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Richards Steps Up Leadership, As Buyout Still Looms

Trading a popular captain is never an easy decision. You must factor in how the team will react to losing their leader and who’s going to fill that void. Which is exactly the circumstance Glen Sather was faced with at the trade deadline this season…

“Ryan was a good player. He was a great player for us for a long time,” Sather said during yesterday’s media session. “I think everyone knows the story that his contract was up and it was difficult to get anything done. So it was a good chance to get a good player like Marty. We knew that leadership internally on the team was strong. It was a bit of a chance, but it certainly worked out well.”

The Rangers decided against naming a new captain, instead going with a leadership by committee approach including Brad Richards, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. But it’s been the cagey veteran who’s taken it upon himself to become the de facto captain of the Rangers…

Dan Carcillo (via ESPN.com)…

“After Cally left, [Richards] really stepped up. He really took the reins and he’s been pulling them the hardest.”

Derek Stepan (via NHL.com)…

“If you asked Marc and Dan, the core group of leaders, they’d point to [Richards] as a guy that is our captain and the guy we lean on the most.”

When asked if there were any low points personally this season that Richards helped him through, Chris Kreider responded…

 “Every low point. Every one.”

Katie Strang at ESPN.com notes that Richards made a point to invite teammates, especially the young players without families, to his Southampton home this past weekend when the team had a pair of days off following its series-ending victory against Montreal to make sure everyone felt included.

The leadership of the organization extends further than the guys wearing an “A” as others have also taken on a larger role in the locker room…

Derick Brassard…

“(McDonagh’s) attitude is like a captain. That’s one of the biggest reasons why we’re here, there’s a lot of leadership. We don’t have a captain, but there’s a lot of guys that can speak up and a lot of guys their play speaks for them.”

Brassard also recalled a speech from Henrik Lundqvist after the Rangers were eliminated by the Bruins last postseason…

“I didn’t know anything about playoffs, it was my first time, and all the leadership guys were like, ‘That’s not where we want to be, this team has bigger and better expectations.’ I was like, ‘We won one round, that’s pretty good. We got beat by Boston — they’re a pretty good team.’ But I remember that speech and I was like, ‘OK, this organization wants to win. These players have been here a while and they want to win.’”

…i absolutely love this. Instead of the Rangers waiting on a captain to motivate, the players have developed a larger sense of self responsibility. It’s why they’ve been able to overcome two Game 7s, a 3-1 deficit, the loss of St. Louis mother as well as the Canadiens constant whining and diving.

…the leadership void left by the Callahan trade was also softened because Sather brought a captain back in return. St. Louis is one of three former NHL captains currently on the Rangers roster, which has been a key factor in the team’s postseason success.

…the Rangers are likely to face some low points in this series. But knowing they have such a strong network of leaders makes me very confident that the Blueshirts will continue to conquer any adversity that presents itself. 

There’s no greater example of the Rangers leadership by committee approach than the scene after they defeated the Canadiens to earn the Prince of Wales trophy. While Kings captain Dustin Brown accepted the Clarence Campbell Bowl on behalf of the organization, the entire Rangers team gathered around the trophy presented to the Eastern Conference champion as one unified squad.

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Unfortunately, there’s also a business side to hockey. And while Richards has won a large majority of Rangers fans back after last season’s debacle, the fact remains that his contract is an albatross.

Sather was asked about a potential buyout of Richards this summer (via ESPN.com)…

“I’ve thought about it a lot. But it’s not something that we’re thinking about right now. We’re focused on what we’re doing, what the team is doing, how we’re going to play, who we’re playing against. Certainly haven’t thought much about it lately. But that decision will come in the summer. It’s like all the decisions, we’ve got lots of free agents to sign. We’re happy with the way it is right now.”

Richards was also forced to address the 800 pound gorilla in the room as well…

“I kind of made a pact to myself. I didn’t know if it was going to come up, but it’s not fair to my teammates, the organization. There are so many more important things in the next few weeks. I won’t talk about it now. It’s not the time.”

…after what Richards has done for this team during the postseason, it almost seems criminal to discuss amnestying him. Sure, his skills are declining by the second and he has just one point in the last five games, but his contributions go well beyond his skill on the ice. Without some kind of voice in the locker room, it becomes virtually impossible to fight through some of the adversity the Rangers have endured this season. You can’t put a price tag on the positive influence Richards has had on the entire team.

…having said that, as Sather stated, the Rangers have a ton of key free agents they must sign this offseason and with $6.67M tied up into a 34-year old player for the next six years, the financially prudent move is to send Richards packing.

…similar to how the Rangers endured the loss of Callahan, the leadership foundation remains strong enough to withstand the loss of Richards voice next season. And ironically, the biggest reason Richards has become expendable is the acquisition of his good friend St. Louis. The former Tampa captain has become an important figure as well as an emotional leader. Add in McDonagh’s increasing role behind the scenes and the Rangers locker room will remain a stable and positive environment.

Kevin

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