Brad Richards looks to pass in the third period of...

Brad Richards looks to pass in the third period of a game against the Philadelphia Flyers. (Jan. 24, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- For NHL teams, July is a time to look ahead, not behind, but Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather said Wednesday that Brad Richards' career and the front office's belief that the veteran center can rebound led to the decision not to buy out the final seven years of Richards' $60-million contract.

"There were lots of factors," Sather said in his first remarks since the decision was made last week. "He's been a good player. He had an off-year and we think he'll be much better next year. That's probably the deciding factor."

With the opening of the free agent market at noon tomorrow, and having Richards and his $6.67 million salary cap charge on the books, the Blueshirts are left with about $14 million to spend, most of which is needed to sign five of their restricted free agents: Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, Mats Zuccarello, and Justin Falk. Combined, their salary cap hit in 2012-13 was about $4.75 million. The number this season is expected to be closer to $12 million.

Richards can still be bought out next summer, but the Rangers, handcuffed without shedding salaries in a trade, are expected to be fairly quiet, at least on the first day, when the most expensive free agents are traditionally signed. "There's some options, it depends what's available,'' Sather said. "We have lots of good kids coming and I don't want to shut the door on them."

The Rangers, like many teams, could use some size on the wings and an experienced defenseman, and Sather believes a range of players will be available beyond the top tier. "There's a lot of guys around this year," he said. "The cap has dropped and people are making changes and signing kids, and you want to give them a chance. You don't want to eliminate anybody that's good enough to play."

Teams can exceed the $64.3 million cap by 10 percent during the summer, but must be compliant by the season opener.

The Rangers also officially announced that assistant coaches Ulf Samuelsson and Scott Arniel, as reported Tuesday, were in the fold, and another assistant could be added, Sather said. "We still have some irons in the fire," he said.

Samuelsson, a tough defenseman for the Penguins and Rangers who was head coach of MoDo in Sweden and an assistant for six years in Phoenix, favors less shot-blocking than in the John Tortorella regime, which demanded it.

Asked yesterdayWednesdayNotes & quotes: Discussions between Sather and Henrik Lundqvist's agent, Don Meehan, are continuing on a long-term contract extension for the goaltender, who was named a second-team All-Star.

The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Rangers, Madison

Square Garden and Cablevision.

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