My column from The Journal News and Lohud.com:
By Rick Carpiniello
Everybody knew Brad Richards would be a better player for the Rangers this season than he was last season … because he couldn’t be any worse.
We knew he’d be better because he was angered, frustrated, probably embarrassed by his 2013 season, when he failed to stay in playing condition while helping the players’ union during the lockout, and when that lockout was settled and there was no real training camp or preseason.
So Richards dedicated himself over the next summer – having been rid of coach John Tortorella, who for so long was an ally, the reason Richards signed here (besides the contract) and who finally, in the second round of the ‘13 playoffs, stopped giving Richards the long leash he didn’t deserve.
The Rangers decided to take the gamble and not use their remaining amnesty buyout to terminate his contract and eliminate the cap hit and cap-advantage recapture penalty last summer.
You know what happened. Richards was, indeed, much, much better this season. For much of the season he manned a very improved power play point. He played every single game, 105 now including playoffs.
More important, he took on a greater leadership role, particularly when Rangers captain Ryan Callahan forced his way out of town at the trade deadline. Richards became the de facto captain of a team that reached the Stanley Cup Final, reached it in no small part because of his performance in the early rounds, because of his goal in Game 7 in Pittsburgh. Reached it in no small part because of the influence Richards had in bringing Martin St. Louis aboard in the Callahan trade. Reached it in no small part because of Richards’ very real guidance of an inexperienced nucleus.
But now it’s time.
The Rangers have one, maybe two, maybe three games remaining. Richards’ tank looks completely empty again. He not only has been unable to keep up in a high-speed series, he has committed terrible giveaways and blunders. He hasn’t produced a point. The power play has stalled as he has bumbled at the point.
Rangers GM Glen Sather no doubt knows it. His lieutenants know it. Coach Alain Vigneault probably understands it. Richards does, too.
They all know, too, that the Rangers will need to find a replacement with the money they save, at center and on the point.
The buyout period begins June 15 or 48 hours after the Stanley Cup Final concludes, whichever is later, and it closes June 30.
The nine-year, $60 million contract Richards signed in 2011 was, in fact, a six-year, $57 million deal ($9.5 million per) – the last three seasons at $1 million per, designed to entice him to retire after the 2016-17 season and to average out his cap hit over nine years instead of six.
Problem was, with the new collective bargaining agreement, that kind of salary cap circumvention was deemed illegal, and so the penalty for recapturing that advantage was put into place, along with the two amnesty buyouts allowed per team, to be used by July 1, 2014.
The recapture penalty means if Richards stays and then retires, as expected, after 2016-17, the Rangers would carry a cap hit of about $5.67 million per season for three years, for a player no longer on the roster.
Richards received $33 million in the first three seasons. With the buyout he will get two-thirds of the remaining $27 million spread over twice the remaining term (12 years). And he certainly will get a contract as a free agent July 1 for less than he made this year, and for a shorter term, from another team (the Rangers are not permitted to re-sign him).
Richards has been both good and bad for three years, and even if there were no recapture penalty, the Rangers would have to think about what he will look like next season at this time, not to mention the next or the next. There is a recapture penalty, though, and this last chance to get out of it.
Photo by Getty Images.