USATSI_7943110_154158418_lowresCompliance buyout season has begun in the National Hockey League and that means many teams are suddenly finding themselves with options. One such team is the New York Rangers.

They face a considerable and “difficult” decision when it comes to Brad Richards.

He has long been the subject of rumours and is presumably, if the rumours are to be believed, on the outs with management. With buyout season opening on Monday, talk about whether or not the Rangers will buy out Richards has reached a fever pitch.

“We met [Sunday] for the first time with our scouts,” head coach Alain Vigneault said. “We’re going through the process of evaluating our team. Obviously everybody knows we’ve got quite a few decisions to make. We’re just starting that process now. We’ve still got quite a bit of work to do.”

The Rangers have until June 30th to use their remaining buyouts. The CBA dictates that clubs have two “special buyout provisions” to be utilized after the 2012-2013 season and 2013-2014 season. The Blueshirts used their first on Wade Redden in January of 2013.

Richards is under contract in New York through the 2019-2020 season and his salary hits the Rangers with an annual charge of $6.67 million.

The team and coaching staff seem to want Richards around, even if others don’t. He was third on the team in scoring this past season and skated in all 82 games. In the playoffs, he had five goals and seven helpers in 25 games. In Game Four and Game Five of the Stanley Cup Final, he found himself on the fourth line – presumably in the doghouse.

But Vigneault insists that’s all part of the game.

“If you look at Brad’s overall season, he had a real good year,” said the coach. “In the Final series I don’t know if it was a combination of some other guys might have been playing better than he was, but we had some decisions to make in Game Four and Game Five…I think he should walk away from this season very pleased in how he played and how he contributed to our team.”

Whether he walks away from this season still on the payroll of the New York Rangers is, of course, another matter.