Folks in the Big Apple have to be psyched about the turnaround of much-maligned New York Rangers forward Brad Richards. Last postseason, he was in former coach John Tortorella’s doghouse due to a lack of productivity. He was a healthy scratch during the last few games of the Eastern Conference Semifinals before the team was eliminated by the Boston Bruins. Tortorella was axed in the offseason, and former Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault was brought in with hopes that he could get the former Conn Smythe winner back on the right track.
So far, its mission accomplished for Vigneault. With 20 points, Richards is leading the Rangers in scoring. Even the most optimistic of fans couldn’t have predicted such a quick rebound, especially with how badly Richards struggled last season. With New York clinging to the eighth spot in the playoff standings, they can definitely benefit from Richards continuing his offensive production.
There is a bit of a problem, though. Richards is signed for the rest of the decade, as his contract wraps up in 2020. He’ll be getting $6.67 million a year up until that point. And, believe it or not, the Rangers are going to be in need of some cap space as soon as this coming offseason, especially since forward Ryan Callahan and defenseman Dan Girardi are unrestricted free agents this summer. Forward Derek Brassard and defenseman Michael Del Zotto, though not as prolific as the aforementioned players, will be restricted free agents once the season ends. Making matters more interesting is the mammoth $59.5 million contract Henrik Lundqvist just signed, which will begin next season.
So, as you can see, the Rangers are going to need to work with their cap in order to try and retain their core players, as well as possibly add to their roster. Will the need to free up some space tempt Rangers GM Glen Sather into buying out Richards?
If New York did indeed buy themselves out of Richards’ contract this offseason, it wouldn’t be a detrimental hit, mainly due to the fact that the deal was so front loaded. The buyout would eventually cost the team a total of $18 million across 12 years. It isn’t ideal, but not something that would hold the front office away from pulling the trigger.
Had this option come up last season, it might have been a slightly easier call. Would anyone have cried boo if the Rangers bought out a player who was benched for the team’s final games of the season? Of course not, but things are different now. Richards is performing well again, and the Rangers aren’t exactly talented enough to survive without the production he’s giving right now. There’s always a possibility the offseason acquisitions they make can fill in for what they’d lose in Richards, but nothing’s guaranteed.
Richards’ deal is the type of contract the latest lockout tried to eliminate, and it appears the Rangers now realize that. It may have helped them land someone who, at the time, was the best free agent available. Right now, though, the contract they gave Richards is potentially preventing them from retaining players they need in order to stay competitive.
We’ll have to wait and see if New York decides to buyout Richards this summer. If he keeps playing at a high level, he’s certainly not going to make the decision any easier.