It’s growing increasingly difficult to believe that this is just an off year for Brad Richards, that the 33-year-old will bounce back with the benefit of a summer to clear his head and a full John Tortorella training camp in the fall. There are just too many signs that the former star center is on a steep decline.
And yet, despite Tortorella’s own silent admission through a fourth-line demotion that Richards has been awful, it’s still extremely unlikely the Rangers will exercise a buyout on Richards this summer.
As Dave Lozo explained so well last week, it would make very little sense for New York to exile Richards this summer rather than waiting until 2014. The chief reason: buying out Richards this year would cost New York $24 million over the next 14 years, while waiting a season would cost the Blueshirts $18 million over the next 12 seasons. Is it really a wise move for the franchise to swallow an additional $6 million just to banish Richards AND fork over the cash to pay his replacement?
If Glen Sather were armed with the cap space to obtain one of the summer’s big fish free agents – of which very few remain – then swapping Richards for a younger star would be a no-brainer. But New York’s pending cap issues are well documented, so the Rangers likely wouldn’t be able to afford a replacement more expensive than a guy like Washington’s Matt Hendricks if they sent Richards packing. Is someone like Hendricks so much of an upgrade over Richards that you’d be willing to pay his salary plus that extra $6 million for Richards’ buyout – probably $8 million to $9 million total – to make the swap?
Money isn’t usually much of a deterrent in stopping the Rangers from making personnel changes, but that’s a massive amount of cash to make a silly move. As down on Richards as most Rangers fans are, even the biggest pessimists must agree that there’s at least a chance Richards plays better next season. He can’t be much worse.
Rest easy knowing Richards is almost certainly a goner next summer. The Rangers will need the cash, and after seeing what Richards’ downside looks like the Blueshirts know another seven years of Richards on Broadway isn’t an option. The club will use another “get out of jail free” card to erase a mistake, in due time.