Published June 27, 2011
With July 1 just days away, it seems there are only three things in life that are guaranteed -- death, taxes and Brad Richards signing a lucrative free-agent contract with the New York Rangers.
The 31-year-old center and the tenants of Madison Square Garden are a match made in Midtown. The Rangers are desperate for a No. 1 center and someone who can quarterback their toothless power play, something Richards did with great success for the Dallas Stars. Richards had 28 goals and 49 assists in 72 games last season; 7 goals and 22 assists came on the power play.
The Rangers have never been shy about throwing large sums of money at talented centers who are around the age of 30. In 2007, General Manager Glen Sather signed 27-year-old Scott Gomez and 29-year-old Chris Drury to long-term contracts, a pair of deals that didn't work out the way the Rangers would've liked. Gomez was traded to Montreal in 2009 and the Rangers are reportedly in the process of buying out the final year of Drury's contract, another strong indicator that room is being made for Richards.
Richards also has a positive history with coach John Tortorella. The two combined to win a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004; Richards also captured the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of those playoffs.
So if the admiration between Richards and the Rangers is mutual and it's just a matter of working out the dollars, let's consider this a done deal and ask the truly important question: Is this the right move for the Rangers?
For a better part of the late-1990s and early part of this century's first decade, the Rangers were about as careless with money as a trust-fund brat with daddy's credit card. The team spent wildly and poorly on a gaggle of aging free agents and missed the playoffs seven consecutive times from 1998-2004. The Rangers showed zero patience with young players and parted ways with the likes of Marc Savard, Mikael Samuelsson, Mike Knuble, Manny Malhotra and Dominic Moore.
Since 2005, the start of the salary-cap era, the Rangers have shown more of a willingness to nurture their youth and eschew paying for declining talent that's middle-aged by NHL standards. Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal, Brandon Dubinsky and Dan Girardi headline their home-grown core and are primed to spend a huge chunk of their productive careers with the Rangers.
If the Rangers meet the steep demands of Richards, will they once again have to part ways at some point with a young player with a solid NHL career ahead of him? If the Rangers are still a few years away from contending for the Stanley Cup, does it make sense for them to invest so heavily in a player who will be 34 years old when the foundation of the team is in its prime?
The salary-cap ceiling has steadily risen since 2005, but there's no guarantee that trend will continue during the duration of Richards' contract, no matter the length of it.
There's a bit of a misconception that the Rangers were a poor offensive team last season. But the reality is they finished 14th in the League in goals with 233, which is 11 more than they scored in 2009-10 when they finished 19th.
Throw in the fact that the Rangers showed improvement offensively last season with scorers Marian Gaborik, Vinny Prospal, Alexander Frolov and Drury missing significant time due to injury, and there's plenty of reason to believe the team can continue to trend upward offensively this season if they can avoid even half of the injuries that plagued them last season.
Richards suffered a concussion last season, but returned for the Stars' final 16 games and had 4 goals and 10 assists. He made it through the final month of the season without suffering another head injury, but as someone who has already suffered one concussion, there is a danger in tying up so much money in a player who is one big hit away from potentially never being the same player again.
There's no doubt a healthy Richards makes the Rangers a far better team in 2011-12. But if signing Richards comes at the expense of the young talent the team has so carefully developed since 2005, is it really worth it for a team that hasn't won a playoff series since 2008? Would the Rangers be better served doing what they did last summer, which was fill some holes with smaller contracts and let the youngsters improve with experience?
Richards is by far the head of the free-agent forward class. As of now, next summer's UFA forward class will include Patrick Sharp, Dustin Penner and Alexander Semin, all of whom will likely cost less to sign than Richards, but obviously lack his resume. By next summer, Drury's contract will be entirely off the books and maybe Sather will find a way to shed the contract of Wade Redden that runs through 2014.
The Rangers have shown tremendous patience since 2005. Perhaps one more year of patience wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for a young team on the rise.
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