After the 2013-14 NHL season comes to a climax, the New York Rangers have to answer a $27 million question. The question involves center Brad Richards. After a lackluster 2012-13 performance, there was a ton of chatter about whether or not general manager Glen Sather would pull the plug on what was supposed to be a nine-year $60 million investment.
Ultimately, Richards remained a Ranger, but the talks are still relevant because this is the last season in which NHL teams can use the get-out-of-jail free card included in the newest collective bargaining agreement.
However, the Rangers just acquired Richards' best friend, Martin St. Louis, so will that move keep No. 19 safe from the axe of an amnesty buyout?
It will be a huge risk, but it makes more sense if the Rangers hold onto Richards, and simply deal with potential problems when they arise. The Rangers would be missing out on a great opportunity, but this scribe thinks they will forgo the "nuclear option."
For those who don't know, this is how the clause reads per Cap Geek's listing of the CBA:
During the ordinary course buyout periods in June 2013 and June 2014, teams will be permitted two compliance buyouts. Compliance buyouts follow the same formula as ordinary-course buyouts — either 1/3 or 2/3 of actual salary depending on age — but do not count against the cap.
In simple terms, if the amnesty buyout were enacted, the Rangers would still pay Richards like they would during a normal buyout. However, there would not be a cap penalty of any kind. This clause was added to give teams that issued quasi-illegal contracts during the last CBA an opportunity to avoid being penalized.
If Richards were to retire early, there would be salary-recapture penalties and the Rangers would be severely penalized. Cap Geek has a calculator that details what would happen, so feel free to check it out to play "what if" scenarios.
The primary reason the Rangers will likely keep Richards is because of St. Louis, and the impact he can have on the Blueshirts' veteran center.
Richards has looked rejuvenated in the two games he has played with his former Tampa Bay Lightning teammate, and the two even connected with Derek Stepan on a game-winning power-play goal on Friday vs. the Carolina Hurricanes.
It is evident that the two still have amazing chemistry, and St. Louis may help Richards return to 70-point or better territory. This could happen because the two are just perfect linemates for each other.
St. Louis is an amazing playmaker, but he is also an amazing finisher. Richards has been shooting the puck freely this season, and his 207 shots ranks 13th overall in the entire NHL, and fourth overall amongst centers.
With St. Louis, Richards can get into scoring opportunities in which he can score a goal, or he can set up the reigning Art Ross trophy winner himself. Either option helps the Rangers' offense, and both see St. Louis and Richards playing a prominent role.
Another reason why it makes sense to keep Richards is his experience. The Rangers are clearly in a win-now mode, and getting rid of Richards would open up a huge hole down the middle next season.
Stepan has been given numerous opportunities to take a stranglehold on the top center spot, but he hasn't had a great season to date.
With St. Louis on the team, Richards should be able to reclaim his role as the team's top center. He also has valuable playoff experience that will be needed if the Rangers are successful in their ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.
The Rangers feel that they can win a Stanley Cup with St. Louis. That is why Sather willingly dealt a 2015 first-round pick, and a 2014 pick that becomes a first rounder if the Rangers make it to this year's Eastern Conference Final.
St. Louis is a great player in his own right, but pairing him with Richards in the playoffs could be a difference-maker. Teams would need to decide which line they would try and shutdown, and that could then create opportunities for Rick Nash's line.
That would also give the line of Benoit Pouliot, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello—the Rangers' most underrated line this year—a chance to shine as well.
Keeping Richards is the key to all this depth because getting rid of him would bump another center into his place, and that in turn would result in another center being moved as well.
Richards is only 33, and he has an opportunity to turn the corner with the Rangers. He hasn't had the greatest of starts, but St. Louis could be the key. St. Louis helped Richards get in better shape over the summer, and more time spent with him can only result in good things for all parties involved.
Obviously, there is the risk that Richards retires early or gets injured, but they are not the only team taking a risk. The Chicago Blackhawks are taking that risk with Marian Hossa, and the Detroit Red Wings are doing the same with Henrik Zetterberg.
Right now, the Rangers can only worry about the present, so it makes sense to not worry too much about the future. It is a calculated risk, but if it results in winning a Stanley Cup or two, it's a risk well worth it.