With the development of Brad Richards being made a healthy scratch by the New York Rangers for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, speculation has gone into overdrive about the potential of his being a candidate for the team's final compliance buyout.
Richards was signed to a nine-year, $60 million contract prior to the 2011-12 season as an unrestricted free agent. He carries an annual average value of $6.6 million until the conclusion of the 2019-20 regular season when he will be 40 years old.
The Rangers utilized an accelerated compliance buyout prior to the 2013 season on defenseman Wade Redden, which leaves the team with one more compliance buyout to use this summer or next.
The team has a little over $51 million in salary cap space allocated to 18 players next season. Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello and Ryan McDonagh will all be restricted free agents this offseason. Trade deadline acquisition Ryane Clowe will be an unrestricted free agent, as well. With the salary cap dropping from $70.2 million to $64.3 million next season, some believe New York could look to clear space via a buyout of Richards. Realistically, given the length of Richards' contract, it could be in the franchise's best interest in the long term to part with the deal regardless of their salary cap situation next season.
In a general sense, 2013 was a bad year for Richards. He struggled in the regular season and carried that performance into the postseason. He has one goal in 10 games, was demoted to the fourth line and now is a healthy scratch in an elimination game. Whether he factors into the team's plans beyond this season remains to be seen.
However, given that New York will have the option of administering a compliance buyout over the course of the next two summers, the club could hold onto Richards for another season (given that salary cap space isn't an issue). Say they do give him a compliance this summer, and it's likely he will be re-signed fairly quickly. What's worse than giving out a big contract that doesn't work out? Giving out a big contract that doesn't work then getting rid of the player (while still paying him) and then seeing that player have a monster year for another team at a discount rate.
Of course, by holding onto him, the team runs the risk of potential injury, which would be a terrible development if they did want to use a buyout.
The situation in New York has drastically changed from last season. Entering 2013 as a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup, the Rangers now face the prospect of getting swept in the second round. With questions swirling about the future of Richards and head coach John Tortorella, it appears as though this summer will be an interesting one in New York.