EL SEGUNDO, CA — One of the newest members of the Los Angeles Kings, 26-year-old center Mike Richards, took some time out from home shopping here in the Los Angeles area to meet the local media, and to don his new team’s jersey for the first time.
Richards was acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers, along with center prospect Rob Bordson, in exchange for right wing Wayne Simmonds, center prospect Brayden Schenn, and a second round pick in the 2012 draft.
According to various media outlets, Bordson, 23, was a “throw in,” as the Flyers were at the maximum number of contracts. He would have become a restricted free agent on July 1 if the Kings made him a qualifying offer. However, as expected, the Kings did not do so, making Bordson an unrestricted free agent.
Richards, 26, scored 23 goals and added 43 assists for 66 points with a +11 plus/minus rating and 62 penalty minutes in 81 regular season games this season.
In eleven playoff games this season, 5-11, 195-pound native of Kenora, Ontario scored a goal and tallied six assists for seven points with 15 penalty minutes.
Richards, who served as the Flyers’ captain for the past three seasons, is signed through the 2019-20 National Hockey League season, with an annual salary cap hit of $5.75 million (the contract also includes a no movement clause that goes into effect on July 1, 2012). He has averaged 28 goals, 42 assists and 70 points over the last four seasons while playing in an average of 78 regular season games per year.
During that span, Richards played in 57 playoff games, scoring 16 goals and adding 33 assists for 49 points, with his best post-season performance coming in 2009-10, when he helped lead the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals with seven goals and 16 assists for 23 points in 23 games.
In 453 NHL regular season games, all with the Flyers, Richards has scored 133 goals and has contributed 216 assists for 349 points, while racking up 397 penalty minutes.
In 63 playoffs games, Richards has scored 16 goals and has added 34 assists for 50 points with 49 penalty minutes.
Richards was selected by the Flyers in the first round (24th overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
In international play, Richards helped lead Canada to the Gold Medal during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, scoring two goals and tallying three assists for five points with a +5 rating in seven games.
Richards has been in town since Sunday night (July 24).
“It’s been a little bit of a whirlwind, the last month-and-a-half, trying to get set up, saying good-bye to a lot of people in Philadelphia, and being welcomed by a lot of people in LA,” he said. “I look forward to starting the season here with LA. This is great, but the big thing is going to be on the ice. I’m looking forward to starting a new chapter in my life, and in my hockey career, in LA.”
As former Flyers teammate, and now current Kings teammate Simon Gagne mentioned, familiarity with the coaching staff and front office should help ease Richards’ transition.
“I think it’s going to be a lot easier with [assistant coach] John [Stevens], [head coach Terry Murray] Murph, [President/General Manager] Dean [Lombardi] and [assistant general manager Ron Hextall] Hexy upstairs,” said Richards, noting that all worked with the Flyers while he was there. “With the coaching staff, it’s always easier coming in when you know the system, not have to learn the X’s and O’s, and focus on learning who you’re playing with, what you’ve got to do, and what your expectations are, from a team standpoint, and from a personal standpoint.”
“When you don’t have to learn the system, it makes things a lot easier going through training camp when you’re not thinking as much on the ice, maybe, as you normally would if you’re worried about where you are,” added Richards. “You can play instead of asking questions. That’s going to be the biggest thing that’s going to help me get adjusted to LA. Obviously, you have to build chemistry with your teammates, so that’s something that I’ll try to get together early—we’ll get to know each other on and off the ice.”
Indeed, Richards has a lot of experience under both Murray and Stevens.
“John and I got along extremely well when I played for him,” he noted. “He was the assistant coach, and then the head coach. I always got along well with him as the captain, so we had constant discussions about what was going on.”
“Terry—I had him for three or four years at the beginning of my career, so he helped me out in a lot of different ways,” he added. “He ran the penalty-kill, so that’s going to be something I can draw from there, too. I know what he expects, and I know what I expect with that as well.”
Reuniting with Gagne should also help Richards adjust to his new digs.
“Simon and I have had a lot of great years in Philadelphia,” Richards reminisced. “We played together, and had a lot of great chemistry. I think our games suit each other.”
