Richards: If not for the cap, half the league would want to play for Hawks

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When Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane began their careers with the Blackhawks, Chicago hadn’t won a playoff series since 1996. They represented the beginning of a new era. Now the team commands the attention of Chicago and the respect of the rest of the league.

It’s because of their resurgence that Brad Richards was willing to sign a one-year, $2 million contract with them over potentially more lucrative offers for the sake of being Chicago’s second-line center.

“If it wasn’t for the salary cap, half the league would want to play here,” Richards said, per the team’s website. “For a long period of time, Detroit was the destination point for veteran free agents who wanted to go play with great players for a chance to win the Cup. Now that place is Chicago. Great city, great organization, Original Six franchise.”

That wasn’t the case before Toews and Kane led Chicago to two Stanley Cup championships over the span of four years. Richards remembers that for the first half of his career, the United Center was barren whenever he was in town to play against the Blackhawks. Now even coming from a big organization like the New York Rangers, Richards has been impressed by the passion of the team’s fanbase.

“There’s a lot going on in New York. When the Rangers are winning, it’s big. But when it’s over, it’s over,” Richards said. “There’s a lot going on in Chicago too, but it’s the middle of July and the Blackhawks are relevant. What’s happened here is remarkable.”

The Blackhawks signed Kane and Toews to matching eight-year, $84 million contract extensions that take effect in 2015-16. Those cap hits will present a challenge to GM Stan Bowman as he works to make sure the team remains deep enough to stay competitive, but what those forwards have already done for the franchise can’t be undersold.