It feels like the worst kept secret in the New York Rangers organization, but here it is anyway: Brad Richards is being bought out this summer. I know some of the comments made during the breakup day made it seem like a decision hadn't been made, or that they hadn't started talking about it yet, but they have. Alain Vigneault telling the media "there's decisions to be made and we haven't made those yet, so we're going to talk and figure it out," doesn't mean a thing.
Don't let the smokescreen fool you, it's happening.
In fact, it was going to happen as soon as the new CBA was announced two years ago. Cap recapture penalties are the biggest driving force, with teams being punished for early retirement with a hefty cap hit. If Richards would have retired in 2018 (with two years remaining on his deal) the Rangers would have been strapped with a $5.6-million cap hit until his contract would have ended in 2019. It would have been the same story if he retired in 2017, just an extra year's worth of penalties.
That's why there is no other real option. Richards could have scored 100 points this year and his buyout still would have been very possible. The risks are high. The rewards are minimal. The Rangers have a get out of jail free card and they need to use it.
That's nothing against Richards, either, since I really do think this was a bounce back year for him. The problem? Richards isn't getting any younger. If this year's Stanley Cup Final was any indication, he's not able to keep up with the grinding NHL season for 100+ games. He was gassed the final five games of the season. It's unfortunate, but it's the reality. And he's clearly lost a step or two, even from the player the Rangers got in the first year of his deal.
And, truth be told, the Rangers need his money. They need that cap space back. If breakup day quotes can be believed, Brian Boyle will be seeking a bigger role on a different team. Anton Stralman wants "stability" which means a long term contract and more money. Both are likely gone, although my guess is the Rangers might make a play for Stralman -- although how big of one I don't know. Boyle is going to move on because he wants a bigger role. That's his choice and it's his right. Benoit Pouliot needs a raise, as done Dominic Moore.
Are you noticing a pattern here? The Rangers are going to need money for their RFAs (Mats Zuccarello, John Moore, Derick Brassard and Chris Kreider) along with their UFAs (Moore, Stralman, Boyle and Pouliot). The organization can't have Richards tying things up. If the team is going to spend to replace him (and that's an argument we will be having later) go ahead, but a focus needs to be on the guys who can leave this summer since they helped get the Rangers to where they got to.
The trade rumors (Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza) and the UFA pool (Paul Stastny) stuff will happen soon enough. Right now Richards is the biggest shoe waiting to drop. Once it does everything else will get moving.
And remember, don't be fooled, it's when not if.