Brad Richards,  Patrick Sharp

Rangers spend big again, land Brad Richards with 9-year, $60M blockbuster

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It almost had to happen this way, didn’t it?

The New York Rangers organization is known for making splashy, often-regrettable deals for big-name free agents. Brad Richards ranked as far-and-away the biggest name (and probably the largest risk) in the unrestricted free agent pool. If those two factors weren’t enough to make these two parties seem predestined, go ahead and add Richards’ familiarity with Rangers head coach John Tortorella and New York’s abundant desperation for a top-line center to the list.

Whichever way you slice it, the Rangers landed that big fish at a huge cost, locking up the 31-year-old playmaking center to a mammoth 9-year, $60 million deal. From a cap hit standpoint, Richards will cost the Rangers a satanic $6.67 million, which is actually palatable compared to his overblown previous hit of $7.9 million. Of course, the biggest concern is the term of that deal; one can only assume that this contract is front-loaded like other lengthy deals before it (see: Christian Ehrhoff’s 10-year pact with the Buffalo Sabres).

Rangers make another huge, risky investment

The Rangers are hoping that Richards leans more toward Jaromir Jagr (a big star who mostly justified his big contract in the big apple) than just about every other expensive investment they’ve made. GM Glen Sather has almost become a walking punchline for all of the bad deals he handed out. From Bobby Holik in the older days to more recent albatrosses such as Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Wade Redden’s deals, it seems like Sather has some sort of reverse-Midas touch. If nothing else, it’s clear that nothing has been learned from those mistakes.

There is a key difference between Richards and some of the worst deals: there isn’t as much desperation in the air. There seemed to be an assumption that Drury, Gomez and other free agents could achieve bigger things in New York than they ever have before. Richards has shown that he can be a top-end center a few times in his career, although the worrisome thing for Rangers fans is that he suffered some ugly years in the early part of his last huge deal.

The pros of Richards

If you ask me, Brad Richards is one of the five best passers in the NHL. My guess is that the Rangers hope that his supreme playmaking will inject some life into fellow risky investment Marian Gaborik ($7.5 million per year through 2013-14). After struggling mightily through much of his deal, Richards finally hit the level expected by his salary the last two seasons, scoring 91 points in 2009-10 and 77 in 10-11. The Rangers were a team that was severely lacking in elite players, especially at the forward position. Their lineup should be a little bit more natural now.

The cons of Richards

That being said, there are concerns about his health. Richards’ 10-11 season took a bit of a dive when he suffered a concussion right around the trade deadline. While he managed to play later on, it seemed like he fell short of his once red-hot pace after that. Handing a nine-year deal to a guy who might not be 100 percent is the kind of gamble that might give some Rangers fans indigestion during this holiday weekend.

Sather’s work isn’t done yet

The Rangers have 16 players covered and about $16 million in cap space to lock up the 4-7 remaining spots, but it might not be as easy as it sounds. Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan were often the Rangers’ go-to forwards last season, so re-signing those two restricted free agents remains a point of emphasis. Artem Anisimov and big forward Brian Boyle also rank as players Gather might want to retain.

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The Rangers and Richards have been linked for quite some time, with many saying that the road to Richards basically went through New York. Ultimately, Sather won that game of free agent chicken with the Los Angeles Kings and other suitors, likely handing the veteran playmaker the type of term that was too much for more conservative spenders to stomach. There are reasons to believe that it will work out (Richards is the most legitimate offensive talent the Rangers signed since Jagr) and plenty of reasons why it won’t (past history, Richards’ age and health plus the typical downfalls of adding free agents), but either way, it should be interesting to watch.

We will find out soon enough if Richards will be a big difference-maker in New York or yet another name on the list of Sather’s scroll of epic blunders.

Rare wave of injuries for Capitals as Oshie, Orpik are also out

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 02: Matt Niskanen #2 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with teammate T.J. Oshie #77 after scoring a third period goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center on March 2, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals have been outright dominant this season, but there’s one opponent they haven’t faced very often: injuries.

They’ve been healthier than everyone else to an almost spooky extent in 2016-17, yet it seems like they’re dealing with a rash of ailments for the first time in a while.

The injury list for tonight’s game against the Edmonton Oilers appears to be: Matt Niskanen, Andre Burakovsky, Brooks Orpik and T.J. Oshie.

We already knew that Burakovsky will miss some time and that Niskanen was injured after colliding knee-to-knee with Radko Gudas. Oshie and Orpik are bigger surprises as far as their lineup goes. It seemed like Oshie took some significant hits against the Flyers in that same game that injured Niskanen, so maybe that’s the issue there?

Here’s what the Capitals lineup will look like, via the team itself:

The team labels Oshie’s injury as upper-body related while Orpik and Niskanen have lower-body issues. On the bright side, those three are all considered day-to-day.

