I tried to stay away from this line of thinking, even though Brad Richards has clearly struggled so far this season. But both Larry Brooks and Rick Carpiniello have discussed the possibility the past two days, and I do think it's a subject that should at least be touched upon.
The fact of the matter is, the Rangers don't have much time to make any of their decisions. The cap is coming down, key names will be rotating into RFA and UFA status and the Rangers might want to have some room to make moves.
Under different circumstances, if the cap were not decreasing, if there were no cap-recapture, if they hadn't been forced to buy out Wade Redden because of a retroactive clause meant to punish the Rangers, then the organization could afford Richards patience and the benefit of the doubt even if this season is a down one. Only ifs and buts won't cut it.
We are 17 games into a 48-game season that could be followed by up to 28 more in the playoffs. And so, again, this Richards buyout talk is indeed a case of premature speculation. But the obligation falls on Richards to ensure it doesn't become more than that.
There have been concerns about the Richards' contract since the lockout ended. The new CBA isn't friendly towards contracts like the one Richards currently holds, and especially with the star player's struggles, anything is possible.
I am a firm believer that you can't make too many judgments from a shortened season. There's simply too many variables, too many unknowns and far too little time to make true decisions. But management for every team needs to make a plethora of decisions for the future based off of this shortened season.
No one said it would be easy.
Now I'm not saying that the Rangers need to look at buying out Richards right now. And I don't have any inside information as to whether or not they're even thinking about it. But time is running short for Richards to make a good impression. And that's not because of anything other than the fact that no one has time this year.
Sure, the Rangers can give Richards another year and make their decision two summers from now, but there's contract issues this season, and if that's a driving force in the decision-making process (and to this point there's no reason to assume there is) then we might see something happen sooner rather than later.
Again, as everyone is saying, this is very premature thinking. But the Rangers don't have much time to make these kinds of decisions.
No team does.