NEW YORK (AP) — The Rangers bought out the contract of veteran forward Brad Richards on Friday, creating much-needed salary-cap space and parting ways with New York’s de facto captain one week after the club was eliminated from the Stanley Cup finals.
Both the Rangers and Richards’ agent, Pat Morris, confirmed the move.
“Tough last few days,” Richards said in a statement released by the team. “I loved being a Ranger and living in New York and playing at MSG in front of great fans. I’ve met many new friends, excellent teammates and staff, and I have memories that I will cherish for a lifetime.
“(General manager) Glen Sather, the management and owner, Mr. Dolan, are all class acts. I want to thank them for letting me be a part of New York life and the Rangers family. With this decision finalized, I can now look forward to starting the next chapter in my career.”
The 34-year-old Richards had six years remaining on the nine-year, $60 million deal he signed in 2011, and this move will remove his $6.67 million salary-cap charge. He will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Richards will receive two-thirds of the remaining money to be paid out over 12 years — a total of $12.6 million.
Richards will also be paid $8 million in signing bonuses over the next three seasons. He didn’t have to clear waivers before the buyout because his contract had a no-movement clause.
The Rangers used their second and final compliance buyout on Richards after using the first on former defenseman Wade Redden last year. They had to be used before July 1.
“We would like to thank Brad for everything he has done for our team on and off the ice during his time here,” Sather said in a statement. “This was an extremely difficult decision to make because of how much respect I have for him.
“Brad’s leadership and guidance for our young players was invaluable to the organization. We are grateful to have had the professionalism and experience he brought as an example for our team to follow. Brad has been a very good player for us and an even better person. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”
New York has numerous unrestricted and restricted free agents this summer, and will need as much cap space as possible to bring back key players and perhaps add others on the market.
“We’re going to work on putting a good team on the ice, but every year is different,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said Monday when the Rangers cleaned out their lockers. “Next year’s team is going to be different, and you’ve got to go through the same process. It’s going to be a challenge to make the playoffs, and then you take it one series at a time.”
Richards was demoted to the fourth line in the finals against Los Angeles.
“I am a big fan of Brad Richards,” Vigneault said. “He is a classy, classy individual. If you look at Brad’s overall season he had a real good year.
“I am very happy with what he brought to the table. A veteran player from Day One that was a real good extension of the coaching staff in the dressing room. He should walk away from this season very pleased with how he played and how he contributed to our team.”
Richards had 20 goals and 31 assists in 82 games this season — the lowest point-per-game average of his career — and added five goals and seven assists in New York’s 25 postseason games. He had only one assist in the five-game finals loss to the Kings.
Richards took on a bigger leadership role after captain Ryan Callahan was traded to Tampa Bay for St. Louis in March. His voice carried in the room even as his play declined as the playoff run got deeper.
In 210 regular-season games with the Rangers, Richards had 56 goals and 95 assists. He was benched in last year’s postseason by former coach John Tortorella during New York’s second-round loss to Boston.
Richards earned his contract when he hit the free-agent market after having 28 goals and 77 points during the 2010-11 season with Dallas.
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