AUDIO: Includes audio interviews with Los Angeles Kings Dustin Brown, Robyn Regehr, and President/General Manager Dean Lombardi.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — Returning to practice ice after the National Hockey League All-Star break usually isn’t all that eventful for a team, but that was not the case for Los Angeles Kings, who found out that one of their own, veteran center Mike Richards, had been placed on waivers earlier in the day on January 26.
As reported earlier in this space, Richards’ poor 2013-14 performance has carried into the current season, and he has shown no sign of breaking out of his deep funk. That left President/General Manager Dean Lombardi with no choice, even though Richards is a deeply respected veteran who played a critical role in the Kings winning the 2012 Stanley Cup Championship and contributed to their second Stanley Cup Championship last season.
“He brought a lot of—I think grit would probably be the one word,” said forward and captain Dustin Brown. “Prior to that, we had players who played with grit, but we didn’t have enough of’em. When we brought Rick (Richards) in, it solidified our middle.”
“I think [center Anze Kopitar] is a [first-line center], but I think Jarret [Stoll] is, ultimately, a [third-line center], especially when Rick got here,” added Brown. “He was playing [second-line center] for the whole time, and when you get Rick here, it kind of slots everybody properly. Again, it’s not an easy thing to do. If every team could have a goalie like [Jonathan Quick], a defenseman like Drew [Doughty] and two centers like Rick and Kopi—you look at a lot of the really successful teams, that’s pretty much the makeup of a team. Wingers can be more of your up and down guys and you need those guys as well, but all those really good teams have those ingredients up the middle, back and in goal.”
Brown also pointed to Richards’ leadership and the rest of the intangible qualities he brought to the team.
“Rick’s intangibles were a big part of why they brought him here,” Brown noted. “He’s won at every level. He’s won pretty much everything there is to win in the hockey world.”
That Richards was a champion at every level he has played in was also critical in that it signified a big organizational shift upwards.
“The other part of it is when you bring in a big player like Rick, and this can be said for a lot of players whom we’ve brought in over the last year, it’s a message to the team,” said Brown. “We were that team that was kind of trending in the right direction, [but] when you have a trade that sends some young players out but brings a big piece in, the time is now.”
“That’s the message I took when the deal went down,” added Brown. “Obviously, we got [Jeff Carter] eight months later, or whatever it was. As a player, you get excited about that. I thought the excitement, from a players’ standpoint, when Rick got here, was ‘we’re going to take the next step.’”
“I’ve been through the rebuilding process, so that’s always exciting. As a guy who was in this room when we traded for Rick, I was pretty excited about it.”
As for the impact in the dressing room, the players appear to be taking it all in stride, for the most part.
“It reminds you that we’re in the business of professional sports, and that business is winning,” said veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr. “When a team isn’t winning consistently enough, there’s changes that are usually made. I think, really, that’s it. Sometimes, it comes down to other decisions with economics, and things like that, in the salary cap era. But those kinds of things happen sometimes, whether it’s getting traded or waived, it’s part of a very big business that we’re involved with.”
Regehr noted that the move will affect different players in different ways.
“A young player in here who, maybe, hasn’t seen that before, that would catch them by surprise,” Regehr noted. “Some of the older guys who’ve been around have seen it before.”
To illustrate, 22-year-old right wing Tyler Toffoli, had little to say about what happened.
“It’s a business, and I don’t know much about that,” he said. “But we know that it’s time to win. We didn’t need anything to happen for this group to know that we have to start winning.”
But for such a close-knit team like the Kings, it still hurts.
“As players, we understand that it’s a business, but at the same time, in here, we’re family, so it’s really hard to see Rick go on waivers,” said Brown. “I think we all understand it, but it’s not something that you take lightly, as a group of guys, especially as a group of guys who have won together. That’s a harder thing to deal with. But it’s also what management feels is best for the team, and as players, we deal with a lot of things. It’s just not very often that you see a player of his stature go on waivers.”
“It’s never fun to see it, [but] those things happen sometimes,” said Regehr. “There’s all kinds of things that go on [during] a season with a team, and our job, as players, is to show up every day, be ready to be professional, come to work, and prepare to try to win a game. That’s really what we, as players, need to be thinking about, but there’s another side to that. You get some relationships built over time with players and people you’re involved with. That makes it extra hard, because then, there’s an emotional attachment. It’s not just a business decision.”
“Those are the ones that really sting,” added Regehr. “There’s guys in here who have played with Mike [for] quite awhile. I’m sure that’s pretty tough for all of them right now.”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Los Angeles Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi (5:51)
Defenseman Robyn Regehr (2:33)
Forward and Captain Dustin Brown (3:47)
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