Brad Richards was bought out of the last six years of his contract by the New York Rangers, the team announced Friday. The veteran forward was an integral part of the Rangers squad that made it to the Stanley Cup Final, but his nine-year, $60 million deal and its $6.67 million annual cap hit far exceeded his value as a roster player for the Rangers.
"We would like to thank Brad for everything he has done here on and off the ice during his time here," general manager Glen Sather said through the team.
"This was an extremely difficult decision to make because I have so much respect for him. Brad's leadership and guidance for our young players was invaluable to our orgainzation. Brad has been a very good player for us and an even better person."
This is going to be an expensive hit for Rangers owner Jim Dolan, but if the Rangers want to remain a Cup contender, they had to buy out Richards' contract. With many restricted free agents left to sign and recent big-money, long-term deals awarded to Henrik Lundqvist and Dan Girardi, Richards' contract became too prohibitive under the cap for the Rangers to justify keeping him.
The reason Richards didn't have to pass through waivers like most other buyout candidates is that he has a no-movement clause in his contract. By opting against the waiver process, the buyout is immediate according to CapGeek.
Richards will be owed $12.6 million over the next 12 years, but will also receive an additional $8 million over the next three seasons as signing bonuses can't be bought out according to Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet. That's a lot of money to be paid for playing for someone else.
The deal was always risky with the contract taking Richards into his age 40 season, but he was the top free agent on the market in 2011 and had the Rangers won the Stanley Cup this year, the deal might have widely been considered a success. Unfortunately it didn't pan out and as hard as it probably was for Glen Sather to do it, he made the right call in buying out Richards.
The Rangers have leading scorer Mats Zuccarello, star youngster Chris Kreider and vital depth center Derick Brassard all due raises as restricted free agents. They also may want to re-sign pending unrestricted free agents like Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle and Dominic Moore. There is an awful lot of work to be done this summer.
Richards will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. The 34-year-old veteran with one Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe is coming off a 20-goal, 51-point campaign. He also had 12 points in the Rangers' run to the Cup Final.
There is definitely going to be a market for his services, but no team is going to hand Richards a deal with that same $6.67 million hit. At least none would be likely to. But he will be signed and he probably will be an effective player where ever he goes. Even at 34, Richards shoots to near the top of the free agent list come July 1 in what is a relatively weaker crop.
Long-term deals for players into their 30s is always going to carry risk. Lucky for the Rangers, they had one buyout left. Sather was rewarded for not using it last year with a good third season from the player many looked to as a captain-like figure after Ryan Callahan was traded.
It's a bitter end to Richards' brief run on Broadway, but the Rangers are doing what is best for both the short-term and long-term health of their franchise.