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Zawaski: Blackhawks Find 2nd-Line Center In Richards

By Jay Zawaski-

(CBS) At long last, the Blackhawks have found their answer at the second-line center position. After an "excruciating" four-and-a-half hours of free agency, news broke that the Chicago had signed former New York Rangers center Brad Richards, who earned $6.67 million last season and now has taken a major pay cut to play with Chicago, signing a one-year, $2-million deal.

In 982 career games over 15 seasons, Richards has amassed 276 goals and 591 assists for 867 points. He's a Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe Trophy winner (2004.) Over his last three seasons, all with the Rangers, he averaged 0.72 points per game. He won 49 percent of his faceoffs last season, all while posting 20 goals and 31 assists for 51 pts. He was a positive possession player in 2013-14, coming in at 54.1 percent.

Richards is still a good playmaker and one of the most creative passers in the game. Obviously, he's not the player he was when he was putting up 80- and 90-point seasons in Tampa, but for the money, he's probably as good as Chicago could have hoped for.

Richards has never been the fastest skater, and he's lost a step or two later in his career. Still, he's a far better and faster option than Michal Handzus and has the ability to hang with some of the team's top skill players.

I believe Richards would have been set to sign a multi-year deal this summer had he not been absolutely destroyed and exposed by the Los Angeles Kings' centers in the Stanley Cup Final. By the time the series ended, Richards had been demoted to the fourth line, and he finished with a 38.4 percent Corsi for. That's really, really bad. He's better than that, and I don't think one series is enough to define a player.

With the signing, Chicago is now $2.217 million over the salary cap. A contract has to be moved. The top candidates would be Johnny Oduya ($3.375 million), Michal Rozsival ($2.2 million) or Nick Leddy ($2.7 million). As of last week, the Blackhawks were entertaining offers for Patrick Sharp, but I think that was only being considered if it meant acquiring Ryan Kesler, who ended up in Anaheim.

General manager Stan Bowman's summer isn't quite over yet. Negotiations with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane continue, but the Richards deal and the one-year, $650,000 deal he struck with Peter Regin are a good start to the offseason.

Stay tuned to see which Blackhawks stay and which go before the puck drops on the 2014-'15 season.

Jay Zawaski covers the Blackhawks for and 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.

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