New York Rangers
Why it happened: Richards, 34, was due an average of $6.67 million annually over the final six seasons of his nine-year, $60 million contract. Had he retired before the expiration of his deal in 2019-20, his age 40 campaign, the Rangers would’ve faced a hefty salary cap penalty under post-lockout CBA rules. By buying out Richards, the Rangers no longer have to worry about those potentially bad ramifications. They also have an extra $6.67 million with which to work cap-wise, which should help going into free agency. The Rangers have 11 free agents, many of whom will require raises. This was a pretty easy move to make considering the fact that Richards was inconsistent and appeared to be on the decline. The Rangers still owe Richards $20.667 million over the next 12 years, but none of that money will count against the cap.
What it means: The Rangers now have nearly $23.8 million in cap space, according to capgeek.com. Derick Brassard ($3.2 million last season); Chris Kreider ($1.325 million); Mats Zuccarello ($1.15 million) and John Moore ($965,000) are restricted free agents, while Brian Boyle ($1.7 million), Anton Stralman ($1.7 million), Benoit Pouliot ($1.3 million) and Dominic Moore ($1 million) are unrestricted free agents. It’s going to be hard for the Rangers to keep all of them, but this move certainly makes things a little more manageable.
How do they replace him? Good question. Richards provided so much leadership in the dressing room, and more or less became the unofficial captain after Ryan Callahan was traded. Ryan McDonagh appears to be the leading candidate to assume the “C.” The big centers who could be available include Paul Statsny (free agency), Joe Thornton (trade), Jason Spezza (trade) and Ryan Kesler (trade). Remember, Richards was a top-six forward who also manned the point on the power play. He did have a huge role on this team. It’s possible the Rangers could just decide to give more responsibility to Derek Stepan and Brassard and then hope that J.T. Miller makes a big jump toward being consistent and productive. As the Los Angeles Kings showed, it’s so important to have depth and skill down the middle.
Greatest moments: While Richards never lived up to his massive contract, he certainly had some great moments with the organization. His biggest? Probably his second-period goal in Game 7 of the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinals in Pittsburgh, which turned out to be the game winner. But there were others. The game-winning goal with 0.1 seconds left in Phoenix; the game-tying goal with 6.6 seconds left in Game 5 of the 2012 semis at the Garden; and his first career hat trick in Buffalo.
Lowest of lows: When Richards was scratched by John Tortorella for the final two games of the 2013 playoffs. He had just one point in 10 postseason games. Richards got off to a hot start in the 2014 postseason, but was relegated to the fourth line by Alain Vigneault in the final two games of the Stanley Cup. Ultimately, Richards will end up earning about $51 million for three seasons of work with the Rangers. Not too shabby.
While most fans won't be too unhappy to see him leave, the Rangers wouldn't have made their finals run without him.