The Chicago Blackhawks had to address their lack of depth at center by signing free agents this summer. General manager Stan Bowman was able to go a long way toward filling Chicago's needs without denting his pocketbook.
Bowman was at his best Tuesday. He retained forward Peter Regin, per a report by Scott Powers of ESPN Chicago. Later that day, it was announced that the team had signed Brad Richards, a deal reported by Katie Strang of ESPN. The 'Hawks upgraded their thinnest position and did it on the cheap. While other Central Division clubs broke open the coffers to sign help at center, Bowman eschewed the big signings and still improved his team.
The big move of Bowman's day came when he got Richards' name on a one-year pact worth just $2 million. This signing is a gamble in that Richards is 34 and a few years removed from big seasons in Dallas. However, the money involved softens the impact if the deal goes south.
Richards should still have enough in the tank to spark the second line of the Blackhawks' attack. Even a 50-point season on his part is a substantial upgrade over Michal Handzus, Andrew Shaw or whoever was penciled in to play in that spot.
Bowman was able to benefit from the Rangers buying out Richards' nine-year, $60 million contract. Richards can certainly afford to play for a bargain-basement price during the coming season and has a lot to gain from a successful 2014-15 campaign.
Richards can probably get himself one last decent contract out of a solid season with the 'Hawks and possibly earn another Stanley Cup ring in the deal. That and the prospect of playing alongside some of Chicago's talented wingers should have him properly motivated.
Bringing back Regin, who signed for just $650,000, is also a nice move on Bowman's part, but that is assuming that coach Joel Quenneville is going to use Regin.
When Regin skated for the Blackhawks after coming over from the Islanders in March, he was an effective bottom-six guy. If Quenneville uses him consistently on the fourth line, Regin is a solid addition.
Chicago now can boast four legitimate centers in Jonathan Toews, Richards, Marcus Kruger and Regin. Players like Andrew Shaw and Ben Smith can also skate as centers. Thanks to Bowman, Shaw and Smith can provide occasional depth at the position instead of relying on them to anchor the second line.
The signings also allow the Blackhawks to develop Teuvo Teravainen and other center prospects in Rockford. The talented but untested Teravainen will have a season to adapt his game to North American ice and show that he can be the pivot man of Chicago's future.
Bowman still has to get the 'Hawks under the salary cap. Having picked up much-needed depth at center, he can spend the rest of the summer finding the trade needed to do just that. Fortunately, Bowman made his job a bit easier in signing two centers to low-money contracts.