The whale of this year’s free agency class is officially off the market.

Brad Richards, the highly-coveted 31-year old center, has chosen to play for the New York Rangers, agreeing to a nine-year deal worth $60 million. The deal has an annual salary cap hit of $6.67 million and is heavily front-loaded – Richards will reportedly earn $20 million within the next 12 months.

The Rangers beat out offers from the Kings, Flames and Maple Leafs, though other teams also entered the bidding derby. Richards left some money on the table in order to come to Broadway, believed to be nearly $10 million overall in an offer from Toronto and about $4 million in rejecting a nine-year offer from Calgary.

The Blueshirts originally offered eight years at $51 million, before increasing the offer late Friday night to get past the Kings, who were in at nine years, $58.5 million.

With Richards, the Rangers fill two of their most pressing needs: a playmaking center to pair on the top line with right winger Marian Gaborik, and a quarterback for their power play. He also immediately improves the team’s scoring ability, providing a boost to an offense that finished 16th in the NHL in goals scored.

The Rangers’ depth at center also looks much improved with Richards now joining the likes of Artem Anisimov, Erik Christensen, Brian Boyle, and Derek Stepan.

Richards spent his first seven years in the NHL with the Lightning where he and current Rangers coach John Tortorella led Tampa Bay to a Stanley Cup in 2004, during which Richards earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP. He was traded to Dallas late in the 2007-08 season, where he thrived under his previous contract of $7.8 million per and tied a career-best with 91 points two seasons ago.

Richards had 28 goals and 77 points in 72 games with Dallas last season, and has 220 goals and 496 assists in 772 career NHL games.

With an annual cap hit of $6.67 million, the Rangers left some room – about $16 million – to re-sign the expired contracts of right wing Ryan Callahan (a strong candidate to be the Rangers next captain), left wing Brandon Dubinsky, centers Artem Anisimov and Brian Boyle, and defenseman Michael Sauer.

Richards, who said he’s fully recovered from a mid-February concussion that sidelined him for four weeks, has recorded 116 assists (and 52 goals) in 152 games the last two combined seasons, and he is sixth among active players with .642 assists per game.

The nine years is excessive, but the cap hit isn’t. When the Rangers take the ice for the first time next season, the salary will be secondary to Richards’ play. The Rangers filled their two biggest offseason needs with one player, who will continue to fill those needs for a few more years.

The Rangers are a much, much better hockey team today than they were yesterday.