A few days before the New York Rangers made their decision to not buy out their $60-million center, I gave a series of reasons I thought the Rangers had to make the move.
The biggest reason? The risk associated with keeping him. From my story:
Some of you think Brad Richards will bounce back next year. I agree, I think he's going to be better next year. But the risks associated with keeping Richards are too significant to keep him on the roster. If Richards is injured during the buyout window next year the Rangers cannot use it on him, and they will be stuck with his contract.
I have no doubt Richards will be bought out at some point. If the Rangers want to give him another year to try and see if he can't elevate the Rangers to a Stanley Cup then so be it, but understand the risks associated with not using it on him this summer. Buying him out this summer removes that risk. Let the NHL laugh, let another team sign him and get a quality player. The business risks are too high right now.
The Rangers have to be careful about their future here. Not to say this will happen, but the worst case scenario is Richards not bouncing back, getting injured and the Rangers not being able to buy him out. Not saying that will happen, but the Rangers have to be prepared for anything.
The Rangers chose to take that risk. It's clear Alain Vigneault was high on Richards since he was hired. And while he didn't have a true hand in the decision making process, I'm sure he had some type of say.
Here's the thing: The New York Rangers believe they're close to a Stanley Cup. I think with this team's core and a new system they're right. Richards was the best option on the market. The Rangers learned their lesson by trading away depth for a big name last year, they didn't need to do it again.
So long as Richards doesn't get injured (more on this in a minute) this move does make some sense. If you don't think the lockout played at least a minor role in Richards' performance last year, well, I disagree. I'm not saying he will return to the player he was five years ago, but if he's the player he was in the first year of his deal it's a move well worth the risk.
Now, back to the injury concern. If Richards is injured when next year's buyout window opens he cannot be bought out. And the Rangers are stuck with his full salary (and the cap penalties if he retires early) for the long haul. There is no other window, there are no other opportunities. Next summer is the the last chance to do it for "free."
If Richards gets injured and cannot be bought out next year (and assuming the Ranger don't win the Stanley Cup) and Richards level of play is what it was last year this decision will be so devastating it's almost hard to comprehend why the Rangers wanted to take the risk in the first place.
Teams who think they're true Stanley Cup contenders often mortgage their future for a one-playoff window, assuming the risk is worth it since it's so hard to be very close. This is sort of like that decision, except without the Rangers knowing where they stand three or four weeks before the playoffs.
Is it worth the risk? Time will tell. All I know is Glen Sather is playing a very dangerous game right now. It might pay of. But if it doesn't we're going to remember this for a long, long time.