It almost had to happen this way, didn’t it?
The New York Rangers organization is known for making splashy, often-regrettable deals for big-name free agents. Brad Richards ranked as far-and-away the biggest name (and probably the largest risk) in the unrestricted free agent pool. If those two factors weren’t enough to make these two parties seem predestined, go ahead and add Richards’ familiarity with Rangers head coach John Tortorella and New York’s abundant desperation for a top-line center to the list.
Whichever way you slice it, the Rangers landed that big fish at a huge cost, locking up the 31-year-old playmaking center to a mammoth 9-year, $60 million deal. From a cap hit standpoint, Richards will cost the Rangers a satanic $6.67 million, which is actually palatable compared to his overblown previous hit of $7.9 million. Of course, the biggest concern is the term of that deal; one can only assume that this contract is front-loaded like other lengthy deals before it (see: Christian Ehrhoff’s 10-year pact with the Buffalo Sabres).
Rangers make another huge, risky investment
The Rangers are hoping that Richards leans more toward Jaromir Jagr (a big star who mostly justified his big contract in the big apple) than just about every other expensive investment they’ve made. GM Glen Sather has almost become a walking punchline for all of the bad deals he handed out. From Bobby Holik in the older days to more recent albatrosses such as Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Wade Redden’s deals, it seems like Sather has some sort of reverse-Midas touch. If nothing else, it’s clear that nothing has been learned from those mistakes.
There is a key difference between Richards and some of the worst deals: there isn’t as much desperation in the air. There seemed to be an assumption that Drury, Gomez and other free agents could achieve bigger things in New York than they ever have before. Richards has shown that he can be a top-end center a few times in his career, although the worrisome thing for Rangers fans is that he suffered some ugly years in the early part of his last huge deal.
The pros of Richards
If you ask me, Brad Richards is one of the five best passers in the NHL. My guess is that the Rangers hope that his supreme playmaking will inject some life into fellow risky investment Marian Gaborik ($7.5 million per year through 2013-14). After struggling mightily through much of his deal, Richards finally hit the level expected by his salary the last two seasons, scoring 91 points in 2009-10 and 77 in 10-11. The Rangers were a team that was severely lacking in elite players, especially at the forward position. Their lineup should be a little bit more natural now.
The cons of Richards
That being said, there are concerns about his health. Richards’ 10-11 season took a bit of a dive when he suffered a concussion right around the trade deadline. While he managed to play later on, it seemed like he fell short of his once red-hot pace after that. Handing a nine-year deal to a guy who might not be 100 percent is the kind of gamble that might give some Rangers fans indigestion during this holiday weekend.
Sather’s work isn’t done yet
The Rangers have 16 players covered and about $16 million in cap space to lock up the 4-7 remaining spots, but it might not be as easy as it sounds. Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan were often the Rangers’ go-to forwards last season, so re-signing those two restricted free agents remains a point of emphasis. Artem Anisimov and big forward Brian Boyle also rank as players Gather might want to retain.
The Rangers and Richards have been linked for quite some time, with many saying that the road to Richards basically went through New York. Ultimately, Sather won that game of free agent chicken with the Los Angeles Kings and other suitors, likely handing the veteran playmaker the type of term that was too much for more conservative spenders to stomach. There are reasons to believe that it will work out (Richards is the most legitimate offensive talent the Rangers signed since Jagr) and plenty of reasons why it won’t (past history, Richards’ age and health plus the typical downfalls of adding free agents), but either way, it should be interesting to watch.
We will find out soon enough if Richards will be a big difference-maker in New York or yet another name on the list of Sather’s scroll of epic blunders.