When it comes to the New York Rangers' success thus far, there is a huge elephant in the room. That elephant is Brad Richards, and there are two schools of thought when it comes to what his fate should be once the season is over.
Some feel keeping him is worth the risk because of what he can bring to the table and because of New York's big pockets, and others feel that keeping him is too risky.
There are many ways that the Rangers can proceed with their cap situation, but will they buy out a player who has been crucial to the team's success this year?
It is going to be a huge pill to swallow, but the Rangers need to use their last compliance buyout because the risks are too high. No one is downplaying the impact Richards has had on the power play, or the role he has played as a secondary scorer, but the team can't afford to take a risk.
Yes, Richards is tied for the team lead with 15 power-play points. Yes, Richards is second in the team in points, but he is getting older and he has been in a steep decline over the last couple years.
Richards was signed to a massive contract on July 2, 2011 as a big-ticket free-agent, but the lockout of 2012-13 changed the rules of the CBA. It included a clause that intends to punish teams like the Rangers who signed players to contracts like Richards'.
However, the overlords who drafted the CBA gave teams an out. For two offseasons, this year's being the last, teams would be allowed to expunge any contract signed prior to the lockout from the salary cap. There would be no cap penalties, but the players would still get paid.
If Richards is bought out this summer, his contract is off the record, and the Rangers are safe from ghost cap charges that come along with early retirement penalties. For more clarification, here is some expert information from Cap Geek.
Per the CBA reached in January 2013, teams receiving a "cap advantage" from long-term contracts (defined as seven years or more and entered into prior to the execution of the new CBA) will be penalized in the event the player retires or "defects" from the NHL before the contract expires.
With that in mind, what kind of penalties would the Rangers face if Richards retired at age 37? Cap Geek has the answer to that.
If Brad Richards retires or defects in the 2017 off-season (age 37 as of July 1 that year) and is not traded before doing so, following is an estimated breakdown of the recapture penalties for the involved teams.
Team Benefit Penalty (2017-18 through 2019-20) $17,000,000 $5,666,667
As you can see, the Rangers would be really hurt with a ghost cap hit of just under $5.7 million, and that number only gets worse if he retires later than that. Age 37 was used because that is a reasonable age at which a player like Richards might retire.
Here is a chart showing Richards' decline.
As the stats show, his production is regressing, and by age 37 he is unlikely to be a productive player. It doesn't matter that he is one of the team's best players this year; what matters is that he isn't in the team's future plans.
In an ideal world, the Rangers win the Stanley Cup with Richards, and it is mission accomplished. Richards completes his objective of coming to New York, and the Rangers get to give him a nice severance package. He would then be free to sign with any team to finish his career and wouldn't have to worry about money.
The Rangers would also be free to sign a replacement for him and wouldn't have to worry about getting burned by any contracts like this in the future.
It may be a tough decision, but it is a decision that needs to be made. It isn't Richards' fault that the CBA made his contract toxic, but hockey is a business. At this point, Ranger fans should hope that he finishes the season strong and healthy and worry about the other logistics later.
Stats via NHL.com and The Hockey News