Brad Richards has been staggeringly bad at hockey this season. That doesn’t make him unique. What does though is the fact he makes $6.66 million per season through 2019-20, which is a lot of money to pay someone who acted as a fourth-line center during the first round of the playoffs.
Richards turned 33 years old in May and will be 40 years old when his contract expires. Whether the season of the New York Rangers comes to a conclusion in two weeks, four weeks or six weeks, he seems like a very strong candidate for an amnesty buyout when June 15 rolls around. The Rangers would need to shell out $24 million over the next 14 years to send Richards on his way. That is a lot of money until you remember the Rangers treat money the way a sociopathic 11-year-old treats ants in that they enjoy setting both on fire.
Despite all of the evidence — age, declining production, huge salary, a franchise that doesn’t care about money — it would take something monumental for the Rangers to buy out Richards this summer.
Richards came to the Rangers in 2011 as that summer’s most-coveted free agent in an admittedly weak class. Coach John Tortorella offered input on the transaction, having coached Richards for seven seasons in Tampa Bay. The Rangers were so desperate for a top-line center that it wouldn’t have mattered if Tortorella, Tom Renney or Carrot Top was coaching the team — Richards was coming to New York. But Tortorella offered high praise for a player that brought him a Stanley Cup in 2004.
At this year’s trade deadline, the Rangers were approaching something of a crossroads. Before the lockout, the team had what amounted to a two-year window to win a Stanley Cup with this group. The second year of that window was thrown into doubt because of a salary clap declining by about $7 million. The Rangers had already used one of their two amnesty buyouts on Wade Redden, which meant something had to happen before next season with either Richards or Marian Gaborik, who has a $7.5 million cap hit through next season.
If the Rangers bought out Gaborik, then Richards was in New York for the duration of his contract, which is sure to become an anchor around Glen Sather’s neck in the next few years. The reverse of that scenario seemed impossible, as it would’ve meant saddling Tortorella with arguably his least-favorite player for one more season and dispatching the son he never had in Richards.
The 2013 deadline both showed Tortorella’s influence and allowed the Rangers to push off a decision on Richards for another offseason. Tortorella had a strong say in the Gaborik trade. He himself wasn’t choosing between Gaborik and Richards, but that’s essentially what the Rangers were doing. Just listen to anything Tortorella has ever said about Gaborik or Richards when things were going poorly for them; Gaborik essentially wasn’t trying hard enough while Richards was always trying too hard, in the eyes of the coach.
Tortorella knows a Cup is within reach next season, and if he believes the Rangers need Richards to get there, the veteran center will be untouchable.
The No. 1 reason why Richards isn’t going anywhere is because, quite frankly, the Rangers can afford one more season to see if 2012-13 was an aberration or the start of his declining years. By trading Gaborik, the Rangers got back that 2013-14 window by reacquiring depth they lost last summer and shedding enough salary to make room to re-sign their key restricted free agents.
As of today, the Rangers have nearly $51 million tied up in 17 players. They have three RFAs who will command steep raises in Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Ryan McDonagh, who combined to make $3 million this season. That number will likely be about $9 million next season. Mats Zuccarello is also an RFA. He earned $700,000 last season and he too is worth more than that on the open market. Best guess, he’s looking at $1.5 million for one season.
The Rangers also seem set along the blue line, assuming Marc Staal’s eye injury isn’t career-threatening. To me, that’s a big if right now, but let’s say his vision gets to a point this summer where he’s able to play next season. That gives the Rangers six defensemen (Staal, Girardi, McDonagh, Stralman, Moore, Del Zotto) with a seventh defenseman somewhere in the price range of Steve Eminger’s current $700,000 cap hit.
Amazingly, even with Richards’ bloated contract, that gets the Rangers under the $64.3 million cap. It’s a team built for now, and Richards is a now player. The Rangers will enter next season with Stepan and Derick Brassard as their top two centers, making Richards a very expensive but necessary third-line center.
Stepan is about as consistently excellent as Veep, while Brassard appears to have tapped into his potential since arriving in the Gaborik trade. But Stepan is 22 and still learning while Brassard will undoubtedly drive Tortorella even further into insanity with his inconsistency over an 82-game season. Having Richards serving as mentor and safety net as a top-two center makes him invaluable on a team that considers itself a contender.
There is also a very strong chance Richards bounces back in 2013-14. After all, as poor as he played during this shortened season, he was on a pace for 60 points in an 82-game campaign, mostly because of a strong push over the final two weeks. At his age, he needs the hellish Tortorella training camp more than most, and his routine leading up to 2012-13 clearly didn’t keep him in the physical condition he requires at this stage of his career.
