Here’s my column from The Journal News and lohud.com:
By Rick Carpiniello
GREENBURGH – Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said Monday that no decision has been made yet on the looming amnesty buyout of Brad Richards’ contract.
But all you need to know is that Richards — who as the unofficial acting team captain had made himself so available, and had even done so at the end of last season when he was a healthy playoff scratch facing the possibility of a buyout then — chose to not address the media on break-up day.
He knows the obvious. The Rangers have no choice but to get out of his nine-year contract after three seasons — during which, it needs to be noted, they played nine playoff rounds.
Richards was the first of all the Rangers’ players to have an exit meeting with Vigneault Monday.
“In the final series … we had some decisions to make in Game 4 and Game 5. But his overall play on the power play and 5-on-5 during the year was very good. I’m very happy with what he brought to the table — a veteran player that from Day One was a real good extension of the coaching staff in that dressing room. So I mean, I think he should walk away from this season very pleased in how he played and how he contributed to our team.
“As everybody knows, there’s decisions to be made and we have to make those yet.”
It won’t be an easy decision for Vigneault as a coach, but it’s a virtual no-brainer for the organization because of the salary-cap hit ($6.67 million per) the next three seasons and the cap-advantage recapture penalty ($5.67 million per) the following three once Richards retires. Rangers general manager Glen Sather has until June 30 to exercise this last-chance buyout.
“I’m a big fan of Brad Richards,” Vigneault said. “When I got named (coach) last year, I went to meet him right after.”
Vigneault said he felt the loss to Los Angeles would “haunt” him and the team.
One player who felt the burden — more than last year when he graded his one goal in 12 games “good” — was Rick Nash, who scored three in 25 this time around.
“It was a struggle,” Nash said. “It’s frustrating. I wish I could have produced a lot more. I didn’t get the job done like I definitely wanted to. … Probably one of the most frustrating times of my career during this playoff stretch, not being able to produce.”
He had an empty net in overtime of Game 5, but his shot hit the stick of Kings defenseman Slava Voynov and went over the crossbar.
“That sums it up,” Nash said. “That was clearly going in. … It hit’s the shaft.”
Vigneault, who said every team needs to infuse young players, and that every team looks different every season, added that he has “got an idea where I’m leaning” about a new captain, likely Ryan McDonagh or Marc Staal, and that he will make that decision before or after training camp.
The Rangers almost certainly will not be able to keep all of their unrestricted free agents — including Anton Stralman, Benoit Pouliot, Brian Boyle and Dominic Moore — and might be able to keep only one of those even with Richards off the books. Stralman and Boyle will be overpaid after July 1, by some team.
The Stanley Cup finalist will change, and there’s no guarantee it will get back, or even close to it, next spring.
Photo by the Associated Press.