Christmas is only 35 days away, and fans of the New York Rangers have asked Santa Claus for Brad Richards. The Blueshirts barely snuck into the playoffs this season, mainly due to their anemic offense that was always a two periods late and a goal short. They rode the back of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and a youthful defense for as long as they could, but it was not nearly enough. The team needed goals, plain and simple, or they needed passes going to someone who could get them goals, namely Marian Gab0rik, who disappeared more times than planes have gone down in the Bermuda Triangle.
Blame was placed on the offense in two directions: 1) Marian Gaborik was merely a flash in the pan, who came to Broadway, put up a 40+ goal season, got comfortable, and then went away, content with the salary he was given. He was no longer a big game player, no longer the superstar the Rangers gave a five-year/$37.5 million contract to in 2009. 2) Gaborik did not lose any skill himself, but rather, it was the fault of his teammates who could not get him the puck. Erik Christensen, Brandon Dubinsky, Vinny Prospal, and others whose names elude me at the present time all were blamed for not being a good enough set-up man.
Either way, Gaborik never had a star center in Minnesota (unless you think Pierre-Marc Bouchard is worth writing home about) but that did not stop him from putting up 42 goals in 07/08 and four other 30-goal seasons, all while never playing a full 82 games. So now, everyone is clamoring for Dallas Stars’ free agent center Brad Richards. He is going to be the answer and savior all in one shot. Why? I don’t know, you tell me.
This is where Rangers fans earn their paycheck, by going around the league every summer and seeing what players out there will instantly come here and save the day. Every season it is always a center, and while I agree that the Rangers desperately need a center (just like Christensen desperately needs a prescription for Cymbalta), I also want to make note of the high-priced free agents the Rangers have brought in over the years. Unless you are a fan of the way Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, and Wade Redden worked out, you will agree that when the Rangers throw the checkbook at somebody for how well they played in the past, it ultimately fails.
Brad Richards is a fantastic talent, don’t get me wrong. He has put up 91 points twice (Gomez put up 84 once) and has registered more than 40 assists in all but one season, which was when he was injured in 08/09. But why all of a sudden is he going to click with Gaborik and put up those points here in New York? Rangers fans have this Utopian idea in their heads more than half the time, one that includes severely over-rating our homegrown players and then automatically assuming every free agent in the world wants to play here. To go on a tangent for a second, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan will be overpaid this summer, and neither will be worth the paycheck—trust me on that. But will you take off the blinders and see it too? There is not a player in this franchise (you read correctly, not one player) who should be considered untouchable in my eyes.
Now we must look at what price Richards can be had for. He clearly deserves between $6 and 7 million, easy. The Rangers currently have just over $18 million in cap space, with Dubinsky, Callahan, Brian Boyle, Artem Anisimov, Matt Gilroy, and Michael Sauer all restricted free agents. With those players eating up well over half of that, the Rangers will then need to replace Alex Frolov, whose money thankfully comes off the books, and then must reconsider bringing one (or none) of the pair of Ruslan Fedotenko and Vinny Prospal back—they should not re-sign both. Then there are defensemen Bryan McCabe and Steve Eminger also hitting free agency, and while I like McCabe’s potential as a leader and powerplay catalyst, unless he takes around $2 million for a one-year deal, I would not bring him back. As for Eminger, I am still on the fence about whether he should be brought back, but I am inclined to think no. So now where is this money for Richards going to come from, with most of it tied up in signing the Rangers’ own players? The logical answer would be to summon the ghost of Harry Houdini and make Chris Drury disappear (or they could just banish him to the minors or buy him out), or even find a way to trade Marian Gaborik, but something tells me that would defeat the purpose of signing Brad Richards, won’t it?
What Glen Sather and the Rangers have to do is get creative though trades, which is where the GM excels anyway. I would like to see what the return could be for a Gaborik deal, and although fans would worry about dealing him, if the Rangers can finish in 8th place and have a mediocre offense with him, they can finish in 8th place and have a mediocre offense without him. The Rangers must work the phones here, and find a way to get Gaborik’s contract off the books, and get some high to medium level talent in return, and maybe even some draft picks. With that money, perhaps they can then do what everyone really wants to see, and that is poach Zach Parise from the New Jersey Devils. But I will attach a disclaimer to that: do you really see Sather doing that to his old crony Lou Lamoriello? I don’t think so.
So, the answer to the question I initially asked is “No”, Brad Richards is not the answer. Sure he would be part of it, but unless the Rangers can solve all of it, I would not tie up a large amount of money like that in a 31-year old whose best days are truly behind him. I am tired of seeing the Rangers gamble with enormous contracts, thinking they are a quick fix when all they do is handicap the team further down the road. The Rangers need a center alright, but I would rather give Michal Handzus one year at $2.5 million and throw him next to Gaborik than lock up Richards for five to six years. The free agent market is drier than the Sahara Desert when it comes to centers this summer, but that doesn’t mean the Rangers need to settle for someone just because nobody else is there.
Think I’m joking about the laughably boring free agent market this year? Just click here to see for yourself.