Brad Richards is trying to avoid having the New York Rangers use their final compliance buyout on his nine-year deal that he signed heading into the 2011-12 season. With the new CBA in place after the lockout that cost the NHL and its fans half of the 2012-13 season, there are new rules pertaining to the so-called ‘dummy years’ of long-term contracts. These are additional years of a contract where the player’s salary is significantly reduced to lower the overall salary cap cost for the team over the life of the contract. Even with the salary cap increasing to a reported $71.1 million, the future implications in a scenario where Richards retires early can cripple the Rangers’ salary structure for several years. Yet despite all of this, Richards has been one of the most productive Rangers players this season. The veteran center is essentially in a contract year, fighting to earn the vote of confidence needed for him to remain in New York beyond the 2013-14 season.
The Rangers’ offense has been led by Richards and Norwegian forward Mats Zuccarello. This is surprising with names like Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan on the roster. Richards has scored 15 goals and 27 assists for a total of 42 points, good for second on the team behind Zuccarello. Richards has seen his career revitalized after an inconsistent 2012-13 season that saw his presence rarely seen even though he was productive point-wise. Richards registered 34 points in 46 games, ranking third overall on the team. Yet like many of his teammates, he disappeared in the postseason. The idea behind Richards coming to New York was to rejoin former coach John Tortorella, whom he won a Stanley Cup with as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning back in 2003-04. With new coach Alain Vigneault at the helm and his laid back approach to the team, Richards looks revitalized and has adapted quicker than most of his teammates. He is playing crucial minutes, quarterbacking a new-look power play for almost the entire two-minute man advantage. But it his not only his production that has improved. Many felt that Richards would disappear for games at a time last season before having a noticeable game, yet this year he is more involved and is constantly creating offensive chances with speedy winger Carl Hagelin. He is the only player on the roster who has won the Stanley Cup, making his veteran leadership invaluable as the Rangers gear up for a potential postseason run. Yet all of this may not be enough for the Rangers to decide to keep him beyond this season.
There are several scenarios that could occur with Richards. The Rangers may decide to keep him, and he can play out the rest of his contract until he is 39-years-old. This is the most unlikely scenario, though Richards’ style of play focuses more on playmaking and less on physicality which could allow for such longevity. No NHL management team would want to have a 39-year-old Richards with a $6.67 million cap hit on their roster even if his actual salary is $1 million in each of the last three years of his deal. If he retires from his deal before its conclusion, whether on the Rangers or on another team if he is traded away, New York will be saddled with a cap penalty of the same $6.67 million until the contract would expire. If the Rangers choose to buy him out several years down the road, they will be saddled with a cap penalty close to $6 million for each of the last three years that Richards would have been on the team and then a small cap penalty for an equal number of years following that. This leaves the Rangers with one realistic option: use their final compliance buyout on Richards. Money has never been an issue for Rangers owner James Dolan, so another large buyout would have little to no effect on their year-to-year internal cap structure. While it is a tough decision that will prove difficult to overcome in the short-term, long-term it will save the Rangers many headaches.