards announced his decision: to sign with the Rangers for nine years and $58.5 million. The deal reunites Richards with John Tortorella, his coach in Tampa Bay when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004 and gives the Rangers the elite centerman they have long sought to set up their top sniper, Marian Gaborik.
Richards, 31, chose New York over the Kings, who made an offer believed to be slightly higher than the Rangers. The Toronto Maple Leafs, the Calgary Flames (who reportedly offered $65 million for nine years) and the Philadelphia Flyers were also among the “three or four” teams whose offers Richards slept on overnight. Tampa Bay and the Buffalo Sabres withdrew from the bidding Friday night.
By paying top dollar to buy the services of Richards, the Rangers have, at least on paper, boosted themselves from midlevel strugglers to contenders for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They now have a center for Gaborik, who dropped from 42 goals in 2009-10 to 22 last season, and a quarterback for their 16th-rated power play.
The contract must be approved by the N.H.L. The deal is believed to be “front loaded,” with Richards making $50 million in the contract’s first five years and just $8.5 million over the last four. That would create a manageable cap hit for the Rangers of $6.5 million a year, and make it easy for them to deal Richards away if he slows down in his mid-30s.
Please login to add to favorites
Already added to favorites
Added as Favorite