I keep seeing people on this site try to rationalize the decision to keep Richards, but none of the points that I have seen them make are viable upon closer inspection. This post is designed to debunk their arguments and to reaffirm those who are on the right side of this issue.
The most common myth seems to be that last year's season was an anomaly and significantly worst than his first season as a Ranger, but the evidence does not support that conclusion. In 2012-13 he averaged 2.04 Even strength points per 60 minutes. In 2011-12 he averaged 1.77 Even strength points per 60 minutes. Pro-rated his points per game rate last year would have led to 61 points over 82 games, 5 short of his previous seasons total of 66, but that difference is almost entirely explainable by his Power play TOI per game. In 2011-12 he averaged 48 more seconds per game on the power play than in 2012-13. If you give him the same power play time he had in 11-12, last year and he continued to score at the same rate he was scoring at on the power play last year (3 points per 60 minutes), he would have had a pro rated total of 64 just 2 shy of the 66 from 11-12. So his rate of scoring was almost identical when comparing the two seasons. His on ice goal differential was improved. In 11-12, despite being on a team that outscored its opponents pretty substantially at even strength, he managed to be a -1, last year he was a +8.
Another myth is that if he improves to his 11-12 level again than he is worth the risk. I already discussed how his 11-12 level was virtually identical to his 12-13 level, but analyzing his performance from only his first year in new york still concludes that he is not even close to 6.667 million per year. Part of the problem with Richards throughout his career is that he has consistently been a defensive liability. My analysis to conclude that is simple. When he is on the ice his team consistently gives up more shots against than when he is not on the ice. That's why simply counting points is not in and of itself a great tool to analyze a forwards value. An 80 point season from Pavel Datsyuk is significantly more valuable than an 80 point season from Richards because Datsyuk has consistently shown an ability to suppress his opponent's shot attempts when on the ice whereas Richards is the opposite. This difference is reflected in their career +/- Another player who struggles with limiting their opponents shots is Nash and it shows in his career +/- also but thats a discussion for a different day. The best analysis that I have seen to try to estimate Richards worth would be George Ays post from last year. I am not convinced that the GVT stat is the be all end all stat by any means, but it does incorporate a players plus minus along with his point production so its more precise than just counting points. He was -2 million in value even that year despite seemingly everyone else providing plus value.
Another common argument I see is that the system Tortorella employed failed him and that there is a good chance he can bounce back to 70+ points under Vigneault. The problem is that his decline appears to be more normal than everyone is recognizing. The Great Hawerchuk over at arcticicehockey had a good post a few years ago analyzing the peak age of point production for NHL forwards. The post doesn't extend into a players 30's but the trendline is obvious. Every year after a player's 25-26 year old season, there is a decline in point production (ominous sign for Nash with 5 years left on that crazy contract). Richards is now going on 8 years past that peak, and he never produced more than 91 points in a season, which happened to be his 25 year old season. Additionally his point production doesn't appear to be deflated by unlucky percentages. Sometimes when players have down years point wise it is because they shoot a percentage that is way below their career averages. Richards has actually shot an above average percentage these past two seasons compared to his career average so you can't expect a bounce back percentage wise. The number of shots he has taken per game has declined the last two seasons but that is expected based on his age. Nash saw an increase in his shot per game rate last year so it is hard to blame Richards decline on "the system." The only way his point production has any chance to grow would be if he was on the first power play unit and Vigneault figured out a way to increase the team's effectiveness on it.
People also believe that the Rangers are trying to pinch pennies so the 24 million buyout over the next 14 years is something Dolan is unwilling to deal with despite the fact that he was willing to bury Redden in the AHL at a cost of 5 mill per year as recent as last year, and the fact that the cap is coming down this year and clearly the Rangers would be more than willing to spend over the cap if permitted. Even if you discount all of those points and you look solely at the economics behind it, the cost effective thing would actually be to buy him out now. Despite his 6.7 cap hit, he is actually making 9 million in real dollars next season so keeping him on your roster this season and than buying him out next summer is the least cost efficient measure. If your idea is just to eat the contract and never do the buyout than your stuck with a 6.7 cap hit for 7 more seasons that will clearly weaken the team. I believe I read somewhere that each home playoff game a team has grosses about 5 million. So if we all agree that eating that contract long term weakens the team, it will likely cost them a couple of home playoff games which makes it most cost effective to buy him out now.
Joe Fortunato argued in his most recent post that the Rangers are close to a Cup and Richards is the best option out there, so why not keep him and take the risk we can't buy him out next summer to try to win it this year. I would argue that since it is so obvious that he is not worth that 6.667 cap hit, we should be able to improve the team if we can spread that money around and sign guys to fair deals in free agency. That statement also suggests that with Richards they can still win a Cup and without him they cannot. The impact that Richards has on the game isn't that large at this point. If Richards fell off the face of the earth never to return and the Rangers had to move on without him, the difference would be marginal. Even Sidney Crosby isn't THAT valuable to where the Penguins odds of winning decrease dramatically without him. A top forward only plays about a third of the game and he is only 1 of 5 guys on the ice and thats not even counting goaltending. Even if Richards exceeds expectations, he only increases the Rangers odds of winning each game by 2% at most. That difference is not worth the risks associated with hanging onto his deal, especially when we could spread that money around more efficiently in free agency if spent wisely.
The belief that the Rangers are close to a Cup I think is misguided also. The truth is unless you have a very young very good team that has many years ahead of being a top team, nobody is that close to a cup. The playoffs are a crapshoot to a large extent. No team enters the playoffs with a greater than 25% chance to win anymore barring some anomaly type team. And the Rangers have been a second tier type team which makes their chances even more of a long shot. Factor in that the Eastern Conference is going to be stronger this year than in recent years and we are clearly not THAT close to winning a cup. To start next season it would be very bullish to give the Rangers more than a 10% chance of winning the cup and that number is not dramatically altered by Richards' presence.