NHL Free Agency: Why the New York Rangers Must Sign Brad Richards at All Costs

Zach VanderbergCorrespondent IJune 11, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 02:  Brad Richards #91 of the Dallas Stars skates against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on April 2, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

As everyone knows, Brad Richards is the hot-ticket free agent this season. And as everyone also knows, the New York Rangers are in on every big-time player who hits free agency.

However, this season is different. Brad Richards fits the Rangers' needs entirely and it is Glen Sather's job to put Richards in a Rangers uniform for the coming season.

We all know how the past signings did not work out. How Scott Gomez disappointed for two years until being sent to Montreal, how Wade Redden failed to hold down an NHL job after a pair of seasons on Broadway, and how Chris Drury did not live up to expectations as a player or a captain.

These signings have put a bad taste in the mouths of Rangers fans and has made everyone in Ranger-land deathly afraid of handing out another big contract.

This time, however, is much different.

Scott Gomez was a second-line center, at best, but the Rangers signed him to that massive deal to be the team's primary playmaker for Jaromir Jagr, a job he ultimately failed to do.

Wade Redden's career was clearly trending down at the time of his signing with the Rangers. At the time, he was a second- or third-pair defenseman who was being paid by the Rangers to do much more than he was capable of.

Chris Drury's deal was similar. He was a third-line checking forward who could play on the powerplay who became one of the highest paid players in the NHL upon signing with the Rangers. Naturally, he did not produce for the amount he was being paid, but that was the trend.

Rangers fans believe that Brad Richards' contract would end in a similar fashion. What they are failing to realize though, is that Brad Richards IS a top-flight center. He is not a second line forward being asked to shoulder a burden that he cannot handle.

Richards is coming off of back-to-back point per game seasons, was a leader in Dallas' dressing room and has hoisted the Stanley Cup in the past as the Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

Richards' asking price is an exorbitant one. He is said to want a fairly long-term deal at a salary upwards or at $7 million per season. Well, Ranger nation, this one is worth it.

To all of those Rangers fans ready to dismiss Marian Gaborik after a bad season, Brad Richards would allow you to see an entirely new Gaborik. Already with star power on his own, Richards would fit Gaborik's playing style perfectly, almost ensuring strong seasons for both.

Richards can also play the point on the power play, an part of the game where the Rangers struggle greatly. He has also been known as a leader throughout his career, and would make a perfect mentor for young center, Derek Stepan.

There is also another important reason the Rangers must sign Richards, and it is the man in the crease.

Henrik Lundqvist has been one of the best, if not the best, goaltenders in the NHL since breaking into the league with the Rangers in 2005. He is often the only player keeping the Rangers from being a last place team and is easily the team's most important player.

However, loyalty can only go so far. Prior to the 2010 Olympics, Lundqvist was asked whether he would rather win another gold medal or the Stanley Cup. He responded, "You always want what you don't have."

Simply put, the Rangers do not have a young player who will break out and lead the team offensively in the next few seasons. Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan are both excellent players, but they will not be star scorers.

Henrik Lundqvist's contract expires in 2014. He will be 32 years old and will have never even tasted success.

The team needs to show noticeable improvement by then, or I believe Lundqvist will leave town to chase after that elusive Stanley Cup that he so deserves. Brad Richards would make this team an instant contender, or at least within the next couple of seasons.

Often, I too am weary about handing out large contracts during free agency. But folks, this time, it is very much worth it.