GREENBURGH, N.Y. – The Rangers’ players had one of the busiest seasons any Rangers team has ever had.
Now, it’s their general manager’s turn to have the heat turned up.
There are myriad decisions for Glen Sather to ponder this offseason, not the least of which is the fate of de-facto captain Brad Richards, who stepped into the unofficial role after former captain Ryan Callahan was traded to Tampa Bay in March for Martin St. Louis.
It’s not that the Rangers want to lose Richards – to the contrary. It will hurt them to lose the center next season. But due to regulations in the collective bargaining agreement, they don’t have a choice. They all-but have to use their remaining compliance buyout on the remaining six years of his nine-year deal.
Sather has until June 30 to exercise the buyout option.
“He’s been such a big part of this team this year,” goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said of Richards. “Now, obviously, is a time when management is going to make different decisions on a lot of different things.”
Richards’ cap hit is $6.67 million through the 2019-2020 season. But if he decides to retire before his deal expires, the Rangers could be saddled with as much as $5.67 million per-season of dead cap space due to the recapture penalty. It’s not a risk the team is likely to be willing to take.
“I’m very happy with what he brought to the table,” Vigneault said, calling his veteran leader “classy.” “A veteran player that, from day one, was a real good extension of the coaching staff in that dressing room. He should walk away from this season very pleased with how he played and how he contributed to our team.”
Richards was one of a select few players that elected not to meet the media during break-up day at their practice facility in suburban Westchester County.
Brian Boyle did talk to the media, reiterating his desire to remain with the team that allowed him to resurrect his career five seasons ago.
“I’m really fortunate to be a part of it,” Boyle said. “Certain things happen that you don’t have control over, I got this opportunity five years ago to be here – we’ve come a long way.”
Boyle, 29, scored three goals this postseason, after a regular season during which he tallied six. As he enters free agency, he said he’s hoping to find a team that will give him a greater role, which Vigneault said the Rangers may not be able to provide him.
“His role on our team is a very important role,” Vigneault said of his fourth-line forward. “If he’s satisfied with having that role, I would definitely want him back. At the end of the day, players have to decide if they’re satisfied with what he’s being given. His 12-to-14 minutes that he’s being given are huge minutes. Some players don’t see it, but they’re huge minutes to teams having success. I hope he sees that.”
“Obviously, things always change in the summer,” said Dominic Moore, another of the team’s six unrestricted free agents. “One way or the other, this group will look different than it was this year.”
“I said it all along, I was blessed to be a part of it,” Boyle said. “It’s something I’m very, very thankful for. Just to be able to go to work with such close friends every day and be successful to some extent, there’s nothing more you can ask for.”
One of the reasons the Rangers advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Final was their depth on defense, which could be tested if Anton Stralman, a waiver-wire pickup in 2011, earns the kind of money he’s expected to when he tests free agency next month. After making $1.6 million in each of the last two seasons, he could be due a substantial raise.
“The only thing in my mind, really, is security for me and my family,” Stralman said. “We’ve been moving a lot, and we’ve been doing four teams in seven years, now. All we’re really looking for is stability. We want to stay in one place. This is, obviously, where we want. We’d like to stay. I hope it’s going to happen.”
The decisions Sather has to make haven’t dampened the dismay the players still feel over Friday’s elimination. If Ryan McDonagh’s overtime shot in Game 5 hadn’t hit the post, if Rick Nash’s attempt in double-overtime hadn’t been deflected away by Slava Voynov, the team would have been preparing for Game 6 Monday night at Madison Square Garden, instead of cleaning out its lockers in Westchester.
Instead, about one hour after the Rangers’ media availability wrapped up, the parade to honor the Los Angeles Kings had started. Just over 2,800 miles from that celebration, the compressor was being turned off, sticks and pucks packed away for the summer.
“It’s a tough one to handle right now,” said Nash, who scored just three goals in the team’s 25 postseason games. “You work all season, and you work all playoffs to get there, and you can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s right there. To get it taken away from you is pretty tough.”
“We had a lot of confidence, a lot of belief in each other,” said McDonagh, who’s the favorite to be named the 28th captain in franchise history when they reconvene. “At any point in the L.A. series, we felt were going to turn it around and make it happen. But, we didn’t. It’s pretty shocking, a pretty devastating feeling.”
“Eventually you have to stop,” Lundqvist said when asked how long he’ll be thinking about the unsatisfying end to the season. “You still think about it. You still think about every game. ‘What happened? Why did it go that way?’ It’s going to be that way for a couple more weeks. It’s always like that when the season is over. You keep thinking about different things, and you try to learn from it. After a while, you kind of move on.”
INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM AT BREAK-UP DAY