Brad Richards was the primary target for the Rangers in free agency two years ago. The center may be targeted by the organization this summer for an altogether different reason.
“I signed for longer than a year-and-a-half,” Richards said when he met with reporters at the Rangers’ training facility yesterday for the final time in the 2013 season. “But I do understand what’s going on.”
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Richards could be a candidate for an amnesty buyout this summer due to his play in the truncated 2013 season, the remaining term on his contract and the new collective bargaining agreement’s salary cap benefit recapture system.
The 33-year-old was a healthy scratch for Games 4 and 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Bruins. He finished the playoffs with one goal and a minus-3 rating in 10 playoff games, and had been dropped to a fourth line with Chris Kreider and Arron Asham midway through the Washington series.
“As I said when I took him out of the lineup, I was not coaching the proper way, playing him on the fourth line,” head coach John Tortorella said. “It just doesn’t work. But I also could not put him in front of other people because [at the time] other people were playing better.”
Richards’s lack of offensive production mirrored that of his team in the playoffs. The Rangers scored only 26 goals in 12 playoff games this spring. By comparison, Eastern Conference finalists Pittsburgh and Boston have scored 47 goals and 38 goals, respectively, in the first two rounds.
“[We] didn’t create enough offense [in the playoffs],” captain Ryan Callahan said. “We didn’t do that enough.”
Even with the addition of Rick Nash, the Rangers finished the regular season with 126 goals in 48 games, an average of 2.62 goals per game. In 46 regular season games, Richards totaled 11 goals and 23 assists for 34 points, and a plus-8 rating.
“It just wasn’t a good season,” Richards said.
And it may prove costly.
The new CBA has a clause which asserts a team will be on the hook for the remainder of a player’s contract, even if the player retires early. It is a mechanism to counteract the so-called back-diving contracts borne out of the CBA following the 2004-05 lockout. Those contracts paid players the majority of their salaries in the first few years.
Signed to a nine-year, $60 million free agent deal in July 2011, Richards has seven years and $36 million left on his deal, and is a $6.67 million cap hit through the 2019-20 season. He is scheduled to make $9 million next season.
The Rangers have $13.5 million in available cap room right now. By amnestying Richards, the Rangers would have $20.1 million in cap room, which would allow the organization to sign restricted free agents Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello to deals this summer, while freeing up money for unrestricted free agents Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi next year.
“I signed here to be a Ranger for a lot longer than a year-and-a-half,” Richards said. “So I hope to do that.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.