‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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How do you make a $12 million man disappear? John Tortorella isn’t performing any magic tricks, yet New York Rangers alternate captain Brad Richards finds himself buried on the fourth line and reduced to a near-spectator as the Blueshirts stare down the possibility of a four-game sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins.
After logging 12:57 in Game 1, Richards saw his total ice time slashed to 10:34 in Game 2, and most recently was limited to just 8:10 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The only Rangers who were featured less than Richards in Game 3 were fellow fourth liners Chris Kreider (7:06) and Arron Asham (4:25). Richards received the least amount of even-strength minutes (5:58) outside of Asham’s 4:25. Had Kreider not left the game in the third period following a high stick, he would have likely surpassed Richards in total ice time.
It’s jarring, startling and hard to fathom how Richards has become a helpless passenger on the Rangers’ road to ruin, and he only has himself to blame for his undesirable situation.
To see an overawed youngster like Kreider and an ineffective grinder in Asham play minimal roles isn’t surprising, but it’s shocking to see a proven playoff point-getter in Richards riding the pine in 5-on-5 situations.
TORTORELLA PERSEVERING WITH RICHARDS ON THE POINT
What’s most surprising of all is Tortorella’s reluctance to move Richards off the point on the power play. Despite having his overall minutes slashed, Richards still logged 2:12 on the power play in Game 3.
If you’re looking for an explanation as to why the Rangers’ power play is 0-for-10 against the Bruins in round two, you needn’t look further than the man wearing No. 19. Richards’ decision-making abilities have abandoned him. He struggles to make simple passes, constantly looks weak on the puck and tends to cough it up with or without pressure from Bruins forecheckers.
CONFIDENCE ZAPPED FROM RICHARDS’ GAME
The usually assured, veteran confidence that was once a hallmark of Richards’ game has completely evaporated.
When Richards penned a nine-year, $60 million contract in July of 2011, the Rangers believed that they were getting a minimal-maintenance character whose example would rub off on youngsters. He demonstrated both veteran poise and panache in Dallas, where he served as a mentor to blossoming talents Loui Eriksson and James Neal.
Yet, in his second season in New York, Richards has been the player whose struggles are most evident despite his track record of playoff success as well as his familiarity and trust with Tortorella and his offensive system.
Richards and Tortorella spent seven years together in Tampa Bay — culminating with Richards winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Lightning lifted the Stanley Cup in 2004. During Tampa Bay’s magical run, Richards set — and still holds — the NHL record for the most game-winning goals (seven) in a single playoffs.
Back to the present day, Richards has only been able to contribute a lone goal and zero assists through 10 games during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Strikingly, Richards has only averaged 1.8 shots per game this playoffs and is an overall -3 player.
At 33, he’s become a shadow of the player who has tallied 78 points in 93 career playoff appearances.
IS AN AMNESTY BUYOUT LIKELY?
It’s no secret that the Rangers are weighing the possibility of exercising an amnesty buyout of Richards’ contract in the offseason. Doing so would make Richards’ $6,666,667 annual cap hit disappear.
Should the Rangers elect to go that route in the summer of 2013, they would owe him $1.7 million per year through the 2026-27 season. That number would shrink to $1.5 million per year should they opt to buy out Richards after the 2013-14 season.
It’s probably not the answer that disgruntled Blueshirts fans are hoping to hear, but I’m betting that Richards returns in 2013-14. The Rangers’ internal brain trust hopes that Richards will find his legs given a full training camp, and there isn’t an obvious upgrade among centers available in the 2013 free-agent class.
You can follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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