Hockey fans across the New York area sat down this morning with coffee and a copy the New York Post. As they flipped through the sports section, past coverage of early season baseball and the NBA Finals, they found themselves looking at the weekly Slapshots
column written by Rangers beat writer Larry Brooks. At first glance, the article,
featuring a picture of Brad Richards, seemed to be on the popular topic of bringing the free agent center to the Rangers. But with greater scrutiny came great despair.
The article was indeed about Brad Richards and the Rangers
But it suggested that he would not end up coming to New York.
Brooks, quoting sources, said Richards is pursuing a multi-year deal worth a minimum of $7 million per season. Now, it is not news that the best forward to hit the free agent market this summer could command that kind of contract; Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke is all but drooling over the prospect of acquiring the 31 year old and will certainly break the bank to bring him to Toronto. However, there was a distinct possibility that Richards was going to take less money, in the range of $6.5 million per year, to play in New York for Coach John Tortorella. That, according to Brooks is off the table.
Now, whether you believe the validity of Brooks’ unnamed sources or not, a new question arises. How much should the Rangers spend to acquire the services of Brad Richards? If it took a 5 year $37.5 million contract, should GM Glen Sather pull the trigger? The answer in the New York Post was a resounding no. “The Rangers,” the article reads, “are well past trying to bribe an athlete to wear their uniform.”
But it is not really that simple.
There is validity to Brooks’ argument. The Rangers have been burned in the past by handing out big contracts to players who did not perform well on Broadway. Even since the lockout, names like Gomez, Drury, and Redden have haunted the franchise; the jury is still out on Marian Gaborik, the current “big name” playing in the Garden. In a salary cap league, one big mistake can lead to years of cap hell and many mediocre seasons, which the Rangers have been experiencing for six years running. So is there risk in signing a 31 year old with a career high of 28 goals and a concussion in his past? Absolutely.
If the Rangers sign Brad Richards for $7 million or more and he does not work out for whatever reason, an era is over. The Rangers will not be able to get the pieces they need to make a run for the Stanley Cup. There will be stuck in mediocrity until the contract expires or Sather finds a way to dump it on somebody else. Even at $6.5 million per season, Brooks points out, the acquisition of Brad Richards carries some heavy risk.
But in any buying decision, there has to be an analysis of alternatives. If there were other elite centers on the market with less risk or lesser contract demands, the Rangers would have to hold back from getting Richards. But for this offseason, there is nobody else. Now, the Rangers could wait it out and hang their hopes on a 2012 free agent or a blockbuster trade, but they may not be able to get the right guy. Even if they do, the move would come with some of the same risks that signing Richards, or any large contract, does. All things equal, the Rangers need to make the key acquisition sooner than later, before the team’s backbone, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, gets too old to carry the club.
Acquiring Richards gives the Rangers a chance. It may work out, it may not. But it is a chance. If Sather, for once in his life, sits on his hands and hesitates to throw out the big bucks, they will have no chance.
The Rangers can’t win it all with the personnel they have now. Someone needs to be brought in, and it is going to cost money and carry risk. Wait for a different chance, and it will cost members of the organization in a trade. Wait for a different chance and it will cost the organization its window of opportunity.
For once, Glen, you need
to make the risky move.