Here’s my story from The Journal News and LoHud.com today:
By Rick Carpiniello
GREENBURGH — Brad Richards is a bright guy and has been around long enough to know the score. And though Richards wouldn’t say so as the Rangers packed their belongings and headed into summer, the alternate captain understands his situation.
He almost certainly will be bought out of the remaining seven years of his nine-year, $60 million contract.
“That’s been written probably since a week into the season, so that’s the business side of it,” Richards said Monday. “I’m going to play hockey next year no matter what.
“I mean, I signed for longer than a year and a half, but I do understand everything that’s going on.”
What’s going on is, probably due to his lack of conditioning during the lockout — he said he was in shape to start the season in September — Richards’ game fell apart in the second year of his contract.
But because of the lockout, with the salary cap going down next season, and with the recapture clause that will greatly punish the Rangers’ attempt to circumvent the CBA with the front-loaded contract if Richards retires before his final season — even if Richards had a decent season they’d probably have to exercise their final amnesty buyout on him, this summer or next. And if they give him one more season and he gets hurt, then they are stuck with the whole deal; injured players can’t be bought out.
So the pencil writing on the wall was changed to pen when Richards played a little over eight minutes on a fourth line in Game 3 vs. Boston, then was scratched from Games 4 and 5.
“It was not a fun time,” Richards said. “No other, really, way to put it. Tough. But life goes on and I’ve got to regroup, figure some things out, and start over. … I can control that; one thing I can control over the summer is how I prepare. If I do all that, I’m confident in how I’m going to enter (next) season.”
Asked if he felt he still has a lot to contribute, Richards simply said, “Yes.” Once the Rangers exercise the buyout, he will be a free agent who can sign with any of the other 29 teams. If he does regain his game and production, the Rangers have to live with that.
Rangers coach John Tortorella would not say whether he believes Richards will be back.
“That’s not a question I can answer,” he said ominously. “You’d have to ask my general manager about that.”
Glen Sather, however, was not available for comment.
Tortorella won the Cup with Richards, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner for Tampa Bay, and was instrumental in bringing Richards in as a free agent. Last week he said he “loves” Richards, and Monday the coach said his relationship hasn’t changed and won’t change.
“Absolutely not,” Tortorella said. “Brad knows how I feel about him. As I said when I took him out of the lineup, I was not coaching him the proper way playing on the fourth line. It just doesn’t work. But I also could not put him in front of other people because I thought the other people were playing better.
“I think it needs to be a start of a jump-start, to make him understand that this isn’t good enough. … That’s one thing about Brad Richards. I think he understands that stuff. It happened at a time that we didn’t want to do it. But it is a bit of a wake-up call as far as where we are, what we expect, and I believe he understands that. And I do believe he will turn himself around.”
AP photo, above.