The New York Rangers have a big decision coming up in the summer of 2014. Brad Richards‘ contract could pose serious cap issues down the road for the Rangers if he chooses to retire before the conclusion of his contract, whether in New York or on another team. The only way to guarantee that the team doesn’t face repercussions in the future is to use their final compliance buyout on Richards and never look back.
This is a tough decision, however. Richards has been one of the best producers for the Rangers this season. He has 16 goals and 29 assists in 64 games and plays big minutes on the power play. He is an assistant captain and is the second-oldest player in New York. He constantly creates plays with his vision and passing and has been the most consistent player aside from Mats Zuccarello. He is one of two players on the squad to win a Stanley Cup championship. That other player is Martin St. Louis.
The two won a cup together with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003-04. Now, Richards and St. Louis are playing on a line together. They have reunited after not playing together since 2008 and are the two players the Rangers are depending on to push them into the postseason and lead them in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But St. Louis’ acquisition also has long-term implications for the Rangers. Primarily, do the Rangers keep Richards after this season? While there could be cap issues down the road, there is also a wealth of reward to be had.
Replacing Richards in the lineup is easier said than done. No available player in the NHL can come in with as much leadership, experience and chemistry with St. Louis as Richards does. The only two players who might have as much of an impact with St. Louis are Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier, but neither is leaving their current team soon. Aside from the chemistry standpoint of the argument, there aren’t many 60-point players available on the market. Richards is on pace for 58 points this season and his style of play gives no indication that his production level will lessen anytime soon. The only player on the free-agent market who could remotely offer this production is Paul Stastny, though, he may end up costing as much or more than Richards.
While there are obvious problems with the team’s salary-cap structure, the Rangers may lean toward keeping Brad Richards after this season. His production, experience and chemistry with St. Louis are key factors that may keep him around in New York. The Rangers have learned the hard way that replacement players don’t always work as well as the players being replaced and should keep that in mind when they ponder their final opportunity for a compliance buyout. It will create less questions in the future and keep a cohesive unit together. After all, it may be the right choice to keep Richards as a Ranger.