How Important Will Brad Richards Be to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2014-15?

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistAugust 12, 2014

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 13:  Brad Richards #19 of the New York Rangers plays against the Los Angeles Kings during the first period of Game Five of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final at the Staples Center on June 13, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Rebecca Taylor/NHLI via Getty Images)
Rebecca Taylor/Getty Images

Nobody is expecting perfection or even an All-Star performance when Brad Richards dons his Indian head jersey and skates on United Center ice for the first time as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks this fall.

However, that doesn't mean he won't be manning an important role for head coach Joel Quenneville and the organization.

The Blackhawks have been looking for a No. 2 center for several seasons. While they have had tremendous success with two Stanley Cup titles and an additional appearance in the Western Conference Final during the last five seasons, they have not found a center who could consistently and adequately handle the job on the No. 2 line.

General manager Stan Bowman signed Brad Richards during free agency with the hope that he could fill that role for at least one season better than has been done in recent years.

Players like Dave Bolland, Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger and Michal Handzus have tried to play that position, but it has not worked out for the Blackhawks. Bolland, now with the Florida Panthers, flashed his talent and made some big plays for the Blackhawks, but consistency was not his strong suit.

Shaw is a hard-nosed player who is not afraid to mix it up in the corners. He's also fairly opportunistic when he gets his chances, but he is simply not the kind of creative player who can fill the center position on the second line adequately.

Handzus was clever during his time with the Blackhawks, but he did not have the speed or quickness needed to man that role.

Having a strong No. 2 center is obviously important for any team, but it is vital for Chicago. Quenneville regularly plays Patrick Kane on the second line during the regular season, and as talented as he is, he needs a skilled offensive center to maximize his productivity.

Additionally, talented third-year forward Brandon Saad is expected to be the left wing on that line, and a strong contribution from Richards could turn that trio into perhaps the best No. 2 line in the Western Conference.

The burden appears to be on Richards to make that happen. It won't be easy for the 34-year-old to turn things around in his career and give the Blackhawks his best effort.

Richards has apparently slowed down quite a bit in the last two years. He was benched in the 2013 playoffs by former New York Rangers coach John Tortorella, and while he was given a new opportunity by Alain Vigneault last year, Richards was ultimately demoted to fourth-line duty.

But that doesn't mean Richards can't give the Blackhawks just what they are expecting. Much of the reason for the postseason demotion came from his inability to keep up on the defensive end. While that could be a problem in next year's playoffs, the Blackhawks want Richards to improve that line's offensive capabilities.

He has excellent offensive instincts, and he excels at finding his teammates with crisp passes. He can also score when he has the chance to put the puck in the net.

Richards scored 20 goals and added 31 assists for the Rangers last year. While that kind of production is quite a bit below the numbers that he put on the board during his prime years—he scored 91 points for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2005-06—it demonstrates that Richards can be an asset for Chicago if he maintains that level of productivity.

The Blackhawks are not looking for Richards as a long-term answer. They are hoping that explosive prospect Teuvo Teravainen will be ready to step in and become the team's No. 2 center behind Toews by the 2015-16 season.

There is some hope that Teravainen will be ready at some point during the upcoming season. If he is, Bowman and the Blackhawks will make the personnel decisions that need to be made. However, they would like to give Teravainen a chance to get physically stronger and also add some North American hockey experience. 

The Finnish native has played the majority of his career in Europe, so he still is learning the North American game.

Richards is a smart, heady player who has demonstrated excellent skills in the past. If he has maintained at least 75 percent of the ability he once had, he should be an adequate player for the Blackhawks until Teravainen is ready to compete in the NHL.