Rangers' Brad Richards looks on before a face-off against the...

Rangers' Brad Richards looks on before a face-off against the New Jersey Devils in the second period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden. (Nov. 12, 2013) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Driven by economics, the curtain fell on Brad Richards' three-year Broadway run Friday, when the final six years of his contract were bought out by the Rangers.

But the decision, which had been expected given the financial considerations presented to the front office, could end up well for both sides.

Without Richards' $6.67 million annual salary-cap charge, or the danger of a $5 million yearly hit had he retired before his deal ended, the Blueshirts now have $23.7 million under the cap ceiling to pursue a younger center via free agency (perhaps Colorado's Paul Stastny) or a trade and to re-sign some of their valuable pieces.

Richards, 34, who slowed in the latter part of the playoffs but posted 20 goals and 31 assists during the regular season, still will collect $20 million in salary and deferred bonuses over the next 12 years and as an unrestricted free agent, presumably will play at least another season in the NHL, albeit for a far lower price.

Richards was unavailable for comment on breakup day Monday but released a brief statement yesterday after the team confirmed the buyout -- the final opportunity to shed cap dollars under the CBA's amnesty program.

"Tough last few days . . . I loved being a Ranger and living in New York and playing at MSG in front of great fans," Richards said in a statement released through the team's Twitter account.

Since July 2011, when Richards signed a nine-year, $60 million contract, he scored 56 goals and had 151 points.

Though Richards was still an asset on the power play, with vision and an accurate shot, his skating has slowed and he was vulnerable defensively against swifter teams. Last season's 51 points translated to the lowest points-per-game average of his career (0.62), and the 2004 Stanley Cup winner with Tampa had just two assists in the final 10 playoff games.

"This was an extremely difficult decision to make because of how much respect I have for him," Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather said in a statement.

After being benched by former coach John Tortorella in last year's playoffs, Richards worked hard last summer to revive his game, and players admired his leadership when captain Ryan Callahan was traded to Tampa on March 5.

"We all hope he's going to be back," Derick Brassard said Monday. "When Cally left and we didn't have a captain, Richie really stepped up and he was a great player."

Nonetheless, Brassard is one of the players who presumably will benefit from the extra cap space available; he, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello and John Moore are restricted free agents who are expected to receive extensions and substantial raises.

And the team's four key unrestricted free agents -- Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle, Benoit Pouliot and Dominic Moore -- might be offered a little more to sign new deals, although Stralman and Boyle might have far higher offers elsewhere.

The Dolan family owns

controlling interests in the Rangers, Madison Square

Garden and Cablevision.

Cablevision owns Newsday.

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