By Rick Carpiniello
It wasn’t personal – or personnel. It was strictly business.
Rangers general manager Glen Sather had no choice in making the inevitable decision that was confirmed completed on Friday with the buyout of center and de facto captain Brad Richards.
After three years of a nine-year, $60 million contract front-loaded and designed to entice him to retire after the sixth season to reduce the annual salary cap hit to $6.67 million per over those first six years, Richards is the Rangers’ second and final amnesty buyout granted with the collective bargaining agreement reached in 2013.
Even if Richards had been seen as a player worthy of $6.67 million for each of the next three seasons the new CBA carried heavy penalties for contracts that circumvented the salary cap, called cap-advantage recapture penalties. If Richards were to retire after 2016-17 – his contract called for only $1 million per season for the last three – the Rangers faced a penalty of $5.67 million cap hit per year, for a player no longer on their roster.
Plus, with Richards at 34 and having tired at the end of the playoff run, albeit after playing in all 107 regular-season and playoff games, the hockey decision wasn’t a slam dunk.
The hockey decision didn’t need to be made, though. The recapture penalty made the decision for Sather, who took a risk by not buying out Richards last summer after his dreadful lockout-shortened season.
Make no mistake about Richards, though. He was a very good player (20 goals, 51 points during the season) and a very definitive team leader for the Stanley Cup finalists, and helped them to nine playoff series in his three seasons – an Eastern Conference regular-season title and a trip to the Eastern Final in 2012, and the run to the Stanley Cup Final that ended a week ago.
He was a key figure in so many of their important games – most recently scoring the game-winning goal in the 2-1 Game 7 victory in Pittsburgh (photo top).
Richards became the unofficial team leader after captain Ryan Callahan forced his way out of town in a trade deadline deal that brought Richards’ buddy and former teammate, Martin St. Louis from Tampa Bay.
Richards has already earned $33 million of his $60 million deal, and will additionally get $8 million in bonus money due, plus two-thirds of the remaining $19 million ($12.67 million) spread over the next 12 years. He will then become an unrestricted free agent who will undoubtedly get another, shorter-term contract, likely at more than $3 million or $4 million per.
Under the CBA rules, the Rangers are not eligible to re-sign him.
The buyout leaves the Rangers with just 12 players signed for 2014-15, at a total of $47.3 million, against a cap expected to come in between $69 million and $71 million. Sather has 11 free agents to try to re-sign (it’s unlikely he can sign all of them), plus will need to somehow replace Richards as a top-three center and a power-play point man.
The period to begin negotiating with other team’s free agents starts June 25. Players whose contracts expire become free agents and can be signed on or after July 1.
From the Rangers:
STATEMENTS FROM BRAD RICHARDS AND GLEN SATHER
NEW YORK, June 20, 2014 – The following are statements from Brad Richards and Glen Sather:
“Tough last few days … I loved being a Ranger and living in New York and playing at MSG in front of great fans. I’ve met many new friends, excellent teammates and staff and I have memories that I will cherish for a lifetime. Glen Sather, the management and owner, Mr. Dolan, are all class acts. I want to thank them for letting me be a part of New York life and the Rangers family. With this decision finalized, I can now look forward to starting the next chapter in my career.”
“We would like to thank Brad for everything he has done for our team on and off the ice during his time here. This was an extremely difficult decision to make because of how much respect I have for him. Brad’s leadership and guidance for our young players was invaluable to the organization. We are grateful to have had the professionalism and experience he brought as an example for our team to follow. Brad has been a very good player for us and an even better person. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”
Photos by Getty Images.