Despite struggling through the worst season of his 13-year NHL career, Brad Richards will be a Ranger for at least one more year.
The team will not buy out the final seven years of the center's $60-millon contract this summer, as Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather and his advisers clearly believe that the 33-year-old playmaker will rebound under new coach Alain Vigneault's style.
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But the decision, announced Friday, is risky both short-term and in the long run.
Under the collective-bargaining agreement, the special compliance buyout option remains in place for next summer, when the Rangers could cut ties with Richards and eliminate the $6.7-million annual salary-cap charge for the remaining six seasons. But injured players are ineligible to be bought out. If Richards isn't eligible next summer, the Rangers would face significant cap-recapture penalties if he retired before the end of the contract, which runs through 2019-20.
Richards' diminished play forced former coach John Tortorella to demote him from the first line to the fourth line and bench him for Games 4 and 5 against the Bruins in the playoffs.
Richards had 11 goals and 23 assists in 46 games in the lockout-shortened season, scored one goal in 10 playoff games and frequently was unable to keep up with the pace.
Richards, who did not return a call seeking comment, will be paid $9 million this year as the cap ceiling lowers from $70.2 million to $64.3 million. The decision leaves the Rangers with about $14 million to sign restricted free agents Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello, plus whichever unrestricted free agents they pursue.
"I'll be honest, I didn't feel normal all season," Richards said on breakup day. "I think I was in good shape to start the season in September, but everything was different after that . . . I've got to start over. I can control that . . . I signed here to be a Ranger longer than a year and a half and I still hope to do that."
At his introduction, Vigneault, who spoke briefly with Richards last week, called him "an outstanding individual."
In 2011-12, Richards had 25 goals and 41 assists in 82 games and added six goals and nine assists in 20 playoff games.
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