PHILADELPHIA – Under the visor, Mike Richards looks the same.
It’s the rest of his makeover that still seems out of place as he prepares for his Philadelphia homecoming.
He wears No. 10 instead of 18 and the “C” has been stripped from his jersey. Oh yeah, the jersey. Gone is the orange and black of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Richards wears the black Los Angeles Kings sweater now, a uniform he’s still getting used to four months after his shocking trade out of town.
Richards returns Saturday night for the first time since general manager Paul Holmgren dealt him the same day he traded Jeff Carter.
“It’s going to be exciting. I’m looking forward to it,” Richards said. “I haven’t thought about it much at all. I knew I was going to have to do it some time.”
That time comes now in front of the usual packed Wells Fargo Center that will certainly give Richards a warm return. Only two seasons ago, Richards hoisted the Prince of Wales trophy in front of those die-hard fans for winning the Eastern Conference championship and returning the Flyers to the final.
Richards was Philadelphia’s captain and led them all the way to a Game 6 loss to Chicago in the Stanley Cup final.
None of that mattered when the Flyers decided to transform the roster after they followed the deep post-season run with a second-round exit in 2011. Richards and Carter, a perennial 30-goal scorer, were traded within 30 minutes of each other, and more changes were ahead.
It’s early, but the moves have paid off in Philadelphia with the Flyers off to only their third 3-0 start in team history. Beat the Kings, and the Flyers will open 4-0 for the first time since the 1995-96 season.
Team achievements really mean something in April and beyond.
This game is about Richards.
He’s been in town with the Kings this week, practising Friday and socializing with his ex-teammates at night.
Richards is eager to hit the ice in front of one of the most passionate crowds in any sport.
“I enjoyed playing in front of them every night and I’m excited to play in front of them again Saturday,” he said. “I tried to leave everything on the ice every night for them and I thought I did that.
“It’s what made it fun to go to the rink.”
The Flyers shed over US$100 million in salary—and a combined 314 goals and 692 points from the duo—in the June 23 deals that sent Richards to the Kings and Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Richards, once viewed as the face of the franchise, was traded for forwards Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and a second-round pick.
Richards spent the last three seasons as team captain. He scored 133 goals and had 349 points in 453 games since making his debut with the Flyers in 2005.
He had no desire to leave and was “shocked” when he learned of the deal. Richards needed time to regroup and couldn’t fully come to terms with the trade until he made his first visit to Los Angeles.
Richards had grown up with Carter in the organization, and the best friends and late-night running buddies often about winning Philadelphia’s first Stanley Cup since 1975.
“It’s going to be mixed feelings, I think, for him,” Flyers forward Danny Briere said. “I don’t think he’ll ever forget the good times he had here.
“But at the same time, he’s moving on and I’m sure he wants to start something special in LA as well.”
Richards’ transition was eased by some familiar faces on the Kings. He was reunited with former teammate Simon Gagne, and coaches John Stevens and Terry Murray. Stevens was a head coach in Philadelphia, and now an assistant in LA, while Murray was an assistant in Richards’ era and now the head coach.
Gagne felt uneasy when he made his first return to Philadelphia last year after he was traded to Tampa Bay.
“On my side last year, it took me a while to realize I wasn’t playing for the Flyers and that I was with Tampa Bay. Wearing that jersey was definitely weird,” Gagne said. “Then, walking across to the locker room on the other side was definitely one of the toughest days in my career.
“It’s not going to be easier for Mike. We’ll try to help him with that but he’s strong enough mentally to get through it. Other than that, it will be fun for him to go back and see some friends.”
Richards has one goal in the first three games of a whirlwind start of the season for the Kings. They opened inEurope for an exhibition and played their first two regular-season games in Stockholm and Berlin before playing two games on the East Coast on the way back to California.
They return for their home opener Oct. 18.
“It’s been here, there, everywhere with planes, trains and automobiles,” Richards said. “It’s been good though, to get away with the guys and be welcomed into their tight-knit group.”