Four summers ago, the New York Rangers metaphorically backed a Brinks truck up to Newport Sports Management and unloaded a 9-year, $60-million contract to the most coveted free agent in 2011, Brad Richards.
At the time, it seemed like a preposterous and pretty blatant attempt to circumvent the salary cap – with $12 million each of the first two seasons, trickling down to a paltry $1 million over the final three. Spread over the nine-year term, the deal carried a $6,666,667.00 annual cap hit. Given the Rangers propensity for handing out overpriced contracts to the big free agents, only to have them go bust, it seemed like it could only end in disaster. It just might have, were it not for the two compliance buyouts that were part of the current CBA.
On Friday, the Rangers opted to use their second and final compliance buyout to escape the final six years of the Richards contract. He will receive over $20 million over the next 12 years without it counting against the Rangers’ salary cap. It also frees up that cap space to help the Blueshirts to pay some of their free agents, make other upgrades and fill the hole at center buying him out has now created.
At the conclusion of the shortened 2012-13 season, which was a disaster that ended in the playoffs with a demotion to the fourth line and eventually to the press box as a healthy scratch, all signs pointed to the possibility that it would happen last summer. A coaching change might have been his saving grace, as John Tortorella was shown the door and Alain Vigneault brought in. After coming into the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season unprepared to play, Richards committed to offseason training alongside Martin St. Louis in Connecticut, which likely helped him put up a respectable 20 goals and 31 assists in the full 82-game 2013-14 campaign. He put up 5 goals and 7 assists in the 2014 playoff run, but struggled to keep up and by the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings, found himself centering the fourth line.
As we all know the NHL is a business, and there was no way the Rangers could have carried Richards’ cap hit for another 6 years, given that the on-ice play was not commensurate with his salary and would likely deteriorate further as the contract went on. Even worse is what might have happened had they not taken the compliance buyout and he opted to retire prior to the contract’s expiration. The recapture penalties, now part of the CBA, would have had salary cap implications. The numbers, per Capgeek, as to what the hits would have been each year, depending on the year in which he retired prior to its expiration:
Richards ends his Rangers career with 56 goals and 95 assists in 210 regular season games and 12 goals and 16 assists in 50 playoff games, hardly the numbers expected of a player taking up just over 10% of the salary cap. His legacy cannot solely be judged on those on-ice numbers. Richards played an important role on the team from the trade deadline on – stepping in as de facto captain after Ryan Callahan’s trade as they made their run to the Stanley Cup Final and only one of three players on the roster (St. Louis and Dan Carcillo) to have played on that stage. Much like Chris Drury (another free agent who didn’t live up to the expectations that came with his contact) with Callahan, one cannot discount the impact that three seasons in the dressing room had on players such as Ryan McDonagh, who right now seems to be the odds-on favorite to be the next one to wear the C.
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