Brad Richards is the Rangers’ X-factor

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To call last season a rough one for Brad Richards would be an understatement.

In just his second season into a nine-year contract with the New York Rangers, he was logging time on their third and fourth lines while going through a season-long slump. On top of that, he wound up being a healthy scratch in the playoffs.

The Rangers thought that reuniting him with his former head coach in Tampa Bay, John Tortorella, would give them the No. 1 center they’d been looking for since Mark Messier hung it up. Instead, Tortorella was fired after last season and Richards was nearly a compliance buyout.

Now, Richards heads into the new season with new lease on life after avoiding a buyout.  Another former coach of his, Alain Vigneault who worked with him in Prince Edward Island (see Elliotte Friedman’s No. 3 thought here), joins the fold with the dream of sparking a Rangers offense that went dormant under Tortorella.

With that promise and those hopes, Richards becomes the team’s major X-factor.

If Richards can find his offensive game again, like he had in his first season in New York where he had 66 points, the 33-year-old may find the buyout talk to be just an ugly moment gone by. After all, playing alongside Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan has its benefits and Richards can still be productive.

Then again…

If last season’s disaster was the first sign of his skills heading down the mountain and the Rangers are staring right into a similar situation that they had with Chris Drury, GM Glen Sather will take his lumps like a tomato can in a prize fight.

Signing a high-priced free agent to play for and have chemistry with a coach you fired two years into his deal won’t look good on anyone, especially with a team that has more than a few big re-signings left to make.

If Richards can’t find his stride under Vigneault this season, he’s almost assuredly going to be a compliance buyout next summer. If he makes it and the Rangers push for a Stanley Cup, everyone wins. If not, it’s likely Richards who loses out.