Brad Richards has been nearly invisible of late for the New York Rangers. Richards has only scored once and registered three assists in the past 10 contests. He had no factor in a game where New York scored eight times against the Ottawa Senators. This is a player who is fighting for his contract, on pace for the worst season of his NHL career and on the verge of being bought out just three years after he signed a nine-year deal.
What isn’t helping his case is the fact that Martin St. Louis was brought in partly to reunite and ignite Richards, yet now the two don’t play on a line together. St. Louis is currently playing with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello while Richards is on the third line. With this new combination, St. Louis registered an assist against the Senators while Richards had no impact.
Richards has been in a position to succeed for the entire season with new coach Alain Vigneault. He has had a multitude of skilled linemates such as Chris Kreider, St. Louis, Carl Hagelin and has played with Rick Nash and Derek Stepan on the power play. Having so many opportunities and being one of the team leaders is enough to warrant expectations of at least status quo career production, yet Richards has not been able to convert these chances.
It is scary to think that a veteran center with a salary of $9 million this season is having such a diminutive impact. More unfortunate is the $33 million that Richards made in salary in the first three years of his deal with the Rangers. That is less than the $27 million it would cost to use a compliance buyout on the final six years of his deal.
A compliance buyout is the safe exit to all of this. It is hard to imagine that Richards will continue to play for six more years and not retire early with his drop in play, nor can the Rangers think of it as a viable use of assets and cap space to pay Richards to do so. If he retires early, the Rangers face serious cap complications that could jeopardize the team in the future.
At 33 years of age, Richards’ best days are behind him. It might be in the best interest for Glen Sather, Jeff Gorton and the rest of the management team to start finding a replacement for next year’s roster. There are several options on the free agent market including Paul Stastny and Mikhail Grabovski, or the team could promote from within. Both J.T. Miller and Oscar Lindberg are making strong cases to start their full-time NHL careers with the Rangers next season. Either way, Richards should not be wearing Ranger blue during the 2014-15 season.