Through 20 games, Richards has scored two goals and added 11 assists.
He's been benched a number of times in the third period, which is not what you would expect from a player making nearly $7 million.
As he said:
"Any season, you're not going to have it every night," Richards said Saturday. "It's how you get through the nights you don't have it. The other night I pushed too hard and tried to do things out of character. It snowballed and it can happen. I'd love to be able to tell you I've had it every night. But I don't."
Richards has been largely invisible all season, even when he is on the ice.
Is it time for the Rangers to think about buying him out?
After all, he's signed through 2020 with a cap hit of $6.6 million per year. That's way too much for a player who's not effective.
So what should they do? What are the pros and cons of a potential buyout?
Richards makes a lot of money, so taking some of his contract off the books helps.
The Rangers have a lot of money tied up in a few players. Rick Nash is set to make $7.8 million through the 2018 season. Henrik Lundqvist is set to be a free agent in 2014, and it can be assumed the Rangers will reward him handsomely.
The team also has a bunch of restricted free agents coming up. Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh and Carl Hagelin will be RFA's after this season. Michael Del Zotto will be a RFA after next season.
The Rangers will need to put a lot of money into those players. Not having to deal with Richards' contract will help.
There's one really big con: Buying him out is very expensive.
According to the terrific CapGeek, here's what it would cost to buy him out:
- 2013-14: -$619,048
- 2014-15: -$119,048
- 2015-16: -$119,048
- 2016-17: $1,380,952
- 2017-18: $7,380,952
- 2018-19: $7,380,952
- 2019-20: $7,380,952
- 2020-21: $1,714,286
- 2021-22: $1,714,286
- 2022-23: $1,714,286
- 2023-24: $1,714,286
- 2024-25: $1,714,286
- 2025-26: $1,714,286
- 2026-27: $1,714,286
So while they would save some money in the beginning, they would have to pony up a lot of money for a long time. Look at 2017-2020. $7 million for a player who is not playing is simply not worth it.
The Rangers could also do an amnesty buyout, meaning that the buyout would not count against the cap.
That would help things. But still, it's a lot of money to buy him out and, let's not forget, it would be a player who, just a few short years ago, was considered one of the best in the game.
If Richards gets bought out, it will almost certainly be because he makes too much money.
Yes, he's struggling, and if he wasn't, he wouldn't be bought out.
But, the Rangers have about $10 million available for five roster spots for next season, and they will do everything they can to re-sign McDonagh, Stepan and Hagelin, three players who are absolutely crucial to the team's long-term success.
And it's much easier to buyout Richards, who is showing signs of decline, then say, Rick Nash, who has been terrific.
It's not an easy decision to buy him out. He's an alternate captain, and few can forget his heroics in last season's playoffs.
That said, it's a business decision. Richards makes too much money.
The Rangers will probably lean towards using the amnesty buyout, which is a lot cheaper than a normal buyout. If that's the case, it's easier financially. If not, it makes little sense to cut him.
If the Rangers can use the amnesty buyout, then I believe it's the most prudent way forward. Hagelin, Stepan and McDonagh are much more important to this team than Richards and they are the ones who need long-term contracts.
If they do not use the amnesty buyout, then it is not worth it. Having three seasons of $7 million in dead space makes zero sense.
This is not an easy issue. Richards bring a lot to the table. The buyout process will determine a lot of things. If it's financially feasible, then they should go for it. If not, it kind of defeats the purpose.
If Richards improves and finishes the season with some big numbers, it seems inconceivable to buy him out.
Ranger fans should take a wait-and-see approach. Buying him out would free some money, but it would also cost the team a player who, despite recent struggles, is still quite good.
It's a tough situation and the Rangers' management has to make a big decision.
The next few months will tell us a lot.