The window for teams to exercise any remaining compliance buyouts will slam shut this summer. For the most part, the logical candidates for NHL’s version of an amnesty clause have all been laid to rest. Tampa Bay sent Vincent Lecavalier packing, Philadelphia set themselves free of commitments to Danny Briere and Ilya Bryzgalov, and the Toronto Maple Leafs got it right with Mike Komisarek and left some scratching their heads with the decision to severe ties with Mikhail Grabovski.
As the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings prepare to meet in the Stanley Cup Final, one storyline simmering under the surface is the uncertain future of a pair of men named Richards.
The compliance buyout avenue was introduced to help teams recover from poor financial decisions, sudden decline, and/or escape the pains of being levied with salary cap recapture penalties down the road. Here’s a look at two players who continue to be mentioned in compliance buyout conversations, all the while preparing to play for the greatest trophy in sports.
Exhibit A: Brad Richards
Brad Richards’ tenure in New York with the Rangers hardly got off the start that Glen Sather had in mind when he inked the then 31-year old center to a nine-year, $60 million contract in the summer of 2011. Despite production that failed to meet expectations, the Rangers have been a postseason fixture since Richards’ arrival. Richards struggled under former head coach John Tortorella, but he managed to escape the long arm of the compliance buyout last summer.
The Rangers have one compliance buyout remaining, and coming into this season Richards appeared to be the only candidate worthy of serious consideration to be paid to go away.
Enter: Alain Vigneault.
Richards isn’t likely to top 90-points again in his career, but he’s still a legitimate top-six forward in the NHL. He has found a home in Vigneault’s system and he’s been rewarded with the confidence of his head coach. Still, a cap-hit north of $6.6 million is a lot to swallow for the next six seasons.
While Richards has recorded 11 points in 20 postseason games, he’s taking a beating in terms of possession totals. His situation becomes a little more troubling when you dive in and take a look at his usage under Vigneault, too. Vigneault has set up Richards to succeed in offensive situations, but the former Conn Smythe winner continues to operate as a one-way door for pucks going the other way.
Cutting ties with Richards might not be the easiest thing to sell to fans if the Rangers win the Stanley Cup, but he is a case study of sorts for the implementation of the compliance buyout. Maybe the Rangers missed their window to send Richards packing for unrestricted free agency, then again, maybe doing so would have cost them a shot at landing Martin St. Louis and a trip to the Cup Final.
Exhibit B: Mike Richards
It wasn’t all that long ago when Mike Richards’ $5.75 million cap-hit looked like a long-term bargain for the Los Angeles Kings. Once freely associated with leadership, two-way play, speed, and The Canadian Way, Mike Richards has found himself in more of a fourth line role and pinned to the bench in many close game situations as of late.
Richards isn’t much of a producer in 5v5 situations anymore, and his power play totals have taken a trip south to boot. Some observers will tell you he’s lost a step, or that he can’t be an effective physical player anymore… whatever the case, he no longer appears to be a top-six offensive talent.
The Kings have yet to use a compliance buyout, and Richards seems to be the most logical candidate to hit the market and double up on paychecks this summer. Richards has six years left on his current deal, but we could very well be looking at his final days in Los Angeles.
Could the Rangers exercise their final compliance buyout on Brad Richards regardless of the Stanley Cup Final result? Their best option would be to say goodbye. Hanging on to Richards until his 40 would continue to sting, even more so than his worst stretches over the past three seasons. Even early retirement would cause a near $6 million dent in the Rangers salary cap. He stays if they win, walks if they lose. Flags fly forever.
Anything short of a Stanley Cup winning goal should likely spell the end of Mike Richards in Los Angeles. At 29-years old it’s hard to believe that Richards is done as a top-end talent. He’s not a big guy and he’s taken a beating over the years. Maybe a fresh start without top-end dollars attached to his name would serve him well. He stands a shot at two Stanley Cups in three seasons, which would make for a far nicer departure gift than the Dry Island legend he left Philadelphia with.
Feature photo courtesy of Reuters