So here is my take on Brad Richards. I know this is going to be talked about until we dry heave up until July one, so I am getting a head start that way whenever I get asked this question (which I have an over/under going at 47), I can say, "read this post" and I don't have to repeat myself 48 times (I'm betting on over FYI).
First of all, I think we can all agree this team needs an upgrade at our first line wing and center. Very simply, we have two options: either wait for our talent to develop from within, which of course means we believe we have first line talent in our system that hasn't yet reached that level, or, we go out and get it (trade/FA). Now if we believe we already have a number one center in our system and with it a wing that makes our top line of ??/??/Gabby, then the question we have to ask ourselves is how far away is it? I can tell you right now that if your answer is next year, you didn't watch the same New York Rangers in the playoffs that I did. So we can reasonably say the best hoped for scenario is still at least two years away, at least two years away, probably three being realistic.
So where does that leave us in the mean time? Brad Richards, that's where. Is he the perfect piece to our puzzle, absolutely not. Does he fit, yes, he does. I am not going to even touch on the Richards/Gabby combo because we have no idea how these guys will actually play together. We thought Gomez and Jagr would work well together, and that didn't exactly pan out. The difference between Gomez and Richards though, is Richards is a true, legit number one center. Whether he and Gaborik put up 180 points combined, or put up 130 points combined, he still brings two significant things to the table.
First, he buys our talent enough time to develop at the appropriate rate. We don't force a "prospect" or rookie to ride shotgun for Gaborik facing first line competition. Our youth develops at the rate it needs to develop and maybe, just maybe we have one or two kids that turn into a legit top line force, but with Richards in the mix for I'd say at most four years, we allow that to happen at its own pace. It isn't forced upon anyone. Second, with a true number one center, everyone else on the roster drops down one spot with respect to the completion they face. Our second line (AA, Cally, Duby) face second line competition because the top line goes up against Richards and Gaborik. Our third line, playing against other teams third lines, could frankly be the best in the league outside of Pitt when they have their top three centers healthy. Richards isn't the perfect piece to our puzzle granted, but he can make the other pieces fit really nicely together. And that is not even mentioning what he could do for our power play.
And let's look at it from this angle, if we don't pick up Richards this year, in a very weak free agent market with respect to talent, who do we go for? Legit first line talent doesn't exactly come along very often with the cap and most guys locked up for a dozen years. You cannot tell me that a Brooks Laich or a Jason Arnott or Eric Cole is a drastic upgrade over what we have now. Older, wiser, absolutely, but if we are going to fill a hole to let our kids develop, why not fill it with someone who can contribute something we don't have?
And if we don't go after someone this year in free agency, who do we go after next year? The class of 2012 free agents frankly doesn't look that much better than the one this year. The only top line forward worth even mentioning from the class of 2012 is Sharp from Chicago. We can certainly go after him, and I would be all for it, but that still doesn't solve our problem at center for the next three years. Richards does, it's as simple as that. Unless we believe Stepan is just another year away, and if that's the case I would love to see Sharp/Stepan/Gaborik as our number one, but that is still a lot of pressure to put on a kid and assuming a great deal from someone with only a year of NHL experience. If, and that is a huge if, Glen Sather can keep is reasonable (no more than four years, no more than 7.5 mill per), I don't see how Richards couldn't help our club as we bridge the gap from prospect and up-and-coming, to contender.