In the 2011 offseason, 30 teams were chasing a big ticket – one Bradley Glenn Richards, a good Canadian boy from the humble shores of Murray Harbour, PEI. Coming from a town of 358 people, he is the salt of Canada’s hockey earth. His career has ascended gracefully, through the Quebec League star factory that is the Rimouski Oceanic, up into a coming out party with the Tampa Bay Lightning which bagged him a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy before he earned his first big contract and then a ticket to Big Sky Country in Big D.
Richards isn’t the best center in hockey, much like Mark Teixeira isn’t the best first baseman in baseball, but Richards was going to get that type of payday much like Teixeira did with the New York Yankees in 2008. Nine years and $60 million is a drop of water in the bucket that is the eight year, $180 million behemoth belonging to ‘Tex’ but they both became Broadway boys, tasked with bringing teams championships.
Teixeira did just that in 2009 with the Yankees – admittedly with help from equally well paid teammates – but it was a championship nonetheless, and there has been no whining about his place on the team in spite of a slow start in 2012. The part about being a notoriously slow starter when you’re a champion is you’re allowed to be notorious all you want.
Richards didn’t come out like gangbusters in 2012 with the Blueshirts, but he was effective. Leading up to the all-star break he had amassed 33 points in 47 games, though you have to wonder what could have been had he not had a slow December and January, posting 14 points in 27 games. Another 33 in 35 down the stretch leads one to believe that the vacation did him well and his playoff performance has been nothing but stellar.
Realistically, should we expect anything less from a man who stands to make $22 million in 2011-12 alone? I would argue no, and I suspect there are many who agree. The fact is that Brad Richards will be a very well paid man until he retires, and will be among the best paid men you’ve heard of until 2017.
In a salary cap era much of hockey writing has spiraled into a parody of financial magazines. There is the need to know exactly how much every player makes, the bonuses, cap hits, etc. Unfortunately for any ideas of roster value that you may have, the big spenders win in this sport, like every other sport.
Rosters that are the most valuable generate the most results. In 2012, the Phoenix Coyotes are the exception among the final four with their $9 million in cap space. The other three are the rule. The New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers hover around the $2 million mark in unspent cap while the L.A. Kings, the camouflaged eight seed being celebrated for their dominant “Cinderella” run have $678,000 in unspent money. An underdog story if I’ve ever heard one.
It’s not a matter of how much – it’s a matter of getting value out of that amount. By contrast, you are more than welcome to have a chuckle at the Buffalo Sabres and Calgary Flames, the fourth and fifth highest spending teams in hockey. Darcy Regier and Jay Feaster have research to do on spending their allowance. Extracting value from a roster in the playoffs, assuming you do enough to get there, boils down to each man. Dustin Penner, take a bow.
A nine year contract at Brad Richards’ salary (which is actually $88 million when you factor in the bonuses which don’t count against the cap), is no small measure for a team. Consider half of that is being paid out by the end of 2013 – the figures are borderline comical. The term for that contract structure in the great state of New Jersey is “cap circumvention” but that’s a story for another day.
With CBA negotiations taking place shortly, the cap could be abolished by the time we have a puck dropped for the 2012-13 season assuming it is at all. Either way, the Richards deal will only cost the Rangers in real dollars and cents for the next 19 months. With New York on the cusp of a Stanley Cup Finals appearance where, should they advance, they will be the top seed – it stands to reason that they will be favored no matter how hot the Kings or Coyotes are. Brad Richards will continue to be the forward the Rangers lean heavily on and if the Rangers win a Cup with Brad Richards leading the parade float, every penny spent on him will be worth it.
When the Rangers signed Richards, the man with the cigar, Glen Sather came right out and said it: “We needed somebody like this to take us to the next step.” That’s why Brad Richards is a Ranger. To bring them to that next level, to take the next step, to push them into the finals, to have their names etched in the world’s shiniest mug. If a $60 million contract was the going rate for a team that needed him to do it, it was worth it.
Eyebrows were raised in 2009 when the Blackhawks signed Marian Hossa to a 12-year, $63.3 million deal, but the message was the same from Dale Tallon, then-GM of the Blackhawks: “The most-important thing for Marian is that he wants to win and he feels we’re headed in the right direction and that he can be as a 30-year-old one of our elderly statesmen on our team and help lead this young team.”
“He’s a game-breaker.”
The Blackhawks won a Cup in 2010, and not a word has been uttered about Hossa’s deal since. It was worth it to end a 47 year drought.
Contract cheques are best cashed as Cup wins, and at a time when the league has never had more parity, one win does the job. For Brad Richards and the Rangers, the window will close a little bit more each year from here on out and eventually it will be shut. If it closes before they get a trophy in the building, the signing will be a dud and a colossal error on the part of Rangers brass.
Bradley Glenn Richards, he of PEI, picked the Rangers because he could win a Cup with them, but there was another issue which hit home. His 93-year old Grandfather back home was frustrated by the west coast start times of the Stars. The Rangers, if they advance, will be playing those late games, though Grandpa Richards won’t mind too much if the Cup makes its way back to Murray Harbour this summer.
He’ll be there for another eight years, but why would they want to wait any longer?