The Rangers general manager said Wednesday morning at the team’s Greenburgh training facility that “probably the deciding factor” behind not using a compliance buyout on Richards’ albatross contract was: “He’s a really good player. I think he had an off-year, and we think he’ll be much better next year.”
Sather and the Rangers, however, have almost no choice but to buy out Richards’ contract following the 2013-14 season even if he rebounds from a forgettable 2012-13 campaign. Potential cap recapture penalties loom if Richards retires before his deal expires.
That explains Sather’s answer on whether potential penalties didn’t deter him. “No. Not right now,” he said.
Richards has seven years at an annual cap hit of $ 6.67 million. The Rangers’ decision to keep him severely limits their ability to upgrade their team in free agency, which opens on Friday. They have about $ 13 million available to re-sign restricted free agents Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello before even addressing the open market.
Sather indicated that while he sees “some options” in free agency, the Rangers’ plans are focused on giving their promising young players a chance to contribute now.
“We have lots of good young kids coming,” Sather said. “I don’t want to shut the door on them.”
He also said that he is considering adding another assistant coach to Alain Vigneault’s staff, which already includes former Ranger Ulf Samuelsson and former Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel.
“I’m still looking at some other possibilities,” Sather said. “We still have (assistant GM Jim Schoenfeld to evaluate from the press box). We’re gonna talk about the other things. We’ve got some other irons in the fire.”
HEADS UP, HANK
Henrik Lundqvist was named second-team all-NHL on Wednesday, and now he’d better rest up, because the Rangers goaltender can expect to see more shots on his cage in the 2013-14 season.
Samuelsson, a former defenseman who is expected to coach the Rangers’ blue line, summed up his “ideal defensive environment” as: “No one screening the goaltender, no one getting the rebounds.”
The Blueshirts always have emphasized clearing loose pucks, but an emphasis on not screening the goalie will draw the Rangers away from their trademark, shot-blocking shell under John Tortorella. That certainly will be music to the ears of players used to taking that punishment, such as defenseman Dan Girardi, but it also will rely even more heavily on Lundqvist to make stops.
Playing a style that avoids screening one’s goalie emphasizes three main strategic points: that the coaches have trust in their goaltender to make the saves; that they want their players to avoid surrendering defensive zone positioning by diving towards shots; and that they want to emphasize quick clears of the puck and counterattacks instead of being stagnant or relying on puck freezes.
New head coach Alain Vigneault, who will be back in town for the final day of development camp on Friday, is expected to cultivate a strategy that allows his skill players to operate and his defensemen to push up ice.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations over the last couple weeks here, and (Vigneault) seems to be very intelligent, very bright,” said Samuelsson, an assistant with Phoenix from 2006-11 before spending one year as head coach of Modo in his native Sweden. “I was very impressed by the interview process he had, very thorough. So I’m really looking forward to start working with him.”