It wasn't a surprise that one the biggest names on the free agent market this summer -- Brad Richards -- landed with the New York Rangers. By now we should pretty much expect it to play out that way. It's not the first time it's happened, and it certainly won't be the last. Some of their recent dips into the deep end of free agency pool, including Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Wade Redden and Marian Gaborik, has produced some mixed results (to put it kindly), and not the type of return a team generally likes to see on its largest investment (and I think Richards will prove to be, by far, the best of these signings).
Richards, one of the NHL's best playmaking pivots, signed a nine-year, $60 million deal in early July, and brings with him a $6.6 million cap hit through the end of the 2019-20 season. He's a No. 1 center that's managed to produce like one over his career with Tampa Bay and Dallas. He also has a positive history with current Rangers coach John Tortorella, who he played under for most of his tenure with the Lighting, including the Stanley Cup season of 2003-04 where Richards took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
That history, along with Richards' track record, has sparked some discussion in Ranger-land that the 31-year-old Richards could take over as the teams next captain before the puck drops on the upcoming season. Andrew Gross of the Bergen Record (via Crash The Crease) wrote on Tuesday that the Rangers have three potential options to wear the "C" this season: returning players Ryan Callahan and Marc Staal, and the incoming Richards.
Tortorella was asked June 30 – two days before the team signed Richards – about his selection process for the new captain. "I think those decisions will come about come camp," Tortorella said. "We’ll have our talks, we’ll see. Maybe our team changes even more this summer, along the way." That last sentence could be interpreted as a vote in Richards’ favor. Or perhaps not, as Tortorella has no inclination to discuss exactly what his selection process entailed. Callahan said when he agreed to his new contract that, regardless of who wore the captain’s "C," there was strong leadership in the room. And he may be the fan’s choice. But Richards could be the coach’s choice.The Rangers are in need of a new captain because their most recent captain, Drury, was bought out earlier this summer after a 2010-11 season that saw him score one goal in a 24-game, injury-shortened season.
Tortorella took over behind Tampa Bay's bench midway through Richards' rookie season in 2000-01, and coached him up until the trade that sent him to Dallas in the middle of the 2007-08 season. There's a great deal of familiarity here (on and off the ice) and plenty of success, both on an individual and a team level, between the two men to make the potential captaincy a logical fit.
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