Friday, July 1, 2011

As Free Agency Opens Is It Brad Richards or Bust For New York Rangers?

The 2011 NHL Free Agent market opens today at noon with all eyes on Brad Richards and where he will go.  The fact that the New York Rangers covet the 31-year-old top line center is the worst kept secret in the business.  From everything that has been said and/or reported the Rangers top priority is Richards and if they miss on him there is no real backup plan. 
The Rangers are in a position they have not been in during the past few years in that they have both the money to spend and the players to surround the big name piece in hopes of contending for a championship.  The problem for New York is that this year’s already thin free agent class keeps thinning and leaves Richards with more and more leverage to use against them.  Richards knows he is far and away the best forward on the market and that, along with the ridiculous contracts of the past few days allows him to ask for not only large dollars but obscene length to his deal.
The biggest question today for Glen Sather and the New York Rangers might not be about what they are prepared to offer Brad Richards at all.  What is actually left to be answered is: At what point they are willing to stop going higher in dollars or longer in years in the chase to win him?
The Rangers have gotten back to the place of hope for the future and a solid core by not being obsessed with the chase for the biggest names anymore, but can Sather and company avoid the temptation now that they think this unit could be on the verge if they add an “elite” piece?  Can Sather decide on a number and length Richards is worth to this organization and stick to that plan or does he risk the plan of rebuilding set in motion years ago by chasing the big fish that left the Rangers with such a dearth of their own talent?
For many the failure to secure Richards will be seen as a failure for the New York Rangers, but the biggest failure could come if they allow the craziness of this current market to drive them into a ridiculous contract there is no light at the end of tunnel to.  When you see players like Christian Ehrhoff getting 10-years you have to wonder where the Richards demands could stop.
There are only likely a few serious contenders for Richards in the market with Toronto, Tampa and likely Buffalo being amongst them.  The Rangers can certainly use the skill Richards brings to the table, but the organization must decide what the only plan they have is worth both now and down the road.  For now the plan appears to be Richards or bust and no one knows how that one will turn out.