LOS ANGELES -- Regardless of whether the New York Rangers are able to beat the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup finals, general manager Glen Sather has a tough decision ahead for the organization.
One of Sather's biggest question marks heading into the summer will be whether to buy out key veteran Brad Richards, whose leadership has helped the Blueshirts reach the finals for the first time since their last championship run in 1994.
Though the 34-year-old center, who has emerged as the team's de facto captain this season since the departure of Ryan Callahan at the trade deadline, has had a bounce-back performance after a dreadful lockout-shortened 2013 season, the structure of his contract puts his future on Broadway in jeopardy.
The Rangers would face massive cap recapture penalties should Richards, a 12-year pro, retire before the expiration of his nine-year, $60 million deal that runs through 2020.
Sather acknowledged in a rare media appearance Tuesday that the decision has already prompted a lot of thought and discussion from within the organization.
"I've thought about it a lot. But it's not something that we're thinking about right now. We're focused on what we're doing, what the team is doing, how we're going to play, who we're playing against," Sather said Tuesday. "Certainly haven't thought much about it lately. But that decision will come in the summer. It's like all the decisions, we've got lots of free agents to sign. We're happy with the way it is right now."
Richards told ESPNNewYork.com on Monday that he isn't thinking about the looming decision and doesn't want to talk about it until after the finals.
"I kind of made a pact to myself. I didn't know if it was going to come up, but it's not fair to my teammates, the organization. There are so many more important things in the next few weeks," he said. "I won't talk about it now. It's not the time."
Considering the deep run the Rangers have made, the decision must be made with little time to mull over the club's option. Beginning 48 hours after the Stanley Cup final is decided, the club has up until June 30 to decide whether to use its last existing compliance buyout on the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
Right now, Richards has been a critical cog to the team's success. He scored 20 goals and registered 51 points in the regular season and has five goals and 11 points in the playoffs. But beyond his timely production, Richards' intangibles may be the part that makes Sather's decision the most difficult.
Richards filled a leadership void in the team's absence of an official captain and he has held the club together during some of its most trying moments this spring.
"He's been terrific. I mean, he's acting as the captain right now," Sather said. "He's certainly a leader in the room. He's been a leader on the ice. Great guy."
That said, he wouldn't budge on whether Richards' presence inside the room, or his contributions on the ice, will help determine his future in New York.
"I really can't make any comments about what's going to happen during the summer. I mean, if we win the Stanley Cup, if we lose the Stanley Cup, I mean, I think the decision is something that comes later on in the summer," Sather said. "It's not something that we need to get into talking with."
Whether the Rangers exercise the buyout will have less to do with performance than the potential financial ramifications if Richards isn't capable of playing the last three years of his deal, which back-dives significantly from the average annual value in the first six years of the contract.
Penalties for early retirement in such a deal were established via the cap recapture rule, which was brokered into the collective bargaining agreement before the lockout ended last winter.
Asked how he felt about that rule, Sather responded:
"We could have a long debate about that one," he said. "Amazing how rules change sometimes. It's not something I can comment on. That's something you'd have to ask Mr. Bettman. They decided to do something and we had no influence on it at all."