NHL teams can begin speaking to free agents as of 12:01am Wednesday morning under the provision that players are unable to sign deals unto 12:00pm Friday afternoon. As far as the New York Rangers are concerned, they will be taking more of a New York Mets approach rather than a New York Yankees approach (which is also the New York Rangers approach). In other words, the Blueshirts will not be diving into the deep end of the pool – heck I am not even sure they will be in the shallow end of the pool either. They just might be doing some dumpster diving looking to get inexpensive pieces to help build organizational depth.

That was the aim behind the acquisitions of defensemen Justin Falk and Danny Syvret and the eventual departure of Ryane Clowe as an UFA. It will probably be the way the Rangers continue their summer run up to the beginning of the Alain Vigneault Era.

While the Rangers are not in NHL salary cap hell, they are in the vicinity with all of the RFA contracts they have to settle. They submitted qualifying offers to RFAs Falk, Carl Hagelin, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, and Mats Zuccarello. As steep a task as that it is, next year is even more crucial and crazy with the Rangers needing to make decisions on UFAs-to-be Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi, Henrik Lundqvist, and Anton Stralman – and RFAs-to-be Derick Brassard, Michael Del Zotto, Chris Kreider, and John Moore.

That is what makes President/GM Glen Sather’s decision not to use his second amnesty buyout on Brad Richards even more puzzling. Setting aside Richards’ subpar performance, the Rangers can use the $6.67 million the team would have saved from buying out Richards just to re-sign their own players – never mind going after big-time free agents.

This is not a personal vendetta. It is, as Michael Corleone said, strictly business. The Rangers run two risks by not buying out Richards. The first is they lose flexibility now moving forward. While they should be able to keep their own RFAs and possibly sign a couple of “low-hanging” fruit type players, they are not going to be able to make too many major changes other than banking on Vigneault working some magic.

“The only hope (for the Rangers) to give themselves any flexibility to change their roster is by buying (Richards) out, so that’s what makes me think that they would,” former Rangers President/GM Neil Smith explained to Pat Leonard of the Daily News in a telephone interview.

“I don’t know whether they should or not. That’s up to them. But the logic behind that would be freeing the money – obviously the team had some deficiencies – and to shore up those deficiencies and make the team better. It’s their only card to play. If they don’t play that card, that’s fine, but they go in next year with the same roster.”

Of course, the Rangers still do have the option of exercising their second buyout after the 2013-2014 season. However, that is where the Rangers encounter the second major problem of not buying B-Rich out.

If Richards suffers from an injury that is not healed by June 30, 2014 and/or would require post-season surgery, the Blueshirts would be unable to buy Richards out and then would face the wrath of his onerous contract. Remember, the Rangers signed that contract prior to the new CBA – and that new agreement does not look kindly on teams trying to get around the salary cap. The Blueshirts would not be able to bury Richards’ contract in the minors like they did with Wade Redden’s deal.

I am not an expert on the NHL’s salary cap, I do not play one on television, nor did I stay in a Holiday Inn Express. As a result, I turn to Pat Leonard to explain why the Rangers are just delaying the inevitable in terms of buying Richards out.

“Still, the new ‘Cap Advantage Recapture’ clause in the NHL’s and NHLPA’s new collective bargaining agreement likely will force the Rangers to buy out Richards’ contract in the summer of 2014 regardless of how he performs,” Leonard wrote in the Daily News.

“The “CAR” clause seeks to penalize teams for doling out massive, frontloaded contracts under the previous CBA. It forces teams who have signed a player to a frontloaded contract to absorb that player’s remaining cap hit for the remainder of his original term in the event he retires early.”

So why would the Rangers run the risk, even if it were ever so small, and not go the amnesty route?

The easiest answer is that they believe Vigneault’s new system will breathe new life into Richards. The Blueshirts see last season as an aberration rather than the rule.

In a way, the Rangers might be correct. I have the feeling that Richards was never in the proper mental mindset or physical condition to jump back into the NHL following the lockout. The harder he tried to get things going, the further down he fell – the quicksand analogy that Keanu Reeves’ character (Shane Falco) referred to in the movie The Replacements.

Richards made mention to things possibly not being right in a couple of conversations he had with Larry Brooks of the NY Post.

At the end of June when rumors were swirling that Richards was facing his last days as a Ranger, he told the NY Post in an e-mail that “Things will be better next year wherever I am.”

Prior to that response to Brooks, Richards hinted at some possible trouble – what exactly it was is not clear.

“I didn’t feel normal all season,” Richards told Brooks on breakup day. “There are a thousand things it could have been, but I’m not going to dwell on that now.”

Was it John Tortorella’s act wearing thin? Was it an injury? Was it Richards admitting he was not properly focused to play the season? We may never know, but obviously it is something that Rangers management believes he can overcome.

Of course, I wouldn’t be a Rangers fan if there wasn’t a more cynical explanation to it all.

Glen Sather is going to be turning 70-years-old on September 2 and he is a little more than three months removed from prostate cancer surgery. Let’s face it; he is facing his own mortality. Contrary to the blustery comments he made when he ran the Oilers how he could win championships with the Rangers financing behind him, all Slats has brought to New York is one division title is 13 years. It has been 23 years since he last won the Stanley Cup. It is also the reason why he fired Tortorella and made the safe coaching hire rather than think out of the box.

Sather desperately wants one final Stanley Cup championship so that he can retire on top. He believes that the best chance he has at winning is to keep Richards on the roster – no matter the cost to the Blueshirts future. Face it, if the Richards non-buyout proves to be the wrong move, Sather will be long gone and the job of cleaning up Sather’s mess will belong to Jeff Gorton or whoever replaces Slats.

As a result, the Rangers stand like the little kid with his nose pressed against the candy store window – dreaming of what could be. The odds are stacked against the Rangers because their maneuverability is limited. If they did indeed exercise the amnesty buyout, the Rangers would have had some leeway in terms of free agency – especially with the market being buoyed by other amnesty buyouts.

Even if the Rangers decided not to get too involved in free agency, they would have the cap space to make trades with teams looking to dump salaries but not wanting (or able) to use their amnesty buyouts.

The Brad Richards Saga is a case of the franchise being penny-wise and pound-foolish.

UPDATE: Katie Strang of ESPN tweeted that Scott Arniel will be joining Alain Vigneault’s staff as an assistant coach (along with Ulf Samuelsson). It will be interesting to see how Arniel and Derick Brassard get along on Broadway because the two had their moments when they were both in Columbus.

While it seems that Brassard took the high road, his agent did not. Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Disptach wrote that Allen Walsh went on the offensive after Brassard had been a healthy scratch for seven of 10 games. On December 1 2011, Portzline offered the following missive from Brassard’s agent:

“While I have tremendous respect for (general manager) Scott Howson and the rest of Columbus’ management team, the situation regarding Derick Brassard has become untenable. The coach has a history of burying players and using them as scapegoats to mask his own lack of success on the ice. Derick has been singled out, almost from the very beginning of the season, to be the fall guy in case things don’t go well. The Columbus organization cares about Derick and has been good to him, but at some point, one has to say, enough is enough.”

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