EN ROUTE TO LOS ANGELES – Brad Richards has made almost $90 million during his NHL career and stands to make another $20.7 million to not play for the New York Rangers if/when the team decides to buy out the remainder of his contract this summer. So in some respects, it’s pretty difficult to feel sorry a guy whose bank account matches the GDP of some countries.
But on the other hand, a decline like this is never easy to watch, particularly when it happens to a guy as congenial and decent as Richards, who is one of the truly good people in the game. And he certainly can’t be blamed for the fact that the Rangers, despite largely bidding against only themselves for Richards’ services three summers ago, gave him a front-loaded nine-year deal worth $60 million.
To say it’s not about the money for any NHL player is not quite the case. Like anyone else, hockey players want to maximize their earnings in the relatively small window they have in which to earn a living. So it is about the money for Richards and every other player in the NHL. But it’s also about playing the game they love and the fact that he is being further marginalized by the Rangers and coach Alain Vigneault has to hurt.
But Richards is not going to complain for a couple of reasons. The first of them is that he really doesn’t have a case. Anyone who has watched this Stanley Cup final can see that Richards simply cannot keep up to the pace of competition at this level. The effort is there, but the results have been a disaster. And Richards knows enough to not complain about being demoted to the fourth line for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final. He also knows enough not to complain about being replaced at center on that line by Brian Boyle. Richards’ play has merited that status. Only Derek Dorsett logged less ice time among Ranger forwards than Richards in Game 4, although there were several others who were right around the same time as Richards.
There have been times in this Stanley Cup final when Richards has been among the worst players on the ice. In that sense, he really can’t complain about how he’s being treated by Vigneault, who continues to use him at the point on the power play. In fact, if the Rangers were really looking for a spark in Game 4, they might have been better served by scratching Richards and replacing him with Dan Carcillo, who was coming off a suspension and might have provided that line with some physicality and energy.
Richards will not grouse about this also because he knows it’s not the time. His team is in the Stanley Cup final and for him to make a spectacle of himself would cause a distraction his teammates don’t need. But to have only 13 shifts in Game 4, while his former Tampa Bay teammate Martin St-Louis plays on the top line, has to hurt a little.
Now there is almost no way the Rangers will not buy Richards out with their second amnesty buyout. In fact, they seriously considered doing so last summer, but decided to give him another season under Vigneault as the new coach. And the results were actually pretty good in the regular season, with Richards scoring 20 goals and 51 points and playing in all 82 games.
The buyout will be a costly one for the Rangers, a team that has never concerned itself with such things as being financially prudent. In a deal that was masterfully and brilliantly negotiated by his agent Pat Morris, Richards is still owed $8 million in bonus money that is not subject to the buyout provisions. In addition he’ll receive $12.7 million over the next 12 years, while the Rangers get out from under a $6.7 million cap hit for each of the next six seasons. The Rangers actually don’t end up saving much real money at all because the contract was so bonus-laden and front-loaded that most of it has been or will be paid out. This is all about liberating themselves from an onerous cap hit.
None of this will be messy and Richards will leave New York with his head held high. He’ll probably find employment somewhere else in the NHL for a tiny fraction of what he has been making and he’ll play out the rest of his career as a role player on a team that needs some character and veteran leadership.
It’s kind of a sad ending with the Rangers, but only a little. Richards has a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe Trophy and, generally speaking, has had a blessed career. Things could have been a lot worse.