The Clock is Ticking for Brad Richards

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

The Rangers are going to have a difficult decision to make by the 2014 offseason.

I'm not saying anything new or anything that smarter men than me didn't say the moment the Rangers agreed to terms with Richards but the Brad Richards signing is going to become unbearably painful in the next few years.

Just how painful you ask? Richards is currently 32 years old and is under contract until after the 2019-2020 season. By the time his contract expires Richards will be entering his forties. Of course, no one really expects him to play out his entire contract, at some point we expect Richards to either retire or be bought out. That makes things a little less painful, right? Eh, kinda.

The Rangers are still afforded one more amnesty buyout (the first was used to get rid of Wade Redden) that the club can use as a "last call" kind of thing in the 2014 offseason. If the team doesn't use the amnesty buyout of Richards by the 2014 offseason and later finds itself wanting to part ways with the aging superstar it will turn into a brutal game of hoping for Richards to retire or being forced to buy-out an albatross of a contract. As an example, let's look at what buying out Richards would mean if the team should do it during the 2016 offseason to escape the last four years of his contract, instead of doing it in the 2014 offseason (calculated using Capgeek.com):

SEASON

SALARY

CAP HIT

BUYOUT

SAVINGS

BUYOUT CAP HIT

2016-17

$7,000,000

$6,666,667

$833,333

$6,166,667

$500,000

2017-18

1,000,000

6,666,667

833,333

166,667

6,500,000

2018-19

1,000,000

6,666,667

833,333

166,667

6,500,000

2019-20

1,000,000

6,666,667

833,333

166,667

6,500,000

2020-21

0

0

833,333

-833,333

833,333

2021-22

0

0

833,333

-833,333

833,333

2022-23

0

0

833,333

-833,333

833,333

2023-24

0

0

833,333

-833,333

833,333

That certainly doesn't look good, does it?

Obviously that scenario isn't exactly "hell on earth" but it certainly is something that should be avoided if it can be. The downside of buying out Richards too early is that he will almost certainly end up being paid by the Rangers to play elsewhere. He might even find his game again and produce at a near-elite level. The question I post to you is how many seasons of good hockey will Brad Richards have after the 2014 offseason when he'll be 33 years old. I think it is safe to say that his best hockey will be behind him.

Richards had 66 points in 82 games played last year, his first as a Ranger, which was his least productive full season since his rookie and sophomore seasons in Tampa Bay, when he scored 62 points in each season. Granted, he had a couple of seasons where he played a majority of the games but his first year as a Ranger saw Richards scoring at the lowest points-per-game pace of his career (since his first two seasons) with just 0.8 Points Per Game. This season Richards has been off to a slow start and through 27 games played he has scored just 15 points which comes out to 0.56 Points Per Game.

There aren't very many Martin St.Louis' out there who can still play at a highly competitive level in their mid and late thirties and continue to produce at an elite level. Would it be hopeful or foolish to expect Richards to start trending in the right direction at this point in his career given what we know about most players on the wrong side of thirty?

I hope Brad Richards proves me wrong and makes me eat crow. I hope that he turns his game around some point in the near future or next season and puts the club in an even more difficult position and starts to look like a guy that deserved a $10 million signing bonus to play in New York. But I have to tell you, I just don't see that happening.

Am I saying that buying Richards out two offseasons from now is something that must be done? Not necessarily, but there should be a clock in our heads regarding Richards and his play for the remainder of this season and what he does or doesn't do next year.

As Joe Fortunato wrote late last month the issue of signing key players might influence whether or not the Rangers pull the trigger on buying out Richards this upcoming offseason or next offseason. The key free agents for the Rangers this upcoming offseason include Derek Stepan (RFA), Carl Hagelin (RFA), Ryan McDonagh (RFA), and Mike Sauer (RFA). The 2014 offseason provides its own list of key free agents including Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi, Henrik Lundqvist, and Martin Biron (all UFA). There are also several intriguing free agents that will be hitting the market in the 2013 and 2014 offseason that at least deserve some consideration.

We all remember what happened with Chris Drury and his declining play and how everyone was crossing their fingers that Drury, who had a NMC like Richards does, would just retire. It is my opinion that a situation like that is a media circus that is poison to the locker room and the fanbase and is something that the team should have tried to avoid at all costs... but here we are in year two of Brad Richards' nine year deal, slowly marching towards the painful but perhaps necessary decision to buy out the team's alternate captain.

So what do you guys think? Should the Rangers bite the bullet this upcoming offseason or the one after it to avoid a potential massive headache or do you think that the message sent by buying someone out halfway into his contract reflects too poorly on the organization? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Let's go Rangers.

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