Richie Rich will remain a Ranger, at least for one more season.
The Rangers announced Friday afternoon that they will not use their second and final compliance buyout this offseason, meaning veteran center Brad Richards will return for the upcoming 2013-14 campaign.
The organization had the opportunity to buy out the seven remaining years of Richards’ albatross contract and wipe his $ 6.67 million annual salary cap hit from the books. They still can use the buyout on Richards in the summer of 2014 – and are expected to – but only as long as he is not injured, one of many factors that add risk to Friday’s decision.
Retaining Richards also limits the organization to only about $ 12 million of spending cash this summer, as opposed to almost $ 19 million, to re-sign restricted free agents Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello, as well as unrestricted free agent Ryane Clowe.
Essentially, the Rangers’ decision means their roster for next season will look almost identical to last season’s, when Richards struggled mightily and was benched for Games 4 and 5 by former coach John Tortorella in the second round elimination series against Boston.
That is why Neil Smith, the general manager of the 1994 Cup-winning Blueshirts, told the Daily News earlier Friday that while keeping Richards could be the right move for current GM Glen Sather, he expected the organization to buy out Richards because it was the only way to create any roster maneuverability in the short term.
“The only hope (for the Rangers) to give themselves any flexibility to change their roster is by buying (Richards) out, so that’s what makes me think that they would,” Smith, now an analyst for NHL Network and Rogers Sportsnet in Canada, said on the phone. “I don’t know whether they should or not. That’s up to them.
But the logic behind that would be freeing the money – obviously the team had some deficiencies – and to shore up those deficiencies and make the team better. It’s their only card to play. If they don’t play that card, that’s fine, but they go in next year with the same roster.”
With a frontloaded contract in which Richards makes most of his money in the early years of a nine-year, $ 60 million deal to keep his cap hit down for the Rangers, the 33-year-old center has made approximately $ 36.9 million, including signing bonuses, through his first two seasons. That number would have been $ 42 million if it weren’t for the NHL lockout.
But the organization believes that new coach Alain Vigneault’s plan to let his offensive skill players operate will benefit a puck mover and playmaker like Richards, the former Conn Smythe winner during the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2004 Stanley Cup run.