In July of 2011, Brad Richards was the premier free agent on the market. Naturally, the New York Rangers were interested as they were looking for a playmaking center that would set up their sniper, Marian Gaborik. Gaborik is gone and as the Rangers sit on the precipice of elimination at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins we could be seeing Richards playing his last game as a Ranger.
Richards was given a nine-year, $60 million deal over the summer of 2011, a deal that would take him to his age 40 season. The Rangers aren’t exactly flush with cap space these days and are faced with Rick Nash and Brad Richards consuming $13 million in cap space for two players who have underperformed in the playoffs.
When the Rangers signed Richards it was hoped he would provide a spark on the power play and quarterback the power play unit and provide veteran leadership for what was, at that time, a young, gritty team. Most of those youngsters are gone, sent packing for Rick Nash who Rangers fans are making the target of their ire. Nash came to the Rangers with high hopes. The Rangers were coming off of a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals and, it was widely believed, were just good goal-scorer away. Those high hopes have faded and Rangers’ fans have soured on Nash who has disappeared in the playoffs for the second straight year. However, Nash, despite his history of concussions, cap hit and his recent designation as cause du jour for the Rangers’ troubles, is still a consistent performer in the regular season and without him, the Rangers wouldn’t have made the playoffs.
The same can’t be said of Richards who hasn’t had the impact many expected him to have. Right now, Richards is, at best, a second-line center. He can still find the back of the next but he goes long stretches where fans are wondering if he is even on the ice. To make matter worse, if Richards retires before his contract is up it would impose stiff cap penalties on the Rangers. That alone makes him an ideal candidate for the Rangers’ lone buyout despite his leading the team with seven points this postseason.
The Rangers could certainly decide that Nash is the better option to buyout. He has disappeared in the playoffs and the 29-year-old has a concussion history that could result in his career coming to a quick end on any given night. He is also scheduled to make $7.8 million a year through the 2017-18 season. Can the Rangers afford to roll the dice on a nightly basis with Rick Nash. Can the Rangers score enough without Nash to afford to buy him out?
One of the two forwards will be getting their walking papers. Richards has been decent but he makes a lot of money for a second or third-line center. Nash has been the Rangers’ best goal-scorer since coming here but has vanished in the playoffs. It is a quandary that is typical of the Rangers these days. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Neither answer is the right one and neither would be incorrect. It will be up to Glen Sather this offseason to decide which route to go.