EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Mike Richards pays the cleaning lady and walks Arnold, an ice cream-eating black lab. Jeff Carter’s job is to supply dinner most nights at the beautiful Manhattan Beach house they’ve shared ever since their hockey careers improbably reconnected last winter, just a few months after the Philadelphia Flyers split them apart.
The Flyers traded the good friends in separate deals 30 minutes apart last June, blowing up the core of a Stanley Cup contender. After a stop in Columbus, Carter reunited with Richards in Los Angeles.
They’re linemates and roommates again, and they’re making playoff history with the surging Kings, who open the Western Conference finals in Phoenix on Sunday night.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Carter said after Friday’s practice for the Western Conference finals. “I never thought I’d end up here, especially this quick. Obviously I’m happy with how it turned out, and I love the beach, so it’s a perfect fit.”
And in maybe the sweetest development of all, Carter and Richards are still playing while Philadelphia’s season is over. Flyers West have outlasted Flyers East.
Carter and Richards acknowledge no grudge toward the Flyers or general manager Paul Holmgren, who dumped his playmaking captain and an elite goal-scorer in two trades that were widely interpreted as indictments of both players’ character, even while both sides denied it. Richards would only acknowledge he’s grateful there’s no chance of facing Philadelphia in the next round, if the Kings survive.
“I have a lot of friends there, (and) you always wish your friends the best,” Richards said while wearing a T-shirt advertising a friend’s bar and restaurant in Philadelphia. “You never want to go against a team especially when you have a lot of friends on there, and a city that’s given me a lot. So you always hope the best for them. We still have a long ways before we can get (to the Stanley Cup finals), but Carts and I, it would have been a little bit awkward if we had to go back there and play the first year back. It would have been a little bit weird.”
After Richards and Carter led Philadelphia to the Stanley Cup finals in 2010, the Flyers lost in the second round last year. They lost in the second round again this year without the duo, while the Kings reached just the second conference final in the franchise’s 44 seasons.
If there were any bad feelings from the trade, they’ve cooled on both ends of the continent.
“I hope for the best for Mike and Jeff,” Holmgren said. “I hope they do win the Stanley Cup at some point. They’re both good kids. That’s what they’re playing the game of hockey for, to win, so good for them. I’m happy the way it’s worked out for us.”
Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, a former Philadelphia scout, has assembled an array of former Flyers including forward Simon Gagne—likely out for the season with a concussion—along with assistant coach John Stevens and assistant GM Ron Hextall.
“I’ve got a lot of friends there, and I was there for a long time,” Carter said. “The guys I played with, we’d like to see them do well, but I’m definitely happy that we’re still playing.”
Carter and Richards have played on the same line in Los Angeles much more than they did in Philadelphia, where Carter mostly played centre. They’ve been lining up lately with Dustin Penner, another veteran earning redemption in Los Angeles’ surprising playoff run.
“I think we complement each other real well,” Carter said. “”Mike is Mr. Everything, and me and Penns are big bodies that can get up and down the wing.”
None of the three linemates had a dynamic regular season. Richards and Penner were among the prime scapegoats for the Kings’ slump to the bottom of the NHL in scoring—yet those struggles led to the arrivals of the goal-scoring Carter and coach Darryl Sutter, who finally turned the Kings into a competent offensive team.
Richards managed just one goal in 35 games between Christmas and mid-March, finishing his lowest-scoring season in five years with only 44 points. While Carter battled significant injuries in both Columbus and Los Angeles, finishing with a career-low 34 points, Penner completely fell apart offensively, scoring just 17 points in 65 games with a minus-7 rating.
“I don’t know if you watched me, but I used to be a good player,” Penner said last month after scoring a key goal in the Kings’ playoff opener in Vancouver.
While Carter and Penner have combined for just three playoff goals, they have played well in multiple roles for the Kings. Richards has been exceptionally sharp in the post-season, recording eight points in nine games—including three multipoint performances. The former Flyers captain has 58 points in 72 career post-season games.
“We all knew he always played extra hard in the playoffs,” Philadelphia forward Danny Briere said. “He always showed up in the playoffs. That’s what he’s doing again. That trade is working for L.A. Jeff has seemed to find a second wind since the trade to L.A. Sometimes it’s OK that you have a trade working for both sides. That’s the way it should be. Now that it’s over, I wish them the best and I’m happy to see them do well.”
AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed to this report.