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Brad Richardson signing adds to Coyotes’ center depth

Arizona Coyotes center Brad Richardson, front, reacts as members of the Colorado Avalanche celebrate after a goal by Tyson Jost in the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 10, 2018, in Denver. The Avalanche won 5-2. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

For a franchise that has always been starved for center ice depth, the Arizona Coyotes fanbase sure was freaking out on Tuesday at the realization of that goal.

The Coyotes agreed to a two-year, $2.5 million contract with center Brad Richardson on Tuesday, bringing the unrestricted free agent back to the team where he spent the past three seasons.

“It was always a priority of ours to bring him back in the fold and a priority of his to stay in Arizona,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka said on a conference call Tuesday. “Any time you’ve got a chance to be a UFA (unrestricted free agent), you’ve earned that right. You only get so many chances and you want to take a look and see what’s available to you.”

Richardson took a look around but he didn’t like what he saw.

“I’ll be honest, I thought it was going to go a little different and so did my agent,” Richardson said. “I had a lot of interest early. I probably talked to 10 or 12 teams. With that kind of interest you think there’s going to be a lot of things going on but in the end I had a couple choices I had to make and I just felt like picking up and moving and doing all that for the deals I was getting, I just didn’t think it was worth it.”

Richardson said he turned down a more lucrative one-year offer to return to Arizona.

“One year is not super appealing, having to leave my daughter behind and move and also feeling like this is where I originally wanted to be anyway,” he said. “I was actually stressed. It’s fun to kind of look around and see but when it doesn’t go the way you expect, it’s stressful. It really is.

“It wasn’t like I didn’t have offers but it’s just a stressful time and I didn’t sleep very good for a couple nights. You want things to work out perfect and the way you envision it, but sometimes it doesn’t go that way. Having said that, I’m very happy. This was my first choice the whole time.”

With Richardson back, the Coyotes have a glut of center options that also include Derek Stepan, Alex Galchenyuk, Christian Dvorak, Dylan Strome, Marcus Kruger and Nick Cousins, who has played the position in the past.

“I think it’s good because we’re the smartest players on the ice,” Richardson quipped. “You need a lot of them.”

Chayka said the depth is a good thing, and both he and coach Rick Tocchet have said they don’t mind playing two centers on a line.

“We think it’s a competitive advantage if anything, especially when you have some young centers,” Chayka said. “If they can play with a more veteran center on their wing and share that responsibility then we see that as value added.

“We don’t have the Auston Matthews, the Sidney Crosby or the Connor McDavid you have to draft basically one or two overall and do it in a year where those players are available. I’m not about to sit here and tank seasons and wait for that to occur. We’re going to try some other means. For us to have this great depth and to have flexibility where multiple centers can play on a line, I think it’s trying to find a creative solution.”

Chayka would not speculate on how the lines might shape up.

“My focus is to get the best 13 forwards and give them to the coach and allow him to work through his lineup,” he said. “Flexibility and optionality is a positive, it’s a valuable thing. Look across the league and see how many teams are desperate for centers and would love to have our depth. I think we’re in a situation where we’ve got a lot of value there.

“It’s going to be the most competitive training camp we’ve had since I can remember.”

In 683 NHL games, Richardson, 33, has 81 goals and 204 points. He missed all but 15 games of the 2016-17 season after sustaining a broken right tibia and fibula in a game at Vancouver on Nov. 17, 2016. He had three goals and 15 points last season in a fourth-line, shutdown center role. He was also one of the team’s top penalty killers.

Given the center options on the roster, Richardson could be asked to play the wing, where he has played in the past.

“Guys might have to move around a little bit and play different positions,” he said. “If you’ve played center, you can usually play the wing.”

Richardson has been training in Arizona with teammates Kevin Connauton and Brendan Perlini, but he will head back to Canada for some weddings this month before returning at the end of July. He said there is an advantage to remaining in Arizona’s summer heat.

“The golf courses are wide open,” he said. “I’m playing rounds in two hours so that’s always nice.”

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