Dear Mr. Sather

June 30, 2011

Dear Mr. Sather,

I’d like to start out first by thanking you for buying out the final year of Chris Drury’s contract. Truth be told, I never thought it would actually happen and as unfortunate as it is to see someone like Drury’s time in New York end  in such fashion,  it had to be done. Captain or not, to carry an individual who is now a role-player at this point in his career at his salary was something the Rangers simply could not afford to do.

And that brings me to why I am writing to you today.

Free agency is right around the corner  and for hockey fans, it’s our Christmas in July. That’s the day where you and the rest of your General Manager counterparts across the league do your best to improve your team and maybe snag  that “it toy” of the season. Well, if it means breaking the bank to grab Brad Richards,  free agency 2011′s equivalent of Cabbage Patch Kids, then it would be wise to pass.  Richards may be the most coveted free agent on the market, but overpaying for him and signing him long-term potentially could do more harm than good.

Richards is coming off a 5-year deal where he was paid $7.8 million per year. Buying out Drury and the increase in the salary cap for the coming season gives you some breathing room. But for argument’s sake, let’s say Richards settles for that salary per year for the life of the deal. Add his $7.8 million cap hit to the $14,375,000.00 cap hit that Marian Gaborik and Henrik Lundqvist combine for, and the $22,175,000.00 for those 3 take up 1/3 of the cap space for next year without any of your own RFAs who are due raises being re-signed. You may still have some cap space left, but it may make other upgrades prohibitive. Add to that the fact that the contract would extend past the end of the current collective bargaining agreement. There’s no way of knowing what would be contained in the new one in terms of a new salary cap structure or potential closing of some of the loopholes that exist that allow general managers to get creative when it comes to getting bad contracts off their books (ie: jettisoning them to the AHL or even buyouts). Maybe it’s just the cynic in me, but given how often the Rangers seem to get bitten in the behind by these types of signings, should things go south with Richards, what happens if sending salary to the AHL to get it off the NHL books is no longer an option, or the buyout formula changes in a way that increases the cap hit? Maybe that’s looking at it from the ultimate pessimist’s view, but it could happen.

Let’s take the money aspect out of it for a moment and let’s talk length. I am typically not a fan of long-term deals. Now, there are some occasions where it does make sense, such as if you have a relatively young franchise player (such as a Sidney Crosby) that you want to make a member of your team for his entire career. Give him a 10-year extension and you have him secured until his mid-30s. Then there are other deals that are just so long and front-loaded, it’s blatantly a way to spread the cap hit, sort of like your counterpart in New Jersey did with Ilya Kovalchuk (it’s possible but come on, is he really going to play until he’s 42?). Richards is already 31 years old. If the reports of an 8-year-deal being what he’s seeking are accurate, that means he’ll be 39 when it ends. There’s no telling what he may or may not bring to the table at that point in his career, for all we know he could turn out to be an ageless wonder like Chris Chelios and play until 48. But again, look at how three of your major signings of recent years turned out. All were less than 8 years and not one is going to complete his contract in a Rangers uniform.

There’s no doubt that the Rangers could use a top-line center. Richards fits the bill. Sure, he could provide an additional 20 goals or so (he’s never hit 30) and would be an ideal complement to  Gaborik as a set-up man. I’m not so sure though that this is the right place and time to add a piece like this. The Rangers are a young team heading in the right direction. But they are nowhere near serious contenders for the Stanley Cup. A few years down the road as the young core matures and are joined by prospects over the next few seasons, they very well could be. But when that group is ready, would Richards still be at his peak or will he have already begun his decline? Come 2013, 2014 there’s the potential for other big names in the free agent pond who would be hitting their peak at that time when the Rangers could be close. It could be far wiser to wait and spend the big money then.

Setting a hard salary cap was supposed to keep salaries in check and save overzealous general managers, especially ones with cash, from going on wild spending sprees at this time of the year and overpaying for players. That’s really not happened, has it? I don’t need to go through the list of some of the players that were never able to live up to the expectations that came along with the salaries they were given. Somehow, you’ve managed to pawn them off on other suckers – oops I mean general managers – and actually get something useful in return, and when that failed you gave the Connecticut Whale one player making more than probably the rest of the team combined. Yeah, yeah, you can bring up Gaborik, but with one stellar season and then one lousy season, I’m not quite ready to kill or praise you for that one just yet. I’ll get back to you on him after the 2011-12 season.

Look, after watching the Stanley Cup playoffs and seeing the ride that the Bruins took their fans on, I want the Rangers to win badly. I want what we had 17 years ago. I want to stand on Broadway again and watch that parade go by and cheer our heroes and just enjoy the moment with my fellow Rangers fans. I don’t want to wait another 37 years for the next Cup. This is not to say that I think you should stand pat and leave the team as is. You should actively be looking to make upgrades. They just need to be made wisely. If Brad Richards can be had for a reasonable contract then by all means, go for it. But breaking the bank and making a commitment until 2019 would be a huge mistake. I certainly hope that you’ve learned that lesson from the last 3 big ones that you made over the last 4 free agency periods. Sadly, the jaded fan in me highly doubts that you have.





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About the Author: Likes: Hockey, the New York Rangers, King Henrik, singing the Rangers goal song, "The Save", the sound skates make against ice, heckling Marty Brodeur. Dislikes: 3-point games, front-office mismanagement, Denis Potvin, overpriced arena beer. Interested? Follow me on Twitter: @CC_927

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  1. Dave says:

    We don’t have any first line star forwards in the pipeline that i can see, so we do need to find that in the free agent market. Unless there’s someone next year that’s better than Richards, now is the time to take a chance. We’ve got a bunch of players approaching their prime and Lundqvist already is in his. I don’t see the Rangers contending for the Cup anytime soon without getting one more first line 70+ pt scorer to compliment the team core while they’re in their prime. They can’t be gun shy about signing someone. Besides, for all the FA mistakes made in the last 5 years, they’re all off the cap for the most part, so if Richards doesn’t work out, it can be taken care of.

    I say they should do it if it’s 8 yrs or less and in the $6-7.5mil per year range, provided of course that it leaves room to sign the important RFA’s we have.