All he wanted to do was win. Brad Richards sat on the ice as Alec Martinez and his Los Angeles Kings teammates celebrated their second Stanley Cup in three seasons. Richards who last won a Stanley Cup in 2004 with Tampa Bay, was destined to get back to the top. After the New York Rangers bought him out of his in progress 12 year/ 60 million dollar deal, Richards looked for a contender and the Chicago Blackhawks came calling.
The Blackhawks, like the Rangers, lost to the Kings and they had a hole at second line center. Patrick Kane needed someone to work with and Stan Bowman granted Richards a one year deal. Alongside Richards, Patrick Kane was having an MVP season and likely would have been a top candidate for the Hart Trophy had it not been for a collarbone injury. The stability that Brad Richards brought was a big reason for the season that Patrick Kane had. Because of the salary cap issues, the Blackhawks and Richards knew there was little chance that the veteran center would return. That theory was confirmed yesterday when Richards agreed to a 1 year deal worth up to 4 million, a contract the Blackhawks simply could not offer him. That is the reality of success, when you win, players need to get paid.
The same thing occurred with Brandon Saad. Saad had a breakout season last year and had arguably the best post season of any Blackhawks forward throughout the playoffs. Saad is seeking close to 6.5 million per year and Stan Bowman simply does not have the funds. While the Blackhawks could move some pieces around and make Saad fit under the cap this season, the task is daunting in years to come. Brent Seabrook is in the final year of his contract and deserves an extension. Teuvo Teravainen if he continues to increase his production will deserve a contract, same with Andrew Shaw. Not to mention the Blackhawks still need help on the back end of defense. This is nothing against Brandon Saad, but like the 2010 Stanley Cup team, harsh decision have to be made and unfortunately Brandon Saad had to go.
Which leaves us with Antoine Vermette. The Blackhawks acquired Vermette at the trade deadline to replace some of the scoring without Patrick Kane. Vermette struggled mightily in the regular season and did not even register a single goal. After finally breaking through in Game 4 against Nashville, Vermette was off in running. The 3rd line combo of Sharp- Vermette- Teravainen was the Blackhawks best line throughout the Anaheim series and after the shocking benching in Game 3, Antoine Vermette scored the biggest goal of his life. The double overtime goal against Anaheim not only tied the series, but it gave the Blackhawks life after suffering three goals in 37 seconds earlier in the game. Vermette clicked again in the Stanley Cup Final with game winning goals in Games 1 and 5. Not only were the goals Vermette scored huge, his faceoff percentage was best on the team throughout the playoffs. Vermette, like Brad Richards, wanted to return but because of the salary cap, Stan Bowman could not even offer him a contract. Vermette re-signed in Arizona on a 2-year deal but the 32 year old finally received his first Stanley Cup.
The Blackhawks as a team are going to look a lot different next year. Likely departures from the team include: Michal Roszival, Kimmo Timonen, Johnny Oduya, Antti Raanta, Antoine Vermette, Brad Richards, and possibly Patrick Sharp, Brian Bickell, Kris Versteeg, and Andrew Desjardins. Next year the Blackhawks are getting a lot younger. Hawks fans should be excited about the arrival of Artemi Panarin, the Russian would look great on a line with newly acquired center Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. There always is the question of who will fill Brandon Saad’s spot on the top line. Slovakian youngster Marko Dano should also be an exciting young player but many questions remain for the bottom two blue-liners. A lot still has to happen but if I have learned one thing in the past six years about this Blackhawks team it is that they can win with just about anyone on the team, they always find a way.
– Jamie Cleveland