Rangers Reset the Bar With Brad Richards

Richards provides skill lacking on last year's team

By Josh Alper
|  Wednesday, Jul 6, 2011  |  Updated 4:17 PM EDT
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Rangers Reset the Bar With Brad Richards

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Richards brings more than passing skill to MSG.

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In one way, the signing of Brad Richards represents business as usual for the Rangers.

Since Glen Sather took over the team, he's made a habit of spending big on names that look very good on the marquee. For the most part, these players, from Eric Lindros to Pavel Bure to Jaromir Jagr to Scott Gomez, Chris Drury and Wade Redden, have looked very bad on the ice, providing all the more reason for Sather to go after other big fish.

Richards fits right into this lineage. The former Conn Smythe winner was the biggest name on the free agent market and he has averaged nearly a point a game over the course of his career.

Like most of those other guys, Richards is also being overpaid over an extremely long period of time. He'll be paid $60 million over the next nine years, the last of which seem awfully scary for a player that's already 31 with a concussion history.

In another way, the Richards signing is a departure. Sather, either by exhaustion or late-arriving wisdom, stopped spending wildly after the Gomez-Drury-Redden trifecta flopped and built the team around homegrown talent.

Those players -- Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky among them -- have developed quite nicely and formed the core of the team that won a lot of hearts and minds around New York last season. The group is a lot longer on heart than on skill, though, and that's created problems.

The playoff loss to the Capitals made it clear that the Rangers didn't have enough offense to seriously threaten a good team. Richards is a player who can provide that offense with Marian Gaborik, the sniper without a man bringing him ammunition, being the primary beneficiary.

His arrival isn't just about raising the offensive level, however. Adding Richards to the existing talent creates a roster very close to John Tortorella's ideal and that means it is okay to start thinking a little bit bigger than we have in the last few years.

It's something of an MSG cliche at this point to feel like simply making the playoffs is worth celebrating. The Knicks and Rangers used to aim higher and Richards will allow them to do so all over again.

No one's saying it is "Stanley Cup or Bust," but it is time to feel OK about saying this team should be doing more than playing for a playoff spot on the last day of the regular season. With Richards as the centerpiece, the Rangers now have a team worth discussing as a contender over the first years of the contract.

If that comes to fruition, the final years will be easier to swallow. If not, then Richards might be the final nail in the coffin for Sather-style business as usual.  

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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