Dear New York: Blame Yourself, Not Brad Richards

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by Puck

Hockey Correspondent and Occasional Shakespeare Character, White Cover Magazine

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It’s easy to blame the star player, especially one like Brad Richards.

He’s as quiet off the ice as he is graceful on it. Insulting him is like insulting a Unicorn, a White Whale, or some other mystical creature you’re aware of but will surely never meet. The 2013 season, though, was a tough one. Richards really did almost nothing for New York in this shortened year, with the exception of a pretty good points tear to end the regular season that was hardly processed or noticed by the rest of the league – a league that was still fixated on how ineffective and limp he was for the rest of it. (Richards ended up with 34 points in 46 games, which really isn’t that bad. At all.)

“I didn’t feel normal all season,” he told the Zoo York media circus on Monday. “Obviously, there was something missing.”

Brad Richards is from P.E.I., meaning he’s already a local boy done good even if he doesn’t win another Stanley Cup. But, just in case there’s any debate over how good he’s made, he’ll pull in $60 million over nine years by the time this current contract of his is done. That’s a lot of money, and that must be where most of the animosity directed at him comes from. He was also a healthy scratch for Games 4 and 5, something that you might think is insane for any other former Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

(It can’t be lost on anyone’s mind that Richard’s current coach, John Tortorella, is the same coach (John Tortorella) who won the Stanley Cup with then-playoff MVP Richards in 2004, in Tampa Bay. There are layers to this thing, guys.)

Richards only had one goal in 10 playoff games, which sounds lame until you realize that Jonathan Toews currently only has one goal through 11 games.

Now, Richards is more likely to be a buy-out than a contributor going forward, even as his teammate Rick Nash slumped to a disastrous two playoff rounds against Washington and Boston (seriously, have you ever had such a hard time picking out someone who’s so tall?) and one-time budding star Carl Hagelin had as many giveaways as The Brick.

I feel for Brad Richards, as much as I can feel for anyone who’s a professional hockey player. Richards is a patient player. He’s a playmaker and a distributor of the puck. Other players of his ilk – Henrik Sedin, Nicklas Backstrom, Joe Thornton – also waffle through extreme reputation-al ups and downs in every postseason. If the team doesn’t win, they’ll take all the blame because they don’t jump out at you. But, when they win, it’s suddenly a game of “What have you done for me lately?”

Richards is not the sizzle. He’s the steak.

“I realize that once a player signs a big contract, he’ll rarely ever be the golden boy again in the eyes of the spectator,” wrote Hockey Night in Canada host Ron McLean. “In the new salary cap world, the players look around the room at the big money makers and question whether that player’s cap slice is costing the club.

“But for Tortorella not to respect what Brad has done reminds me of a thoughtless Mike Keenan publicly ripping Wayne Gretzky in 1996, when the Detroit Red Wings beat the St. Louis Blues. Mike had his 1994 Cup ring (with the Rangers) and forgot it was the players who had secured it. Mike later apologized to Gretzky, but the damage was done and Wayne later signed with New York.

“You cannot do that to players in the crosshairs the way Wayne was then and Brad is now. It’s horrible to strip a player of such character of his dignity in public. New York has made it a bad habit. Wade Redden was so well thought of in Ottawa, the Senators chose Wade over Zdeno Chara. I feel the same way about Redden. He was thrown out.”

Oh, right… New York.

Isn’t this the same franchise that originally signed Scott Gomez to that seven-year, $51.5 million contract in 2007? Didn’t they sign the aforementioned Redden to a six-year, $39 million deal in 2008? They also just traded for Rick Nash – from Columbus – who came with an eight-year, $62.4 million contract through 2018, too, didn’t they?

Ditto for Bobby Holik, who joined the Blueshirts for $45 million of five years in 2002. Michael Rozsival (who’s now in the second round with the Chicago Blackhawks) joined New York for $20 million over four years in 2008. Chris Drury in 2007, for $35.5 million and five years.

On the scale of “How bad are these New York business deals?”, the combination of all these Ranger contracts put together is somewhere in between anything involving Bernie Madoff and the “New Amsterdam” deal that saw the area’s Native Americans sell Manhattan for $1,000 in 1626.

Let’s face it: this isn’t Brad Richards’s problem. It’s New York’s. It’s Glen Sather’s.

It’s the thoughtless way with which this franchise and its personnel toss around way too much dough over way too many years (which is the real straw to break the back, not the money) to players who could never possibly live up to anything close to the percentage of the Rangers’ salary cap they’re already hogging.

Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, and Maurice Richard.

There, I just gave you perhaps the only five players in NHL history to which money can’t simply cover their value. The rest? They’re just players, and they’re all playing the same game. They’re all playing Glen Sather’s game.

When the NHL’s cap drops down to $64.3 million this offseason (a far fall from the $70.2 million it’s at right now), the 33-year-old Brad Richards will account for over 10.1 per cent of the Rangers’ budget. They still need 20 more guys.

Rick Nash takes up an additional 12.1 per cent and Henrik Lundqvist – the only guy in Manhattan who’s actually worth his cheque – is relatively cheap at 10.7 per cent of New York’s total payroll.

Richards is the odd man out, as he’s always been. He’s was exiled from Tampa while Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis stayed. He was moved out of Dallas, too, although it’s scary to think how much damage he could have done in 2013 with Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson.

Brad Richards may be overpaid, but he’s just a soldier who signs the dotted line.

The Rangers are their own worst enemy, and they always have been.