Report: Rangers to buy out Chris Drury; Freeing up space to make run at Brad Richards?

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Things haven’t exactly been joyful for Rangers captain Chris Drury the last few seasons in New York. He’s struggled with injuries, he’s struggled with producing on the ice, and he’s had Rangers fans hoping to see the captain’s “C” moved to other players on the team (namely Ryan Callahan). After a miserable 2010-2011 season that saw Drury finish the year with just one goal after dealing with a myriad of injuries, it appears his run in New York is at an end.

Larry Brooks of the New York Post reports that Rangers GM Glen Sather will be buying Drury out of the final year of his contract while retaining two other high priced forwards who have had their ups and downs in New York.

The Post has also learned that the team will not buy out either Wojtek Wolski or Sean Avery, each of whom ended the season with tenuous futures on Broadway.

The Drury buyout, which will become official during the proscribed June 15-30 window for such transactions, will open $3,333,333 of 2011-12 cap space while costing the team $1,666,667 in dead space the following season under the rules of the current collective bargaining agreement.

If eating a $3.33 million cap hit for a year sounds like a bad idea, consider that if the Rangers kept Drury on the roster this year he’d eat up $7.05 million against the cap or end up thoroughly disrespected as a captain and stuffed in the AHL to hide his contract. At least being bought out means he can see if he can play somewhere else in the NHL.

The other side of cutting Drury loose is the salary relief it provides the Rangers in their potential and likely pursuit of Brad Richards when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Richards is set to become the most pursued free agent of the summer and the former Conn Smythe Trophy award winner and playmaking phenom is a guy the Rangers have lusted after since before the trade deadline this season. With his former Lightning head coach John Tortorella in charge with the Rangers, it’s a pairing that makes sense and for the Rangers Richards would be the setup man they’ve lacked for years in Manhattan.

For now, Drury’s departure from New York ends an era that saw Drury come in with big expectations after putting up huge seasons with Daniel Briere in Buffalo only to fall severely short of huge expectations on Broadway. While Drury wasn’t necessarily a bad player, the great success he had with the Sabres set the bar that much higher for him coming to New York.

His first season with the Rangers was his best putting up 25 goals and 33 assists. Paying over $7 million a year for a guy who only twice scored more than 50 points in his four seasons in New York wasn’t cutting it. Drury is a much loved player for what he’s done, but his final two seasons in New York saw him play 101 games while scoring 15 goals and adding 22 assists.

Should the Rangers add Richards, keep this in mind: Drury was 31 years old when they signed him and his production evaporated after two seasons. Brad Richards turned 31 in May and is coming off of a season that saw him suffer a concussion that limited his play and saw him unable to help the Dallas Stars make the playoffs. If the Rangers do plan on breaking the bank for Richards, they should be at least be wise about what could happen out of the blue.