MORNING UPDATE, 9:12 A.M.: In case you missed it, Larry Brooks of the Post had a statement from Chris Drury thanking the Rangers and their fans for his time in New York, and a buyout is expected today. Which clears cap space for our next topic of discussion.
(also, just a matter of when Ryan Callahan is named the next captain of the New York Rangers).
Here’s what I do know about the Brad Richards Sweepstakes (click here for a laugh). I know I’m glad I don’t have to make this decision by Friday, the way Glen Sather and his staff must.
See here’s the thing. Last year, I was kind of waffling the same way on Ilya Kovalchuk, who was going to be a lot more expensive, but who was easily one of the top half dozen or so players in the game, and who was still on the front nine of his prime. I thought, if the cap would allow, that he might be something cool to go out and buy, and you’d have him for a very long time.
Then I got a whiff that the Rangers weren’t going to be seriously involved — despite what one of our trolls tried to insist — and I lost interest.
The Rangers are almost surely going to be seriously involved this time. And I’m waffling again, far more so than on Kovalchuk.
1) The Rangers desperately need an upgrade in skill. They have one-third of a first line, and that won’t get it done, especially when the one-third played like a third-liner last year. They desperately need a guy who can make plays, and can get the puck to Marian Gaborik. They desperately need a player who can QB the power play. And take faceoffs.
I’ve said this before, the Rangers will be a serious contender the day that Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky are on the second line and the second power play (and nobody thinks more highly of Callahan than I do, and few think as highly of Dubinsky as I do).
Richards fills all of those holes. Even though some theorize that Gaborik is the type of winger who doesn’t need a premier playmaker (he scored 42 two years ago, on his own, pretty much), he surely needs a center better than Erik Christensen.
2) He is still, indeed in his prime. He is, obviously, a big-time player — he won the Conn Smythe for the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. He sure knows John Tortorella, and vice versa. He apparently wants to come to New York to whatever degree. He’s an assist guy who can score goals, too, a skater who will fit Tortorella’s system, a proven point man.
3) The Rangers may not be one player away, but they are a lot closer than they’ve been in years … if they can upgrade their skill at key positions. This team has been about tomorrow for a little while, and eventually it has to start thinking about today. And we know that the Rangers went after Richards in March, but were smart enough to not give up the future to get him. Now here he is.
1) $$,$$$,$$$. Forget about Richards taking a discount to play for Torts, or to play in New York. He’s not coming here cheap. He’s probably going to the highest bidder, and there will be bidders: Toronto, probably L.A., maybe Philly (I think so, anyway), the Rangers, who knows what other teams will jump in. So it’s going to take big, big dollars and a long-term deal that will take him well into his late 30s, and probably a no-move. Most guys go for the last nickel in these sweepstakes.
In other words, you’re looking at a contract that could be Redden-like, or Drury-like down the road … and the salary cap could be going down. In other words, whatever Richards brings now could be very costly later. Could be an absolute albatross. Try to imagine what it will look like in 2014, 2015, 2016.
2) As good as Richards is, he’s not a top-10 or even a top-20 player in the NHL. Not. Sorry. He isn’t. He’s very, very good. Right off the bat, he’s one of the Rangers’ three best players. But he’s not going to do things that other superstars in the NHL can do. And what the heck happens if his numbers start going down?
3) His head. If I were a GM, concussions would send me screaming. I’ve seen them end Rangers careers of Pat LaFontaine, Eric Lindros, Mike Richter, Jeff Beukeboom and others. We know that concussions are cumulative, that those who have had them are more susceptible, that the next will probably be worse than the last, and that it takes much less to cause the next one and the next one. I just don’t know if I’d be willing to go shopping for a recently-concussed player at any cost, no matter what his name or game. I’d be scared to death.
4) The next CBA. To repeat, the cap is probably going to go down. Maybe there will be terms in there to allow teams to get out from under contracts signed under the current CBA. Maybe.
5) The history of UFA. You could count on very few fingers the number of big-ticket free agents who signed and delivered big-time, start-to-finish of their contracts. The Rangers’ record in UFA signing is worse than most, if not all. And I don’t have to go into specific examples, do I? No. Look at it the other way: how many UFAs have the Rangers signed, historically, that did work out as hoped?
In other words, this thing could blow up in the Rangers’ faces a lot of ways.
Or … Richards could come in and be a star and get Gaborik going, and get the PP going, and who knows? Maybe, if they don’t have too many sophomore slumps and add another couple of pieces, they can be the Boston Bruins.
The fewer pros might outweight the cons. Richards makes this team better. But at what cost, and how long will he last, and can he perform to the level of his contract?
I don’t know.
AP photo, above.