GREENBURGH, N.Y. – Brad Richards would like to continue his career with the New York Rangers.
That decision was his two summers ago, but now it is out of his hands.
The former star centre joined his Rangers teammates on Monday in cleaning out their lockers following a disappointing five-game loss to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The defeat struck Richards even harder because he was a healthy scratch for the final two games.
His production simply wasn’t good enough to stay in the lineup. That is a far cry from July 2011 when the 33-year-old Richards signed a nine-year, $60-million deal to join the Rangers as a prized free agent.
“It’s about the team and producing for the team, and it was a struggle,” Rangers coach John Tortorella of Richards, who won the Stanley Cup with him in 2004 with Tampa Bay. “It not only hurt Brad, but more importantly it hurt the team.
“It’s not all on him as far as all the things that have gone on. When you have a guy that we put into the position that we thought was going to produce, it hurts the team. We just keep on trying to get better, other guys step in, try to do some other things, and you try to find a way to win as a hockey club.”
The Rangers stayed alive against Boston in Game 4, the first game Richards was held out of the lineup. They couldn’t duplicate the success two days later, and were eliminated on the road.
“When it happens, you’re not really understanding,” Richards said of the benching. “It just wasn’t a good season.”
Now Richards’ future with the Rangers is very much in doubt. New York could choose to buy out the remaining seven years of Richards’ contract. Each NHL team has the option of two amnesty buyouts that could be used to terminate contracts before next season or the 2014-15 season.
The buyouts will cost two-thirds of the remaining amount on a deal—paid evenly over twice its remaining length—and will count against the players’ overall share in revenues, but not the individual team’s salary cap. A buyout for Richards would cost the Rangers $24 million over 14 years.
“I didn’t play the last two games of the season,” Richards said. “I signed here to be a Ranger for a lot longer than a year-and-a-half. So I hope to do that.
“But I do understand what’s going on. I just want to play hockey. That’s all I’m worried about.”
Tortorella said that no matter what happens, his relationship with Richards hasn’t been changed or damaged.
The ultimate decision on what happens with the contract, however, rests in the hands of general manager Glen Sather. The team is expected to hold its organizational meetings in late June.
Richards was moved to the fourth line before he was eventually benched, but his style of play didn’t fit there.
“Brad knows how I feel about him,” Tortorella said. “I was not coaching him the right way playing him on the fourth line. It doesn’t work, but I also could not put him in front of other people because I thought the other people were playing better.
“I think it needs to be the start of trying to jump-start him, to make him understand this isn’t good enough. That’s one thing about Brad Richards, I think he understands that stuff. It happened at a time that we didn’t want to do it, but it is a bit of a wake-up call as far as where we are and what we expect. I believe he understands that and I do believe he will turn himself around.”
The long lockout eliminated training camps for teams before the season finally began in January. Richards said he was in good shape in September when the season should have started, but that changed during the extended layoff.
Richards will have to convince the Rangers, or any other team that might be interested in signing him should New York let him go, that he is still capable of being a productive player. He was limited to 11 goals and 34 points in 46 regular-season games and then one goal in 10 post-season contests.
“I’d like to get through the summer first. Obviously I have a lot to prove,” he said. “It was a roller coaster.”