Dec
05

Playing devil’s advocate: Brad Richards

December 5, 2013, by
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

We’ve received some feedback over the past few weeks that readers are looking for a more objective viewpoint on hot-button Rangers issues.  In our insatiable desire to please our readership, we’ve decided to start the Playing devil’s advocate series, looking at both sides of major debates and lending our own conclusion.

As the 2013-2014 season progresses, one topic that always remains at the forefront is the Brad Richards buyout decision. The Rangers are allowed one more compliance buyout in June of 2014, and the rumors are they will use it on Richards. The 33-year-old center signed a back-diving contract as a free agent prior to the 2011-2012 season. After a strong first season, Richards struggled mightily in the lockout-shortened 2013 season. He got off to a hot start this season (5-3-8 in the first 8 games), but has slowed a bit, putting up 2-10-12 in the other 20 games. Despite that, Richards is still leading the team in scoring, with 20 points in 28 games. Regardless of your opinion of Richards, he’s a critical Ranger this season. But is he worth the risk of keeping him around?

The case to keep him around:

Even though he is not the elite Brad Richards of old, Richards is still on pace for a little less than 60 points this season. Fifty-eight points during the 2011-2012 season would put Richards in the top-25 among centers, making him a bottom-third top line center. During the lockout shortened 2013 season, the one where Richards was a step behind, Richards was still #22 in points among centers. Derek Stepan has eclipsed Richards as the top center for this team, but Richards gave the Rangers a dangerous 1-2 punch at center. No matter what you think of his play without the puck, he still produces at a top line center clip.

Speaking of his play without the puck, Richards’ role on this team is no longer as a two-way center. Alain Vigneault has started Richards a whopping 70.9% in the offensive zone (via O/D St%, which is offensive zone starts divided by defensive zone starts, neutral zone starts are omitted). Richards’ role is that of an offensive player, he needs to score to be effective. That’s what he’s been doing, aside from a five game pointless stretch. Since he leads the team in scoring, and is still on a top-30 scoring pace for centers, he is doing his job there.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

The case to buy him out:

That contract is a disaster waiting to happen. Sure the cap hit may not be much as the cap goes up, but do the Rangers really want $6.67 million in cap space tied up to a guy that has already shown a decline in production? AV might be able to get an extra year or two by sheltering Richards with zone starts, but that contract runs for the next six seasons, at which point Richards will be 40 years old. If he’s already slowing down now, can you imagine what it would be like at 40?

Another contract issue: Cap recapture for early retirement. While Henrik Lundqvist’s contract does not qualify here, Richards’ contract does. If Richards retires early, then the Rangers are smacked with a $5.67 million cap penalty for each season left on his deal (assuming he retires after 2017). It saves them $1 million in cap space if Richards doesn’t retire, but that’s still $5.67 million in dead weight.

At $6.67 million, Richards’ cap hit is among the top-20 for all forwards in the league. Looking at those with expiring contracts, only a few will pass him on that list in the immediate future. Second line centers nowadays, those in the 40-50 point range, sign at around $4 million-$5 million. Cap space is an important commodity, and that extra $1.5 million goes a long way.

How much longer do we have until Richards’ play declines so much that he can no longer contribute offensively? Since he can’t really contribute defensively on a consistent basis anymore, scoring is the only thing he has left, and that’s already on the decline. Even if AV gets another two or three useful years out of Richards, there’s still another three years of mediocrity at best.

The case to trade him:

Richards has a no-movement clause, so he would need to approve any trade. While it does happen, let’s assume he doesn’t approve anything, since those are in there for a reason.

If the Rangers trade him, they still need to take on the cap recapture penalty if he retires early. Capgeek has a recapture calculator, so you can play with the numbers there.

My take:

Before this season began, I thought it was the right move to keep Richards for one more season. He’s proving some doubters wrong, as his offensive play has certainly improved with AV. However, it is clear he cannot be counted on for any defensive responsibilities. It is also clear that he is on the decline offensively. For a player that is no longer relied upon to contribute defensively, offensive decline is a career killer.

The team made the right move keeping him around for this season, with no other viable options. There are other options available internally for next season, and the risk of decline and keeping that contract are too great. I think a buyout is inevitable, barring injury.

Categories : Players

20 comments

  1. Tim B says:

    We’ll have to see how he plays out this season. Still too early to tell. If he slumps again like last year he will be let go either by a release or a trade. I doubt many teams will take on Richards’ contract. NY may have to retain some salary if they go down that road. Brassard would ultimately be in Richards center position. Brassard has been the Brassard back in Columbus. He has potential but too inconsistent. Still young and is a UFA. I would make a move at the end of the season and trade him for a pick. Or maybe some blockbuster to bring a center to NY who racks up points and is consistent. Also not overpaid like Stastny is.

