By: Michael Abitabilo
Earlier today, Brad Richards confirmed he will be a healthy scratch for tonight’s do-or-die game four versus the Boston Bruins. Despite his season-long slump, this is a shocking development and may be a sign that Brad Richards’ tenure as a Ranger is coming to an end.
The Rangers’ decision to scratch Richards can be interpreted in any number of ways. Perhaps it is as simple as the coach wanting to inject some life into his desperate team at the expense of a star player who has clearly struggled. Maybe coach John Tortorella is trying to send a message that ice time has to be earned – even if you are one of His Guys (Tortorella and Richards won a Stanley Cup together with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, and the coach has been fiercely loyal to Richards since he became a Ranger).
But maybe, just maybe, this is a sign that a much more significant organizational decision has been made. For a few weeks now, I have been working on a piece that I intend to post after the Rangers season comes to an end. In the post, I make five off-season predictions. At the top of the list, I predict the Rangers will use their second (and final) compliance buy-out allowed under the recently negotiated collective bargaining agreement to get out of the final seven years of Richards’s nine-year, $60 million contract he signed in July of 2011. It was a somewhat novel prediction when I started writing the piece, but boy can things change quickly. Richards’s play has fallen so dramatically that before being benched, he had been relegated to the fourth line and was playing less than 10 minutes per game. With the salary cap projected to decrease, the Rangers simply cannot afford to keep Richards and his $6.6 million cap hit on the books through the year 2020 in hopes that he rediscovers his game.
So how could today’s announcement regarding game four be related to a potential buy-out? Allow this fake interview with former New York Ranger Wade Redden to explain:
The Read Zone: Wade, thanks so much for joining us. Just so you know, despite being really disappointed in your play, I never booed you when you were a New York Ranger.
Fake Wade Redden: Thanks for having me – and I guess that makes you one of the few!
TRZ: Hahaha definitely. Anyway, you have some experience with the compliance buy-out provision under the new CBA, don’t you?
FWR: I do! As you might recall, in 2008, I signed a 6-year, $38 million contract with the Rangers. It was pretty obvious from the get-go this was a bad deal. Even I was surprised I got so many years and so much money! Anyway, things didn’t really workout, and after the 2010 season, the Rangers sent me packing to their minor-league affiliate in Hartford, Connecticut. It was super-embarrassing, but it allowed the team to avoid having my salary count against the salary cap.
TRZ: I do remember that! So, if the Rangers are so concerned with Brad Richards’s cap-hit, why don’t they just send him down to the minors like they did to you?
FWR: Well, under the new collective bargaining agreement, teams can’t do that anymore. The idea was to prevent big-market teams from burying their bad contracts in the minors, so Richards’s cap-hit would still count against the team’s salary cap even if he were banished to Hartford. So under the new CBA, each team is allowed two compliance buy-outs under which players receive a percentage of the money they are owed and become free agents. The team is then relieved of any salary cap liability for the contract. When the CBA was first passed, the league and players’ association agreed that compliance buyouts could only be used in June of 2013 or June of 2014.
TRZ: Ohhhh. So wait, I still don’t see how scratching Brad Richards for tonight’s game four could have anything to do with the salary cap.
FWR: The kicker is, players who are injured cannot be bought out. In fact, believe it or not, at the beginning of this season I was still a part of the Rangers organization. I was getting myself ready to report to Hartford for another season in the minors when the Rangers told me not to bother. They told me that they intended to use one of those compliance buy-outs on me, but didn’t want to risk me getting injured while playing in the minor leagues.
TRZ: So they were just going to pay you $5 million to stay home?
FWR: Yeah! Crazy, right?! Anyway, the league and players’ association got together and agreed that this was silly, and contrary to the intention of the CBA. So they allowed teams a limited window before this season in which they could use their compliance buy-outs. The Rangers used one of theirs on me, and the Montreal Canadiens used one to get out of Scott Gomez’s terrible contract.
TRZ: Hey, wait a minute, didn’t the Rangers originally sign Gomez to that deal too?
FWR: They sure did! And don’t forget that Chris Drury contract, either. Maybe they should just stay away from high-priced free agents, eh?
TRZ: It would seem that way! Wade, thanks so much for your time. And don’t think the irony of you being a part of this Bruins team that is about to sweep the Rangers is lost on us here at the Read Zone!
So there you have it. If the Rangers have already decided they will use a compliance buy-out on Richards this off-season, the logical move is to scratch him from tonight’s lineup so as to avoid any risk of injury. If they lose, the season is over and they can proceed with their off-season plans. If they win, they can justify scratching him again and again until the season ends. Either way, Brad’s run on Broadway could be coming to a close.
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Mike Abitabilo is the co-founder of the Read Zone, and really enjoyed this interview that never happened.