Who knew Brad Richards’ fall from grace would be so quick, so sudden? In what looks like an irreversible decline in both form and ability, Brad Richards offering up the occasional solid period here or decent game, won’t likely be enough to stop his premature departure from the Rangers. Not many people anticipated him fulfilling his free agent contract but few will have seen his potential departure coming so soon.
Richards’ had a decent, if somewhat underwhelming first season in New York. In his defence, an abbreviated, compressed season with almost no training camp that was further hindered by the flu bug certainly didn’t help the veteran reach his expected level this year. Though, even with all that considered he still doesn’t look right.
There is surely no way Richards sees anywhere close to the end of his contract. Much like Wade Redden, Richie’s deal is already almost untradeable (especially with Bob Gainey no longer running hockey operations in Montreal). Indeed, Richards’ deal is especially untouchable considering the reduction in the salary cap next season.
The Rangers have already had their fair share of disastrous big name free agents. Redden, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez all arrived to much fanfare, yet all left the franchise in timid (at best) style. Richards’ would need a spectacular finish to his season – what looks highly unlikely – to defer discussion of the compliance buyout that appears to loom large.
While his relationship with coach Tortorella and apparent respect in the dressing room speak volumes of Richards as a person, no one ever doubted Redden, or Drury in that regard, but they were still moved because they couldn’t perform on the ice any more. Richards likely needs some divine intervention or a summer reprieve to quickly find his old form before next season begins. However, there is one significant aspect that is worth considering: the Rangers’ reputation as a ‘classy’ organisation, in addition to their well documented past mistakes in free agency.
The club has been chastised for all the big name mistakes in their recent past. While they have rebuilt the organisation impressively, predominantly through the draft, the media enjoys reminding the hockey world of the Rangers past blunders. The fact Richards will only be two years into his new contract this summer is a potential saving grace for the former elite center.
While buying him out may be the right roster move, it would look bad on the franchise in respect to how they treat players (knee jerk reactions to bad seasons) and may damage the club in reputation and appeal (to other potential players). This may be more of a long term issue than the damage Richards’ potential lack of production would have on the club’s on ice performance.
Someone that was once near the top of his trade seems to have become the new Wade Redden; a problem that might not go away in short order. The Rangers decision with how they deal with Richards may not be as clear cut as writing a cheque to write off a player.