“Hockey decision, I think they keep him. A business decision, I think not,” he said.
On Friday, the Rangers made a business decision, buying out the last six years of Richards' 9-year, $60-million contract, as first reported by Pierre LeBrun.
The buyout will net Richards $20.667 million over the next 12 years, which equals $12 million in salary and $8 million in deferred signing bonuses. Overall, Richards will make around $51 million in salary earned and deferred.
The Rangers are using a compliance buyout, meaning they suffer no salary cap penalty.
Richards is 34 years old and is coming off a season in which he had 51 points in 82 games, the lowest points-per-game average (0.62) of his career. He started the postseason strongly with five points in five games; he finished terribly, with two assists in 10 games, and a single assist in the Stanley Cup Final against Los Angeles.
Yet Morris believes that GM Glen Sather was enough of a fan to keep Richards around, if it were a pure hockey decision.
But it wasn’t.
His $6.67 million cap hit can now be repurposed for a younger, more effective center. Yet where the Rangers really save themselves some trouble, however, is in the “cap recapture” of Richards’ contract if he had retired before its term ended.
His base salary dropped to $1 million from $7 million in 2017-18 – keep in mind this contract was signed when Richards was a free agent, and before the new CBA outlawed frontloaded deals. Had he retired that season, the Rangers would have been on the hook for $6 million of dead cap space in each of the following three seasons.
So where will Richards end up? The Toronto Maple Leafs were a heavy suitor when Richards was an unrestricted free agent, with current GM Dave Nonis having led those talks. Brian Burke, who was the GM for the Leafs at that time, needs some help in the middle in Calgary. Teams like the Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks that are chasing centers like Ryan Kesler and Jason Spezza could use him as a fallback. Could a reunion with the Dallas Stars happen? Could he land in Washington, in need of a No. 2 center?
As for Richards, it’s been stunning to watch his roller coaster existence in New York. There are times he’s looked like a great No. 2 center, while never really a No. 1 anymore. But those times have been overshadowed by his relegation to the fourth line in the playoffs under Alain Vigneault and John Tortorella, who also scratched him last postseason. He doesn’t have the wheels anymore to go 82 games and four rounds. But that doesn’t mean, in the right role, he can’t still thrive elsewhere.
Glen Sather will likely get flack for signing Richards to a massive deal that, three years later, is getting bought out. But that misses the point of being the GM of the New York Rangers: He signed a 31-year-old to a 9-year contract that both parties knew he wouldn’t fulfill. Sather knew he had the financial backing to get rid of a mistake if he made one here, just like he has on the past with other regrettable free agent contracts.
As we said at the time of the signing: “it's not like they can't afford him.”
Fare thee well, Brad Richards. Glad you got one more whack at the piñata with Marty St. Louis before the Rangers paid your ticket out of town.