Author: Joe Yerdon

Brad Richards

Brad Richards is the Rangers’ X-factor


To call last season a rough one for Brad Richards would be an understatement.

In just his second season into a nine-year contract with the New York Rangers, he was logging time on their third and fourth lines while going through a season-long slump. On top of that, he wound up being a healthy scratch in the playoffs.

The Rangers thought that reuniting him with his former head coach in Tampa Bay, John Tortorella, would give them the No. 1 center they’d been looking for since Mark Messier hung it up. Instead, Tortorella was fired after last season and Richards was nearly a compliance buyout.

Now, Richards heads into the new season with new lease on life after avoiding a buyout.  Another former coach of his, Alain Vigneault who worked with him in Prince Edward Island (see Elliotte Friedman’s No. 3 thought here), joins the fold with the dream of sparking a Rangers offense that went dormant under Tortorella.

With that promise and those hopes, Richards becomes the team’s major X-factor.

If Richards can find his offensive game again, like he had in his first season in New York where he had 66 points, the 33-year-old may find the buyout talk to be just an ugly moment gone by. After all, playing alongside Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan has its benefits and Richards can still be productive.

Then again…

If last season’s disaster was the first sign of his skills heading down the mountain and the Rangers are staring right into a similar situation that they had with Chris Drury, GM Glen Sather will take his lumps like a tomato can in a prize fight.

Signing a high-priced free agent to play for and have chemistry with a coach you fired two years into his deal won’t look good on anyone, especially with a team that has more than a few big re-signings left to make.

If Richards can’t find his stride under Vigneault this season, he’s almost assuredly going to be a compliance buyout next summer. If he makes it and the Rangers push for a Stanley Cup, everyone wins. If not, it’s likely Richards who loses out.

Team USA unveils star-filled 2014 Olympic jerseys

Team USA 2014 jerseys

While Team USA was busy having meetings during their Olympic orientation camp in Virginia, the “main event” was the unveiling of the jerseys they’ll be wearing during the 2014 Games in Sochi.

Without further ado, here they are from Heidi Burgett at Nike.

Let me do my best Tim Gunn impression here:

The crest is impressive. It’s an old-school throwback look that appeared in smaller form on the 2010 jerseys. It’s old-timey looking and cool. No problems there.

Everything else? Debatable.

The road blue jersey is the better of the two if for no reason other than the striping isn’t quite so bad. The single red stripe on the white jersey is a touch off-putting.

The stars embedded on the shoulders of both jerseys will get a lot of flack, but it’s an American jersey and it’s all about the stars and stripes, baby! We’re just kind of lacking on the stripes is all (apologies to the 13 original colonies).

The one unforgivable sin here is the lacing on the collars as they’re not even real laces.

Canadian fans are sure to get their digs in but just keep in mind: Nike is designing their jerseys as well. Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.

Kessel and Leafs haven’t talked contract, won’t negotiate in-season

Phil Kessel

Toronto fans hoping to see Phil Kessel and the Maple Leafs get a contract extension done before the season may want to have a seat.

At Team USA’s Olympic orientation camp, Kessel tells reporters he hasn’t spoken with the Leafs about a new deal and says he doesn’t want to negotiate during the season. The 25-year-old forward is entering the final year of the five-year, $27 million deal he signed with Toronto back in 2009.

The pessimistic way to look at this for Leafs faithful is that GM Dave Nonis spent too much time this summer making questionable, big-money signings (and re-signings) while seemingly ignoring the future of the team. That applies to restricted free agents Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson as well as potential 2014 UFAs Kessel and Dion Phaneuf.

If you want a silver lining, perhaps Nonis is waiting to see just how much the salary cap goes up next season to know just what he’ll have to offer once the Leafs season ends.

Of course, by that point Kessel could decide he wants to test the market which means his price only goes higher.

Stepan on contract negotiations: ‘These things take time’

Derek Stepan

We’re just a few weeks away from the start of training camp and Rangers restricted free agent center Derek Stepan is still unsigned.

Stepan tells Tom Gulitti of Ranger Rants he’s not focused on negotiations and leaving that to his agent and the team.

“But these things take time,” he said. “These things are something that both sides have to agree on. You’ve seen it and I’ve seen it. That’s just how it goes. It’s part of the business and it’s part of the job and it’s part of being a professional hockey player.”

For the Rangers, they probably wouldn’t mind it too much if Stepan wanted to be frugal. According to, the Rangers have just over $2 million in cap space this season. Stepan is the last RFA they have to sign and he’s arguably their most important.

With Brad Richards’ future in New York in doubt, Stepan is their top center at the moment. Getting him locked in is key for the Rangers’ future.

Surprise! Oilers bring back Omark on one-year deal

Linus Omark
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If you thought you’d seen the last of Linus Omark in Edmonton, guess again!

The team announced they’ve signed the highly-skilled forward to a one-year deal. Omark spent last season in Switzerland with Zug after getting tired of waiting for the Oilers to make an offer to him as a restricted free agent.

UPDATE (1:57 p.m. ET): Mark Spector of Sportsnet reports it’s a two-way deal worth $600,000 in the NHL and $100,000 in the AHL.

Earlier this month, Omark said he was eager to return to the NHL but wouldn’t say who he was speaking with. Now we know it just happened to be his old team. Back in May there was speculation he would return to Edmonton. Guess there was a little something to that.

In Zug last season, Omark led the Swiss National League in scoring with 69 points. Playing alongside Henrik Zetterberg and Damien Brunner likely had a little something to do with that.

Now someone will have to break the news to him gently that the NHL has eliminated the spin-o-rama in the shootout.