Riley Barber makes his debut with all of these injury absences.

Predators are a wild card in more ways than one

NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 21:  Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators is congratulated by teammates after scoring a hat trick against the Calgary Flames during the second period at Bridgestone Arena on February 21, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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The Nashville Predators have really earned the “wild card” moniker lately, even beyond holding the West’s first wild card spot.

Such a label could describe their up-and-down 2016-17 in general, and it might only intensify over the next few weeks.

Trade deadline players?

Nashville boasts Filip Forsberg, a guy with rare back-to-back hat tricks, not to mention other quality scorers such as James Neal, Ryan Johansen and diamond in the rough Viktor Arvidsson. (Their defensemen can produce points in buckets, too.)

But perhaps they can go from sporadically good to regular contender with that extra boost?

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman believes that the Predators could be in on talks to acquire Matt Duchene or “somebody big” at forward. Duchene, himself, might be tough to get:

That schedule, though

Honestly, the way their schedule looks, the Predators might need a shot in the arm.

Check out what they’re dealing with during the next few weeks:

Saturday: vs. Capitals
Sunday: vs. Oilers
Tuesday, Feb. 28: at Sabres
Thursday, March 2: at Canadiens
Saturday, March 4: vs. Blackhawks
Tuesday, March 7: at Ducks
Thursday, March 9: at Kings
Saturday, March 11: at Sharks
Monday, March 13: vs. Jets
Thursday, March 16: at Capitals
Saturday, March 18: at Hurricanes

That’s a rough mixture of tough opponents and road games, with even games against non-playoff teams being less than layups (the Hurricanes can beat you when they’re on point, for instance).

The Predators are in the first wild card spot. They’re also not far behind for the third seed in the Central, as the Blues hold a tiebreaker advantage over Nashville right now with both teams at 67 standings points.

That schedule could be an issue, however, for a team that’s been vulnerable to hitting highs and lows.

On the other hand, we’ve also seen hints of the dominant squad many penciled in as a possible contender in 2016-17. In a weakened West, the Predators remain a fascinating team to watch. That could be especially true in the near future.

‘Hawks nab Jurco in trade with Red Wings

Tomas Jurco
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The Chicago Blackhawks picked up some forward depth today, adding winger Tomas Jurco in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings.

In return, the ‘Hawks sent the Wings a third-round draft pick in 2017.

Jurco has only appeared in 16 games this season. He has no goals and no assists.

The 24-year-old was forced to undergo back surgery this past offseason.

“I could still play with it but the worst for me was sitting on the bench all the time,” Jurco said in November, per NHL.com. “Sometimes I’d have to get up and walk. Sometimes I’d stretch it. It was bad and I’ve been sitting a lot for the last couple of years on the bench. It was really tough but I’m glad it’s gone and I’m excited for a fresh start.”

A pending restricted free agent, Jurco’s cap hit is just $900,000.

In a corresponding move, the ‘Hawks assigned rookie forward Vinnie Hinostroza to the AHL.

Pre-game reading: On the urgency of the Caps, who won’t ‘be the same’ next year

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— Up top, Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan talks about the upcoming trade deadline. The way his team has been playing, it’s no surprise to hear he doesn’t expect to be very busy.

— The Caps are in the second year of a two-year window, and the urgency to finally win a Stanley Cup couldn’t be higher. Says MacLellan: “That doesn’t mean that going forward we’re not going to be good, but something’s got to give because of the roster we have. Something’s got to fall out, and I’m not sure what it’s going to be, but it’s not going to be the same.” (NHL.com)

— The Montreal Canadiens, no longer a sure bet to make the playoffs, are one of the teams eyeing Arizona center Martin Hanzal, reports Pierre LeBrun. Hanzal is a pending unrestricted free agent. The 30-year-old has 15 goals and 10 assists in 50 games this season. (TSN)

— Hockey history buffs will enjoy this story on Billy Coutu, a.k.a “Wild Beaver,” who was banned by the NHL for life after attacking a couple of referees in 1927. Coutu tried to resurrect his career in the minors, but with little success. (Sports Illustrated)

— Blackhawks rookie Nick Schmaltz stayed hot last night with a goal and an assist against the Coyotes. “I’m making more plays off the rush, in the zone,” he says. “I’m definitely more accustomed to playing this style and hopefully we can keep it going because I know that’s how the Blackhawks have played in the past. And it only helps our team game when every line is playing well.” (CSN Chicago)

— Tomorrow’s outdoor game in Pittsburgh is a big one for the Flyers — but not because of the spectacle of the event. To stay in the playoff race, Philadelphia badly needs the two points. “Honestly, it’s business first,” says head coach Dave Hakstol. “There is something to the event and certainly something important with family and the type of event it is. But, let’s be honest. Right now, it’s business first. That’s what our focus will be.” (CSN Philly)

Enjoy the games!