“When I heard he was coming to LA, I got excited,” Richards added. “I think that’s going to help me out as well, not only with the coaching staff, but having a familiar guy on the ice who I’m used to playing with and have had success with.”
With Anze Kopitar and Richards, the Kings have a one-two punch down the middle that they have not had since Wayne Gretzky and Bernie Nicholls held the top center spots on the 1988-89 and 1989-90 teams. But even during those seasons, Nicholls often found himself playing on Gretzky’s right side instead of centering the second line, and even then, he was traded a little over halfway through the 1989-90 season.
“It’s a different look, it’s clearly a 1-1A punch, and with [center Jarret] Stoll there, it’s a pretty good middle,” said Lombardi. “The back end and strength down the middle is still a priority.”
That one-two, or 1-1A, punch down the middle should give the Kings’ anemic offense and, especially, their power play, a sorely needed boost heading into the 2011-12 season, and Richards’ versatility with the man advantage should prove useful.
“A couple of years ago, I was on the point,” he said. “I played two years at the point on the power play, and had success there. Last year, I played on the half-wall, too. I actually feel comfortable in both spots. I played the half-wall in junior, and my first couple of years in the NHL. We also had a lot of success when I was on the point and Danny Briere worked the half-wall.”
“Power play is just getting familiar with who you’re playing with, and everybody being on the same page,” he added. “That’s the biggest thing we have to get going right away. If you can do that, if [everyone] knows where [their teammates] are [on the ice], it makes things that much easier.”
“It’s not going to click right away. It’s going to take time to learn how to play with somebody, but we have the right tools in place that it could be a good thing.”
Adding Richards and Gagne to the mix is expected to move the Kings into contention for the Pacific Division title, perhaps beyond that, as well.
“This team, if you look at it on paper, there’s a lot of great, young players, and exciting, young players to be around,” said Richards. “With the forwards we have, a couple of great defensemen, two, good, solid goaltenders that play the game extremely hard and are very competitive. When you have that depth—four good lines that you can put on the ice against anybody—I think that sets you up to have success with not having to worry about matchups. Everybody plays on both sides of the puck.”
“I think that’s a big thing,” added Richards. “You’re not juggling lines as much to match up against the other team’s top lines. You can feel comfortable putting whoever out on the ice against whichever line, and let the [opposing team] worry about the confusion there.”
“I’m definitely happy, and I know our whole team’s happy,” said Stoll. “Other guys on other teams are talking to me about how exciting we look as a team, on paper, and they’re not even on our club. It’s good, but it’s still on paper. You win games on the ice, and on how you come together and find that chemistry. We’re all fired to get training camp going and find that chemistry.”
Despite the high expectations, Richards is not feeling the pressure to be the one to lead the Kings to the Promised Land.
“I don’t feel [the] pressure,” he stressed. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well. I’m not going to come in here and try to be something that I’m not, I’m not going to try to do things that I’m not used to doing. I’m going to come in here and play my game, and try to be another piece of the puzzle and try to move this team in the right direction.”
“I’m going to play the game hard,” he added. “I enjoy playing the game, I have fun playing hockey, it’s something I’ve played for a long time. I’m just going to go out there and play my hardest. It’s not going to be a flashy game, it’s not going to be a very entertaining game. But, hopefully, I can get the job done.”
“The team has made some big steps the last couple of years. It’s an exciting team, and I look forward to being a part of it. I’m just going to come to training camp in the best shape possible, and try to help the team in any way they want me to.”
It Was All Just A Joke?
Regarding the whole “Dry Island” fiasco in the Flyers’ dressing room last season (see Dan Gross: Partying Prompted Parting?), Richards claimed that it was all just a joke that should have remained in the Flyers dressing room.
“Philadelphia tends to blow things up a little bit more than they actually are,” said Richards. “That just started out as more of a friendly, fun thing that you could joke about in the dressing room. I’m not sure how it got out. It was supposed to just be a team thing. But, obviously, it did. It was more or less just to joke around with the guys, have some fun with it—something to bring the team together. But the media there got wind of it and ran with it.”
“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” added Richards. “Half the people did it, and half the people didn’t. It was more for jokes than to make anything of it.”
Richards noted that someone with the Flyers violated the team’s trust by revealing what went on behind closed dressing room doors.