An amnesty buyout of Richards this summer would cost the Rangers $24 million over 14 years; next summer, when Richards is 34, it would come down to $18 million over 12 years plus his $9 million salary for 2013-14. So it’s $24 million to get rid of him now, $27 million to get rid of him next summer. The Rangers are better off getting one more year out of Richards for that $3 million difference as opposed to lighting it on fire. After that, it’s hard to envision a scenario where the Rangers don’t cut bait.
At the end of the 2013-14 season, Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi and Henrik Lundqvist will all be UFAs. It’s tough to gauge what the market will look like then, but Callahan and Lundqvist will command max contracts and Girardi won’t come cheap, either. If the Rangers want to keep all three — and they do — it means they would have about $35 million tied up in five players (Callahan, Lundqvist, Nash, Richards, Girardi). Making a wild guess and saying the cap is $70 million for 2014-15, that’s a huge chunk of cap space tied up in five players either starting the back nine of their careers or teeing off on No. 13.
Richards isn’t going anywhere for now. But with Stepan and Brassard looking like the Rangers’ centers of the future, 2013-14 sets up as Richards final season in New York.
Anyone catch that Leafs game?
By now, you have read Sean McIndoe’s delightfully sad piece on what it was like to be a Toronto Maple Leafs fan and suffer through that Game 7 against the Bruins that shall not be mentioned after this sentence comes to an end. It reminded me of a time when I used to be a New Jersey Devils fan, before covering the NHL and becoming jaded ruined everything.
True story: When the Devils lost to the Rangers in Game 7 of the 1994 Eastern finals, it was the night of my prom. I distinctly remember being crushed when the Devils lost Game 6, because it meant I would not see Game 7 because I would have to attend a prom for memories and friends and all that crap that didn’t matter as much to me as watching Game 7.
This was 1994, mind you. No cell phones, no checking the score incessantly while my date makes up her mind before the first song that I’m not getting any sex on this night. So we had to rely on the DJ, who was getting scores from the radio. He let us know right away the Rangers went up 1-0. Then hours of silence. People constantly going to him for an update. Him finally announcing that we need to leave him alone and attend to the girls we brought with us. Whatever. TELL ME THE SCORE DJ PERSON!
Finally, he announces Valeri Zelepukin tied it. The feeling of joy that washed over me was indescribable. Then, more silence during the overtimes. Finally, he announces it. “Hey everyone, it’s all over. Stephane…”
Richer! Richer, I thought! Richer won it!
“…Matteau scored in double overtime…”
After that, everything went black. I came back to life hours later at home, watching the video cassette my dad used to tape the game to watch the tying and winning goals over and over. I was very, very sad.
Fast forward to 2012. It’s Kings-Devils, Game 5 in New Jersey. The Devils are down 3-1 in the series. Here I am, the objective, emotionless journalist there to write about the actions on the ice and the words spoken afterward by the combatants. I can admit now that I did in fact lose objectivity during that game as the clock wound down on a Devils victory that forced Game 6.
I was probably never so sad while covering a hockey game in my life.
Why? Because that win meant I had to take a cab out to JFK Airport after the game, sleep in a hotel for two hours, wake up and fly across the country to be in Los Angeles for that next day’s practice. It also meant that after Game 6, I would again have to go to the airport to fly cross-country one more time at the end of a two-month marathon where I would’ve given anything to have the Devils lose Game 5 just so I could sleep in my own bed that night.
Whatever is left of the Devils fan inside me was declared officially dead after that night. It was gone forever.
It’s not the worst thing, though. Sure, I am dead inside when it comes to hockey, but I will never suffer the illogical pain of a favorite team losing in the same fashion as…wait, I forgot I wouldn’t bring it up again. It’s actually quite nice. I simply enjoy quality hockey no matter which teams are playing it. In a way, I have evolved to a higher plane. I am no longer consumed by the outcomes of sporting events played by millionaires. It’s great.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to focus my energy on the greatness of Eli Manning and spend some time thinking about my hatred of the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins.
Three letters: Goal scoring, Five Guys, Game of Thrones
Hello Dave Lozo,
Much ado has been made over the decrease in goal scoring over the past few seasons. There is a fear being expressed that we’re headed for another dreaded dead puck era and that entertainment in the hockey world is headed for a dull, drawn out death.
Some suggest things like bigger nets or smaller goalie pads to increase both scoring and entertainment. What would be your solution to save hockey from the perils of becoming a low scoring snoozefest?
