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Blackhawks ink C Brad Richards to 1-year deal, fill biggest off-season need with veteran scorer

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CHICAGO - The Chicago Blackhawks were searching for another proven commodity at centre, and Brad Richards was looking for an opportunity to chase a second Stanley Cup title.

Mix in a couple important conversations, and the deal was done.

The Blackhawks filled their biggest off-season need when they signed Richards to a one-year contract on Tuesday, bolstering their group of centres with an experienced scorer who could fit in quite nicely on their talented lines.

Richards had 20 goals and 31 assists in 82 games for the New York Rangers last season, and then had 12 points in the playoffs to help his team make it to the Stanley Cup finals. The 34-year-old Richards has 276 goals and 591 assists in 982 career games for Tampa Bay, Dallas and New York.

The Rangers bought out his contract last month. He had six years remaining on the nine-year, $60 million deal he signed in 2011.

"He brings so many things to the table for us," Chicago general manager Stan Bowman said. "He's certainly got the experience and his leadership and I think his character off the ice is something that sometimes gets overlooked as the importance for us, but it's really the whole package that we're excited about."

The Blackhawks have been looking for a second-line centre behind Jonathan Toews for a couple years, and Richards' resume makes him a favourite to fill that role. The move also allows Chicago to bring along prospect Teuvo Teravainen more slowly.

"When you look at the opportunity to play here, it's pretty exciting because you know that if you're playing centre on the top two lines you're playing with a great player or probably two great players, actually," Richards said. "So it wasn't hard for me to love Chicago."

What was hard was finding a deal that worked for Richards and the Blackhawks, who are $2.2 million over the salary cap, according to CapGeek.com. In addition to Richards' contract, reportedly worth $2 million, Chicago also re-signed centre Peter Regin on the first day of NHL free agency to a one-year contract reportedly worth $650,000.

The Blackhawks are working on contract extensions for stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane that could be completed soon, so the willingness of Richards to accept a one-year contract was vital to the completion of the deal with the 2013 Stanley Cup champions.

"That was the only way this was going to work," Bowman said. "I think it's a testament to Brad and how badly he wants to win, because I don't doubt that he left more money and term on the table."

Bowman said the team has some ideas on what it is going to do to get under the salary cap, but he wanted to keep the focus on the addition of Richards.

Bowman spoke with Richards' agent, Pat Morris, at last weekend's NHL draft, and Morris called his client on Sunday to let him know of Chicago's interest. Richards then talked to Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville on a conference call Monday night.

"It was a great call that kind of made me feel even more excited about trying to figure this out," Richards said, "and then as we woke up today, kind of left it up to Stan and Pat Morris, my agent, to try to figure (it) out."

Richards joins a team that made it all the way to the Western Conference final in its title defence, losing to eventual NHL champion Los Angeles in seven games. The Kings' solid group of centres hurt Chicago at times during the series, but the Blackhawks hope they will be better prepared next time around with the addition of Richards.

"It's a great group that's been together and knows how to win," Richards said on a conference call.

"I can't wait to get to work and try to make it a great experience for everybody."

___

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

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