Mike Richards Adjusts to New Life in AHL

USATSI_8252197_154158418_lowresOn Monday, it was revealed that Mike Richards was put on waivers by the Los Angeles Kings. He subsequently cleared waivers and was sent down to the Manchester Monarchs in the American Hockey League, as predicted.

Richards is a two-time Stanley Cup champion, an Olympic gold medalist, a Calder Cup champ, a Memorial Cup champ, an OHL champion, and so on. His accolades are a mile long. And yet less than a year after hoisting hockey’s ultimate prize with the Kings, he suited up for the Monarchs on Friday night as they took on the Portland Pirates.

Richards was in the starting lineup and had two shots on goal to go with two penalty minutes.

“I wasn’t great,” Richards said. “I had some good shifts, did some good things, did some bad things, had some bad shifts. [You can] only go up from here.”

Tell me about it.

For the Kings, this has to suck. They gave up Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a draft pick for Richards and a $5.75 million a year price tag. They had high hopes.

It’s fair to say Richards is a player on the decline. At the age of 29, it may be tempting to suggest that he’s still got time to turn things around. Yours truly in fact suggested so on Monday, optimistically yearning for the glory days of Mike Richards.

But when were the glory days of Mike Richards?

From 2007-2011, he scored 20 or more goals each season. His best statistical season came in 2008-2009 when he popped up 80 points in 79 games. That year, his Flyers didn’t escape the first round of the post-season but he had five points in six games. The following season, Richards’ point production dipped in the regular season but he was more effective in the playoffs. Go figure.

Richards’ best year found him playing point on the power play and snagging top-line minutes with Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble. Most of his output came on the man advantage. At even strength, his best season was actually in 2007-2008.

By the time Richards was put on waivers by the Kings, he was languishing near the bottom of the depth chart and wasn’t receiving the top-shelf opportunities he had in his glory days on the Flyers. There was no reason to expect 80-point production and there’s no reason to expect that kind of production anymore. Obviously the Kings had a decision to make.

And now, Richards has to face reality.

“I liked L.A., I liked the team, but I’m in this position now,” Richards said. “I’m a big believer in everything happens for a reason, from being drafted to [the Philadelphia Flyers] to being traded to L.A. Everything happens for a reason. You just try to make the best out of whatever scenario you’re put in.”

Richards isn’t ready to talk about retirement and he has the opportunity to make something out of himself in Manchester, but he’ll have to find his game. The secret likely lies in the intangibles, in what he can bring to make his teammates better and achieve top-tier playing time. If that happens, he’ll be capable of putting up good numbers.

As far as reaching the NHL again, that isn’t a long shot. He’s still a player with a tendency to excel in the playoffs (just ask the Kings), but it’s the regular season that seems to trip him up. Finding that extra gear may require introspection, the exact kind of thing a stint in the minors could afford. If not, things may be over for Mike Richards.


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