Goals in hockey games are like explosions in movies — it’s nice when there’s lots of them, but they shouldn’t be your prime indicator about the quality of the product.
Back in an era I fondly refer to as “the ’90s,” I saw one of the most memorable games of my life. It was a 0-0 game between the Devils and Sabres in which Dominik Hasek and Martin Brodeur both had shutouts. There was no shootout at game’s end, yet I went home happy with the product on the ice. The only regular-season game that exceeded that was a 1-0 (shootout) win for the Devils against the Rangers in January 2010. Brodeur made 51 saves; Henrik Lundqvist stopped 45 shots. It was an incredible game decided by a breakaway contest that shouldn’t have been allowed to happen.
But if you’re of the Jerry Bruckheimer mindset and you want more explosions, I’m for widening the nets, not shrinking pads. Goaltenders are more vulnerable than you think despite looking like they are in Sumo suits. If the NHL is allowing skaters to use the latest in high-tech sticks, shrinking goalie pads would be dangerous and unfair. Despite no scientific evidence to support my idea, I’d expand the nets by six inches on all sides. Goaltenders are taking up too much of the net, and the best way to increase scoring without compromising player safety is expanding the nets a little bit.
Six inches may not seem like a lot, but I’ve been told it can be surprisingly satisfactory for getting the job done. It should please everyone.
Can we talk about the balls on the owners of Five Guys? Have you seen a list of the toppings they give away for free? Once we get past the notion they are doing us a favor by giving us lettuce for free, look at how they dare you to get your burger topped with so much free crap. Would you please consider going into your local Five Guys and getting a burger with all the toppings and taking a picture of it?
Your two passions in life seem to be hockey and Game of Thrones. So if you had to build a hockey team using Game of Thrones characters, what would that team look like?
No one will ever ask a better question than Carol, so we may as well suspend all mailbag activity on this site after this. I got this late in the day Wednesday, so I feel as though I didn’t put enough time into this answer, but this is what the Westeros Dragons would like entering the 2013-14 season going by where the show is at now in terms of who is still alive:
Team owner: Tywin Lannister
General manager: Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish
Head coach: Cersei Lannister
Assistant coaches: Catelyn Stark, Daenerys Targaryen
Jamie Lannister – Robb Stark – Brienne of Tarth
Jon Snow – Stannis Baratheon – Ser Davos Seaworth
Loras Tyrell – Tormund Giantsbane – Podrick Payne
The Hound – Bronn – Locke
Extra: Thoros of Myr
You’re very likely immediately questioning the use of Jamie Lannister on the top line. After all, he has one hand. I don’t know about you, but I think the guy has a great chance to recover from this injury. Ever hear of a baseball player by the name of Jim Abbott? Well, he had one hand and was pretty terrific. He has Brienne on the right wing to offer protection, so I like the balance there.
The second line is a mix of old fire and youthful exuberance. Stannis is as motivated to win as anyone, and having Snow to learn from him on that line will help. The chemistry between Stannis and Ser Davos will be key to this line.
The third line is the biggest question mark. Lot of different classes and backgrounds having to come together here. Having Loras on the team will help us benefit in the speed department, and it also shows that the Westeros Dragons are advocates of the You Can Play initiative. Podrick has proven to be talented in both war and with the ladies, while Tormund is a leader just like our top two centers. If this line produces, look out.
The fourth line is simply the Psychotic Murderers Line. No real game plan here.
Theon Greyjoy – Ser Jorah Mormont
Tyrion Lannister - Joffrey Baratheon
Lord Varys – Gendry
Lots of unknowns here. I was originally down on Theon as a leader of any kind, but the way he’s been playing defense during his torture has been commendable and I think will toughen him up. If he can handle weeks of torture, he can handle 25 minutes a night against top competition. Jorah has been defending Khaleesi for years, so his credentials need no explanation.
The Lannister-Baratheon pairing proved strong in defending King’s Landing, even if Joffrey was pretty useless during Stannis’ attack. Still, the duo got it done. Joffrey’s unpredictable nature will strike fear into opponents.
As for Varys-Gendry, I don’t know. Can Varys skate? If he can, he’ll use his intellect to his advantage. Gendry will act as the sixth defenseman, so anything we get out of him will be gravy.
Yeah, they are big and fat. I have to go with what I know here. If Samwell has any sort of glove hand or flexibility, this team is going all the way. If not, Hodor can carry (get it?) the team for long stretches.
(E-mail dave111177 at gmail dot com with your questions about hockey, cheeseburgers, Game of Thrones or whatever)
*No undisclosed injuries this week, as they are eight teams left and very few players to mention.