“I was pretty mad, at first, [mostly] because, usually, what you [say] in the dressing room stays in the dressing room,” he said. “That’s the kind of bond you need as a hockey team to have success—come to the rink and have fun with one another, joke around, and have that camaraderie to do anything off the ice as you would on the ice. If you’re going to trust each other off the ice, you trust each other on the ice. You’ll go to war with them on the ice.”
Lombardi also took note of that.
“You know what I’m more surprised at? That it’s out,” he exclaimed. “I find it more telling that someone in that room talked about what went on. That, to me, is the biggest issue. It’s the one area left, the way these players are so exposed [through the media], the one place that was left was [the dressing room]. But now, when you see that? Oof. When you read [Flyers general manager] Paul Holmgren’s quotes, it was the biggest thing with him, too.”
Richards pointed to his record with the Flyers and railed against the Philadelphia media.
“It’s tough sometimes, seeing these articles, and hearing things that are said when you know they aren’t true,” Richards lamented. “It’s almost mentally draining when you keep having to back your story up—keep defending yourself when people say things that aren’t always correct.”
“It is what it is,” Richards added. “I’m not thinking much about that anymore. It’s disappointing, because I played six years, and I think I left everything on the ice every single night I played. It’s frustrating that something so negative gets put into the papers when you’ve done so much positive there, too. It’s not something I want to be remembered [for]. I want to be remembered as a guy who left everything on the ice.”
“Jeff [Carter] and I both did some great things in Philadelphia. We won a Calder [Trophy], conference finals, Cup finals. It’s frustrating that that’s how you’re going to be remembered in a great sports town.”
Despite the negative press in Philadelphia, Richards said that it is difficult to break ties that have been built over the years.
“You spend that much time with one team, you can’t help but see what they’re doing,” Richards explained. “I had a lot of friends there. There are a lot of ties that I still keep in Philadelphia, and see how they’re doing and see what’s going on around there, too. I was there for six years. They gave me a great opportunity. I can’t thank them enough for taking the risk, drafting me, and then bringing me up.”
“Philly’s always going to have a special place in my heart,” Richards added. “I loved it there. But I’m adjusting. I’m excited to start [playing] hockey and stop with all the talking.”
“I regret nothing I did in Philadelphia. I had a great six years as a pro there. I made a ton of friends. We were almost like a family in that dressing room. It was tough to say good-bye to them, and it was tough to move on.”
In Los Angeles, where hockey remains mostly an afterthought, Richards will not have to endure the same media scrutiny.
“It’ll be nice to come to the rink and just focus on hockey, or what team we’re playing next, and what we’ve got to do to have success,” he said. “It’ll allow me to just come to the rink and focus on playing hockey, and my game on the ice, instead of things that happen off the ice.”
A Letter On Your Chest Is Not A Prerequisite For Leadership
As reported earlier, Richards was the Flyers’ captain for the past three seasons. Nevertheless, he is not looking to wear a letter on his chest with the Kings, at least, not now.
“Dustin [Brown has] done a great job captaining this team for a couple of years now,” Richards emphasized. “I’ve talked to a lot of players, and I’ve known how hard he plays—I faced him for four years at Kitchener when he was at Guelph. I played against him a bunch of time during the regular season, I played against him at the Olympics last year. I know what kind of leader he is and how hard he plays the game.”
“I have no plan on doing anything coming in here other than playing hockey,” Richards added, noting that leadership extends beyond those wearing the captain’s “C,” or the alternate captain’s “A.”
“Leadership is not just one person,” said Richards. “There’s a guy with a ‘C’ on his jersey and ‘A’s,’ but I always thought it was a team effort. You can’t have enough experience in a dressing room, and everybody’s been in that position, at some point. You don’t make it to the NHL without being some sort of leader.”
“It might somebody one night, Brown the next night, [Anze] Kopitar,” added Richards. “It’s not always the same person voicing their opinion. I’m sure if something needs to be said, they will say it. I just want to come in and focus on hockey. If something needs to be said, or if someone asks me a question, I’ll certainly answer it.”
Lombardi Gets His Man
One thing that became crystal-clear on July 27 was that Lombardi really, really wanted Richards, but was surprised that he was available.
