- Associated Press - Saturday, July 2, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Brad Richards impatiently waited for this day, the day he could finally pick a new team from a whole slew of suitors.

After a day of being wooed by teams around the NHL, Richards chose the one that was the front-runner all along _ the New York Rangers.

Richards, considered the biggest prize in this year’s underwhelming free-agent market, struck it rich Saturday when he agreed to a nine-year, $60 million deal.

“The phone will probably get thrown in a lake later today and we’ll get on with just relaxing,” Richards said. “You have to respect the process but I’m not a person that likes to wait around for something to happen and it’s kind of been like that for 60, 70 days knowing that nothing can happen until July 1.

“You’re kind of in limbo. Your mind doesn’t really relax like it might in a regular summer.”

The 31-year-old center will be reunited with coach John Tortorella, with whom he won the Stanley Cup in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He’ll be alongside Marian Gaborik on New York’s revamped top line. The Rangers will likely pick a left winger from within.

After a career-high 28 goals and 49 assists last season with the Dallas Stars, Richards jumped to the head of the free-agent class and was coveted by the Rangers. The Los Angeles Kings and Toronto Maple Leafs also made in-person pitches at the office of his agent, Pat Morris, in Ontario.

The Calgary Flames also made a late push Friday, the first day of the free-agent shopping season, to try to land the Prince Edward Island native.

Tim Leiweke, the chief executive of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Kings, was part of a group that included general manager Dean Lombardi and several others who went to Canada to meet with Richards. Not even video messages from Wayne Gretzky and Kobe Bryant won over Richards.

“It’s not easy to say no to people,” he said. “The offers being made are very flattering. I am excited to play for one NHL team, let alone having that many options.”

New York stated its case remotely and did enough to lure Richards, despite not offering the most lucrative deal. The Rangers hope Richards can carry them further than their first-round exit of last season.

“You can find a player like this as a free agent or find a player like this in the top five (of the draft) and it takes a long time to develop,” general manager Glen Sather said. “We needed somebody like this to take us to the next step. I think it’s a great opportunity for us. I know he left a lot of money on the table by accepting the offer.”

The Rangers hope Richards will end their search for a center to power their top line and run their often struggling power play. New York thought it filled its hole in the middle four years ago when it signed Chris Drury and Scott Gomez on the first day of free agency, hoping for a good mix with Jaromir Jagr.

It didn’t work.

Gomez was traded just two years into his seven-year, $51.5 million deal, and this week the Rangers bought out the final year of Drury’s contract _ a five-year, $35.25 million pact _ ending the captain’s stay with the team and opening more cap space to squeeze in Richards.

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