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Brad Richards has been bought out of his Rangers contract

Rangers' Brad Richards looks on before a face-off

Rangers' Brad Richards looks on before a face-off against the New Jersey Devils in the second period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden. (Nov. 12, 2013) Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Brad Richards' three-year stay with the Rangers is over.

The Rangers bought out the remaining six years of the veteran center's contract, the team confirmed Friday.

It was a business decision for Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather, who had little choice but to use his second and final compliance buyout on Richards, who had six years left on his deal and a $6.67 million annual cap hit.

The Rangers now are approximately $23.7 million under the salary cap and have flexibility to sign some of their own unrestricted and restricted free agents, as well as pursue a center to replace Richards, 34, who had 20 goals and 51 points this season.

Richards, who now becomes a free agent, had 12 points in the playoffs, but just two in his last 10 games and was demoted to the fourth line in Games 4 and 5 against the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final. He was in a similar situation in last year's playoffs, after a disappointing regular season.

This spring, he became the de facto captain when Ryan Callahan was traded on March 5, and teammates on breakup day Monday said they would miss him if he did not return.

Richards, who signed a nine-year, $60 million contract on July 2, 2011, is owed $8 million in signing bonuses, plus $12.6 million in salary. But with the buyout, the Rangers avoid the NHL's cap recapture clause which penalized teams who has dished out previously-negotiated, frontloaded contracts prior to the new collective-bargaining agreement.

If Richards were to retire before his contract ends in 2020, it still would have cost them more than $5 million in cap hits each season.

"Brad's an experienced guy that knows we've got some decisions to make," head coach Alain Vigneault said on breakup day. "They're not easy, we're looking at different things. He's going to be a pro, and he's going to wait until we make up our minds."

Richards did not meet the media after his conversation with Vigneault.

"I'm very happy with what he brought to the table," Vigneault said. "He's a veteran player who from day one was a real good extension of the coaching staff in that dressing room. I think he should walk away from this season very pleased with how he played and contributed to our team."

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