Right Wing Conspiracy – 12 SEP 2013
Right Wing Conspiracy is a weekly column about hockey, with the odd hockey-related conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.
The Brad Richards Conundrum
The New York Rangers take to the ice today for the start of training camp. Though camp is always a time of excitement and optimism, the Blueshirts also have a number of questions hanging like a fog over the rink. Will Marc Staal be able to overcome his limited vision and perform at a high level again? Will Marty Biron resolve his unspecified “personal issues” soon and rejoin the team, or will GM Glen Sather have to move quickly to sign a new back-up goalie? When will Derek Stepan sign a new contract and rejoin the team? And last, but not least, what will the Rangers do with Brad Richards?
As the entire hockey universe knows, Richards had a terrible playoff run last spring, dropping all the way to the fourth line before moving up to the press box as a healthy scratch. In ten games, he recorded one goal and no assists. As a result, many critics have opined that last season signaled the beginning of the end of Brad Richards’ NHL career.
Mr. Richards begs to differ. He spent the summer training with former teammate Marty St. Louis, and has arrived at camp determined to prove he’s still an elite NHL center. If he’s successful in his quest, and if the Derek Stepan contract impasse is resolved quickly, Rangers management then has some tough questions to answer:
- Can they keep Richards? Once Stepan is back in the fold, the middle of New York’s depth chart will look like this: Stepan-Brassard-Richards-Boyle-D.Moore-Lindberg. Brian Boyle could move to wing or be moved to another team, as his $1.7mil cap hit would be easy for most clubs to swallow. 21-year-old rookie Oscar Lindberg could be a fly in the ointment, as he had an excellent showing at the prospects tourney in Traverse City last week. If Lindberg earns a roster spot, he’ll likely begin his NHL career playing wing, as the middle of the MSG ice is jammed up right now. However, given the uncertainty over the Stepan situation, the Rangers can (and should) keep Richards, at least for now.
- Can they trade Richards? Richards’ cap hit ($6.67mil through 2020) means as of today, only six teams have room to take on his contract (St. Louis, Colorado, Ottawa, Florida, Calgary and the Islanders), and his no-move clause gives him veto power over any trade. For any other club to acquire the center, New York would have to take on salary in return, thus defeating one of the main purposes of trading him. As the trade deadline nears, however, more opportunities to move Richards will open up…which leads to yet another question:
- If Richards has a bounce-back season and looks to be a key factor in a Rangers Cup run, should they still try to trade him at the deadline? Again, assuming Stepan has returned and all Blueshirt centers are healthy, would the Rangers benefit from moving a rejuvenated Brad Richards at the trade deadline? Though Slats wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t at least listen to offers for the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, any deal under the aforementioned circumstances would have to be made A) with a Western Conference team, and B) under VERY favorable terms for the Rangers to seriously mess with team chemistry…at the trade deadline…when it looks like they might have a real shot at the Cup. And again, that’s assuming Richards would agree to waive his NMC to move away from a team on the verge of hoisting the Stanley Cup and back to the Western Conference. In other words, if the Rangers are in serious Cup contention, a deadline deal for Brad Richards simply ain’t happenin’.
Brad Richards’ contract makes it highly unlikely he’ll play anywhere other than on Broadway this season. By the same token, his contract makes it highly unlikely he’ll play on Broadway beyond this season, as next summer the Rangers will have to re-sign UFAs Lundqvist, Callahan, Dominic Moore, Girardi and Stralman, and RFAs Brassard, Kreider, Zuccarello, Del Zotto, Falk and John Moore. If Richards proves his critics wrong with an outstanding 2013-14 season, Glen Sather might be able to trade him next summer; otherwise, he’ll be an (expensive) amnesty buyout. For both Richards and Sather, the heat is on.
Follow Matt Pryor on Twitter: @BigTex1926