It has become pretty typical of New York Rangers’ fans. The team signs or acquires a high-priced player, and if he struggles for a season or two, fans begin calling for him to be moved or bought out.
In the case of Brad Richards, there are several additional items to consider.
Richards has really struggled this season; that’s well known. And if these were traditional circumstances, a buyout would not even be an option, but these aren't and it is.
On July 2, 2011, the Rangers and Richards agreed to a nine-year, $58.5 million contract. It was a front-loaded deal that paid Richards $12 million in his first two seasons, but only $1 million in his last three.
This was a cap circumvention tactic that Glen Sather and other fellow general managers used to acquire top players with cap flexibility. In the previous CBA, a player’s cap hit was the average of all of his yearly salaries, and in most cases that brought the players cap hit down. In the new CBA, a players’ salary may not increase or decrease by more than 35 percent year-to-year.
At 30 years old, Richards was looking to sign his final contract, and if the Rangers wanted to get his signature, they were going to have to show him the money. Front loading was the only option, and with the 2012-13 salary cap set to become $70.2 million, there seemed to be no problems.
That was until the new CBA was penned in January of this year. It said that the cap would drop back to $64.3 million in 2013-14. Doesn’t seem like that big of a deal when you consider that $64.3 million was the cap in 2011-12, the year Richards was signed.
But things have changed.
In the summer of 2012, Rick Nash was acquired. He has become the highest-paid player on the team now, and his $7.8 million cap hit is nearly $2 million more than the combined cap hit of Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov.
Now the Rangers have Richards and Nash both eating up a large amount of cap space on long-term contracts.
What’s even more worrisome is considering all the young players whose entry-level contracts or second contracts will be expiring over the next few years.
Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Ryan McDonagh will all be restricted free agents this summer, and they will be expecting fair raises in their second pro contracts.
Then there’s the summer of 2014. Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Marty Biron and Henrik Lundqvist all become RFA’s or UFA’s. These players make up nearly the entire team, and almost all of them are also going to be looking for pay increases. Something is going to have to give, and there will most certainly be players on their way out.
It just comes down to whom.
Well that brings us back to Brad Richards. Not only does he present a problem in the immediate future, cap wise, but he’s also going to create problems even later in his contract. If he’s tailing off at 32 or 33 years old, imagine what shape he’ll be in at 38, when his cap hit is still $6.66 million.
His contract is one that will never be able to be moved, so either they’re stuck with him for the next seven-and-a-half years or they buy him out. Well it just so happens that the new CBA allows for each team in the league to use two amnesty buyouts at any time over the next two summers. This means the Rangers could buy out any player they want without a cap penalty.
All things considered, Brad Richards is becoming the best option.
The truth is that it’s not even just economics with him. He’s playing really bad this season and was pretty disappointing last season, save for a few clutch performances.
Richards is just not a first-line center anymore. He’s getting outplayed by the one guy on the team who may be a worse skater than he is—Derek Stepan. Step is also 10 years younger than Richards.
Besides losing a step, it’s clear he can’t make the plays he used to either. He’s made a habit out of trying to skate through defenders, but he just loses the puck.
When he was with Tampa Bay and Dallas he was a dynamo and an absolute handful for his opponent every night. Go ahead and watch this video and try and see if you can remember Richards doing any of that as a Ranger.
He’s just not the same player anymore. Whether that’s on him, on John Tortorella or Sather for signing yet another aging star to a ludicrous contract, it really doesn't matter. He’s become a prime target for a compliance buyout, and if he doesn't prove his worth he’s going to find himself as a free agent again.
Because at the end of the day, when you consider the cap problems this team is going to have in the coming years, there's probably a player out there who makes half of what Richards does and is just as, if not more, effective.