Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Do Short-Term Gains Outweigh Long-Term Risks In Signing Richards?

There are only three more days until free agency begins in the NHL and with it the seemingly inevitable marriage of Brad Richards and the New York Rangers will undoubtedly commence.  The level of assumption it will happen has gotten to the point that Daze Lozo of NHL.com described the Rangers and Brad Richards signing saying, “With July 1 just days away, it seems there are only three things in life that are guaranteed -- death, taxes and Brad Richards signing a lucrative free-agent contract with the New York Rangers."
The reason the confidence is growing in the inevitability of Richards to New York is the lack of teams capable of meeting his demands keeps dwindling.  After acquiring Mike Richards, the Los Angeles Kings are thought to be out of the running.  The Tampa Bay Lightning, likely Richards preferred destination, have to worry about signing Steven Stamkos before they ever get to Richards.  There is also the issue of what kind of money could be left once Stamkos is signed.  That leaves the Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs as the main competitors for Richards.  There is no doubt that Brian Burke will throw everything he can at Richards to either win him or drive the price for the Rangers upwards.  There is also no doubt that Brad Richards on the Rangers makes them a better team next season.  The question that is not being asked enough is whether the short-term gain of Richards outweighs the long-term risk? 
The question is taken off the table for the most part if the contract is five years or less, but there appears to be no intention on Richards part than to get a deal to end his career.  If the deal is of the 7+ season variety, then there are numerous negatives that have to be considered for the long-term.  The most obvious issue is the erosion of skill that Richards is likely to see 3-4 years into the deal where he is being paid for the player he is, and production he provides today while at a decreased level.  Next would be the fact that even with Richards the Rangers are likely not a championship contender this coming season because the majority of the team is still 2-3 years away from being contending players.  When the rest of the team catches up to where Richards is today, Richards will likely have begun and erosion of his level of play.
Adding to the negatives of a career deal this summer for Richards is concern about what will happen with the next collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) in terms of the salary cap which has to come down.  Locking in Richards for a significant term at large dollars could cause the Rangers to be back in salary cap issues because of the limited flexibility they might end up with under this inflated salary cap.
For many, all of those risks are worth it to take the gamble at wining a Stanley Cup during his tenure in New York.  If Richards can actually bring Marian Gaborik back to the form he played at during the 2009-10 season while maintaining his own level, then the Rangers become more serious threats to win a championship.  Even with those two things panning out perfectly the Rangers are going to need all those who had career years to repeat that and many of the young players to take another step forward in their development.  Will all those pieces fall in place in the short-term to make those long term risks worth it?  Highly unlikely.
Worse than the discussion of whether the Rangers should or shouldn’t get Richards is the idea that they must get him because there is no one else and they have to have someone this summer.  It is easy to make the straw man argument that Richards is the best of the options because he costs only money, but that does not inherently make giving him the 8 year deal that some are reporting he wants is a good idea.  The Rangers have changed the way they conduct business over the past few years in avoiding big name free agents, mainly from lack of money, and giving young players a chance to take on significant roles.  There is nothing that requires reverting back from this model which is giving more hope than in recent memory to that which saw the Rangers trying to buy the big names in hopes of huge returns, only to come up short.  Richards is definitely better than Gomez, Drury, Holik and those other overpaid New York Ranger free agent signings, but that doesn’t mean he won’t erode long term nor does it mean his addition makes this team capable of winning a title in the short term.
It appears that Glen Sather and company are going to revert back to the past and pay the man what he wants to come to New York, which will end up a mistake because the long-term risks outweigh the actually short-term gains.  The inevitability of Richards ending up in New York seems overwhelming at this point, but that does not mean it is the right move for a franchise that has come so far by curbing their obsession with the big name buy.