Mike Richards: From King to pauper
One decade after his last American League game — Game 5 of the 2005 Calder Cup final as a member of the Philadelphia Phantoms — Mike Richards finds himself in the AHL again, this time with the Manchester Monarchs.
It’s been an interesting several years for one of the NHL’s most decorated players. Since being infamously traded to the Kings from Philadelphia in 2011, Richards has gone on to win two Stanley Cups, while being utilized in a lesser capacity. He eventually earned a demotion to the fourth line as well as limited minutes, and was waived on Jan. 26.
The 29-year-old Richards cleared waivers a day later and was demoted to the Monarchs, where he currently posts a goal and five points in three games.
Interestingly enough, the Kings and GM Dean Lombardi were contemplating using the amnesty buyout on Richards’ 12-year, $69-million deal — which he is in the seventh year of — last summer, after a 2013-14 that saw him produce 11 goals and 41 points in a full season, coupled with three goals and 10 points in 26 playoff games.
So how exactly did Richards get to New Hampshire?
Remember, this is a guy with two Stanley Cup rings, a Calder Cup, gold medals for Team Canada at the Olympics and World Juniors, and a Memorial Cup. He’s the only player in NHL history to earn a Memorial Cup, Calder Cup and Stanley Cup, and was once considered a key cog for the Flyers’ pursuit of a third Cup, thanks to his leadership and tenacious style of play. Flyers fans may even remember this goal, from their dismantling of Montreal in the 2010 Eastern Conference final:
Of course, there were also the rumors and allegations about his life off the ice. Notably, there were the infamous “Dry Island” rumors (also involving Jeff Carter) that took off after their respective trades to the Kings and Columbus, as well as an incident with Vancouver’s Alex Burrows in the 2012 playoffs.
As of Saturday afternoon, the Monarchs (28-11-4-2) hold a seven-point lead for first place, with 62 points. Those 62 points are also sufficient for second in the Eastern Conference — just two points behind Syracuse. They’ve got 31 games remaining in their season, and if Richards sticks around, there’s no doubt his presence will be more than valued when the Calder Cup playoffs begin.
However, no team wants to stick a $69 million contract and $5.75-million cap hit in the minor leagues. Undoubtedly, trading a contract that big is going to come at a premium for Lombardi and the rest of the Kings’ front office.
Mike Richards has established himself as a tough, gritty talent over the course of his 10-season NHL career, with a veteran leadership presence. However, a lack of production over the past several seasons has led to frustration on the part of LA’s brain trust.
The 29-year-old Richards has what it takes to turn things around, but until then, he’s saddled with making the transition from the bright lights of the City of Angels to New Hampshire’s biggest city.
Follow Rob Riches on Twitter @Riches61