“I knew [Jeff Carter, who was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for winger Jakub Voracek, along with a first round pick (eighth overall) and a third round selection (68th overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft] was out there, but I didn’t expect this guy to be [available],” Lombardi explained.
“You don’t get to see a lot of hockey deals anymore,” Lombardi elaborated. “But I think Columbus, Philadelphia, and us—each one of those deals should work out for everybody, and satisfy each of their needs. We gave up two good players. Philly did just fine. But we were ready for this.”
Richards brings the combination of high skill, grit and character that Lombardi believes in so deeply.
“[Richards brings] hockey sense and competitiveness,” said Lombardi. “It’s not only what the player gives you, it’s what he represents in terms of when he comes into your room—this is the way you approach a game. Ever since seeing him in junior hockey, all the way up, he’s always been surrounded by winning, and he’s been a major part of it.”
“This is a classic case where it’s not always about the most talented guy, but the guy with the biggest heart,” added Lombardi. “You talk about a smart player, too. His hockey sense, the physical aspect—we definitely needed to add that to our club. You put that with his competitiveness, it’s a great fit for us.”
Richards has only been in the Los Angeles area for a few days, and does not even have a home here yet. Nevertheless, he is already setting an example for his new teammates.
“He’s come in here and worked out the last two days with Dustin Penner, and a couple of other guys…Stoll,” Lombardi beamed. “That starts moving the process along. When he gets here in August and meets all his teammates, by the time training camp starts, I think he will have made the adjustment.”
“I’ve known Mike a long time,” Lombardi added. “This guy shows up to play. Let me tell you something. What he did today…I don’t know how many of these [players] like [Trevor] Lewis, Penner, [Scott] Parse, Stoll—they’ve been working out. For a veteran on a new team who hasn’t been versed in our conditioning and the way we do things, to go out there and do what he did out on the beach this morning, I don’t know how many guys would do that and expose themselves, and what he did wasn’t very easy when you haven’t been using our routine.”
“To go out there and watch him push his way through that, when most guys at his stage of his career [would not do that], that’s that certain thing about why you want that player who goes so far beyond just what you see on the ice. When I saw that this morning—not many veterans would do that, and he fought his way through it.”
In Philadelphia, Richards was compared to one of the all-time greats, former Flyer superstar center Bobby Clarke.
“I’m hoping [Kings fans] get ‘Bobby Clarke West,’” said Lombardi. “He was compared to him there, and I thought, ‘gee, that’s an enormous burden.’”
“I asked him about that the other day,” added Lombardi. “He said it was an honor, and that he wished he could’ve followed it through. If he doesn’t see that as a burden, that’s what I hope we get.”
Stoll: “As Long As We Win More Games…”
When asked how he feels about getting pushed out of the number two center spot that Murray had him pegged for to start last season, Stoll was not disappointed at all.
“As long as we win more games, I’m fine with that,” he said. “You’ve got to have depth at every position. I think we have it defensively, and between the pipes. Now, I think we have it up the middle. I think we’re very strong in all areas, and you don’t win the Cup unless you have that.”
“It’s a long season, there’s two months in the playoffs,” he added. “Guys get hurt. In a perfect world, you’d have everybody healthy for the whole season, but that rarely happens. You’ve got to have guys who can play different roles, different situations, and I’m happy to play any role, any situation.”
New Locale, New Start
Coming from Canada and having spent his entire NHL career to this point in the Eastern Conference, Richards knows little about Southern California.
“I didn’t know much about the city before I came here,” he said. “I’m a Canadian guy. Didn’t get out here very much. [Playing in the Eastern Conference], we didn’t play here very much. It’s a special place to play when we did come here.”
“I used to love coming to play in LA,” he added. “There’s just a buzz in the arena. It’s almost like New York, where you get that feeling that you’re on a big stage, and you get excited for it.”
Despite some lingering disappointment about being traded from the Flyers, all it took was a walk on a sandy Southern California beach to provide a fresh perspective.
“I got here Sunday night,” said Richards. “I had some time on my hands, and I was walking down the beach, and you kind of think that it’s not a bad place to be, and not a bad place to start a new career.”
Hard to argue with that.
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