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.

The Buzzer: Thornton moves up all-time scoring list; Kings snap six-game losing skid

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Players of the Night:

Brian Elliott looked solid in Philadelphia’s overtime win over the Capitals, as he turned aside 27 of 28 shots. This was the first time in eight games that the Flyers netminder allowed fewer than three goals in a game, but he’s still been victorious in three of his last four outings.

• How about that goalie duel between Connor Hellebuyck and Anders Nilsson. The Jets won the game, but both goaltenders were fantastic during this all-Canadian matchup.

• Sticking with the goalie theme, Aaron Dell was fantastic between the pipes for in San Jose’s win against Anaheim. Even when starter Martin Jones comes back from a lower-body injury, Dell should continue to be a factor for the Sharks.

• Sharks forward Mikkel Boedker had a solid night at the office, as he racked up two goals and an assist against the Ducks. That’s impressive considering he only had 12 points on the season coming into tonight’s action.

• The Kings’ power play isn’t a player, but it came to play tonight against the Rangers. Los Angeles got three goals on the man-advantage from Jake Muzzin, Michael Amadio and Tanner Pearson. Those three power play markers helped them snap their six-game losing skid.

Highlights:

Poor Markus Granlund never saw Hellebuyck coming:

That’s a pretty sweet shot from Kevin Labanc:

Here are two pretty sweet backhand passes leading up to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare‘s goal:

Alex Ovechkin scored a power play from his favorite spot on the ice:

Non-called Penalty of the Night:

That’s a pretty dangerous hit by Dmitry Orlov on Claude Giroux. No boarding call?

Factoids:

That’s a lot of power play goals for Ovechkin:

Joe Thornton keeps movin’ on up:

The Rangers have received some balanced scoring this season:

The Golden Knights simply can’t be stopped. What a season they’re having:

Scores:

Flyers 2, Capitals 1 (OT)

Golden Knights 5, Hurricanes 1

Jets 1, Canucks 0

Sharks 6, Ducks 2

Kings 4, Rangers 2

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Fight Video: Kempe comes to Lewis’ defense by dropping gloves with Smith

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It’s not every day that you see Los Angeles Kings forward Adrian Kempe drop the gloves, but he did so against the Rangers tonight.

Things got chippy at the end of the first period between the Rangers and Kings. As both teams were mixing it up, New York’s Brendan Smith shoved Trevor Lewis from behind. Kempe wasn’t impressed with Smith’s move, so he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Here’s Smith’s shove on Lewis:

And this is the fight between Smith and Kempe:

(h/t: hayyyshayyy on Twitter)

As you can tell from the above video, Smith is the more experienced fighter. Also, Kempe has great hair, but it’s clearly not practical when dropping the gloves.

Thanks to Smith, the Kings got a power play to start the second period. Defenseman Jake Muzzin cashed in on the man-advantage to cut Los Angeles’ deficit to 2-1.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Expansion Golden Knights are officially in first place (Update)

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Just like we all predicted in September, the Vegas Golden Knights are sitting in first place in the NHL.

The Golden Knights’ 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes allowed them to collect their 65th and 66th points of the season, which moved them one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning for top spot in the league (both teams have played 46 games).

PHT’s Adam Gretz wrote a terrific piece about Golden Knights’ amazing first season to date.

It’s only fitting that Vegas got a good amount of production from some of their most pleasant surprises tonight. Jonathan Marchessault, Colin Miller and James Neal also found the back of the net.

As you’d expect, the Golden Knights’ Twitter account is having fun marking this occasion.

“Maybe a little unexpected, right?,” Marc-Andre Fleury said of his team’s success, per NHL.com. “It’s been a lot of fun. We started this team from scratch and chemistry was built very quick between us. Every night, all the guys bring their best effort. I’m proud of our team to be where we’re at right now.”

We’ve had over three months to come to grips with everything the Golden Knights have done, but it’s still amazing to see how some of the players on their roster have produced during Vegas’ inaugural season.

 

43 points in 43 games for Marchessault? 25 goals at the midway point of the season for William Karlsson? Nobody saw those things coming. What makes this even more impressive is that they’ve had to roll four goalies (Fleury, Oscar Dansk, Malcolm Subban and Maxime Lagace).

“Early on in the year, I think we surprised some teams. Now I think every team will get up to play us. It’s just something that will be another test for this group,” Miller told NHL.com.

Now the question is, how far can this pesky expansion team go?

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Struggling Lightning lose Ondrej Palat for indefinite period of time

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The Tampa Bay Lightning have been going through a difficult stretch lately and things got a lot more difficult on Sunday. The team announced that Ondrej Palat is out indefinitely after taking a spear from Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon on Saturday night.

The Bolts, who are on an eight-game road trip, have confirmed that Palat will head back to Tampa on Monday for further testing. He’s accumulated eight goals and 30 points in 46 games this season.

Although the video isn’t the clearest, this is the play that led to the injury:

The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time, as the Lightning have been slumping badly of late. They’ve dropped three games in a row to Calgary, Vegas and Minnesota.

Their once giant lead atop the Atlantic Division has dwindled to three points over the Boston Bruins, who have a game in hand.

“We’re just out of synch, it’s unreal,” head coach Jon Cooper said, per The Tampa Times. “The guys didn’t forget how to play hockey in the last week and a half. We’re just out of synch. One guy zigs, the other guy zags. It’s crazy that in the last week and a half, we kind of lost our swag.”

The Bolts will continue their road trip in Chicago, Nashville and Philadelphia before the All-Star break. On top of their difficult schedule, they’ll also be without number one defenseman Victor Hedman for the next few weeks.

Their spot in the playoffs isn’t in any danger, but the number one seed in the league (Vegas is coming in a hurry) and top spot in the division is in doubt.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.