  2. Ray V says:

    “There are other options available internally for next season, and the risk of decline and keeping that contract are too great. I think a buyout is inevitable, barring injury.”

    THANK YOU !!!! = )

  3. Walt says:

    Nice write up, where we look at pros, and cons. My opinion is that he is clearly going to the cons section.

    The man is a good person, good team man, good with the kids, ie Stepan, and does good things for the Ranger community. As stated, he is slowing down big time, and we have a very good kid in Hartford waiting for his chance to play, at a ELC rate.

    His name is Oscar Lindberg. Very good two way player, who could slide into the 3rd line center position, behind Step, and Brass, assuming that he is re-signed. The kid was the MVP of the SEL play offs last season, where he showed that he can score, and as we all know, the Swedes all play defense first. Then we can move Boyle down to the 4th line, where he is best suited to play. In so doing, we open up some $5 to $5.5 million a year cap relief, which can be used to pay some decent players, because Pouliot, and Pyatt will be history as well, and will be replaced.

    • @Centerman21 says:

      I sure hope you’re right about Lindberg. He looked outmatched in the d zone during camp & preseason. His numbers are ok in Hartford. Certainly nothing that jumps off the page. After him the cupboard is empty at the position. They’d have to look in free agency for a top 9 Center if Lindberg were to need more time to develop. He played pro hockey in Sweden but this isn’t the SEL here.
      All I’m saying is the Rangers had better be sure they can fill the position before they buyout Richards. The team gets younger without him there.

      • Walt says:

        CORRECT ME IF I’M WRONG, BUT WASN’T LINDBERG ONE OF THE LAST CUTS COMING OUT OF CAMP. HE IS BEING SERVED WELL BY PLAYING A YEAR IN THE AHL.

        WE ALSO HAVE A KID NAMED JT MILLER, A NATURAL CENTER ICE MAN, WHO CAN DO THE JOB GIVEN A REAL SHOT.

        IN EITHER CASE, THE TEAM CAN MAKE A TRADE FOR A PLAYER, IF NEEDED, WITH THE CAP SAVINGS, OR GO AFTER A DECENT UFA. BOTTOM LINE, BR’S LEGS ARE GOING, AND HIS PRODUCTION AS WELL.

        IT’S NOT A PERSONAL THING, I STATED HE WAS A GOOD GUY, TEAM MAN, COMMUNITY GUY, BUT MOTHER TIME IS CATCHING UP TO HIM, LIKE IT DOES WITH ALL THE GREATS!

  4. WilliamW says:

    First off, great concept for a segment. Nice to see both sides presented and logical steps to a conclusion

    I go back and forth but ultimately a buyout makes the most sense unless the team is on the cusp of a championship, which is not the case

    While Richards has rebounded nicely, he is not worth the hit at this point in his career. You make a nice point saying he has become a 2C relied on for offense. The name that jumps to mind on that description is Mike Riberio who is certainly not worth $6.7 mm

    Parting ways this summer enables him to get a reasonable contract and the Rangers to remain flexible going forward. Richards just isn’t good enough to be a part of the long term core in NY

    Brassard/ Miller / Lindberg may not be either but hopefully their best days remain ahead

  5. paulronty says:

    So let me ask this Question. Can you buy him out and then sign him back at a much lower rate if both sides agree?

    • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

      Feels like cap circumvention, but I’m not really sure.

      No way this happens anyway, too much pride involved on both sides.

    • Ray says:

      There are explicit rules. He cannot play for the Rangers for a year – period. They could sign him in summer 2015, but not before. I believe this is even true if the Rangers trade him to another team which then buys him out.

    • Dave says:

      Can’t sign a bought out player for a year.

  6. Ray says:

    Richards is not important enough to justify irrational behavior and the six year cap hit is too high for his expected performance. There are other good players out there.

    If he is willing to be traded (and not being bought out is an incentive), a trade is possible. The cap hit is absurd, but there are some teams that aren’t going anywhere near the cap anyway and the cap hit is irrelevant to them. Such a team gets a fairly decent player for a relatively low salary (contract was front loaded) and the contract helps them hit the salary floor.

    • JCA says:

      I don’t see how not being bought out is an incentive. He gets two thirds of the remaining value of his contract plus he gets to hit the UFA lottery again. Keep in mind he’s already made $33 million over the first three seasons of his contract, so the remaining balance is only $27 million.
      Not being bought out will make him $27M over the next 6 years.
      The buyout will make him $18M over the next 12 years + another $16-20M over the next 4 years as a UFA.
      Brad Richards is hoping for that buyout as much as anyone on this blog.

  7. Mikeyyy says:

    Buy him out. Even as a 2nd liner he’s too much. I would actually sit him right now.

    70% ozone draws and nothing really to show for it.