The defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings fed the NHL a harsh dose of reality less than 24 hours after the league displayed its silliest side at the All-Star Game.
The Kings placed center Mike Richards on waivers Monday, per Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman. Yes, that Mike Richards, the world junior champion, the 2010 gold medallist, the two-time Stanley Cup winner. Richards had appeared in many recent trade rumors, most commonly involving Toronto's Dion Phaneuf, but the Kings reportedly could not find a taker. It's not exactly a shocker no team wanted to give up something to acquire Richards, 29, at a $5.75-million cap hit for five more seasons after this one. He is nowhere near the player he was as a Philadelphia Flyer, and it appears he's even lost a step since last season. Richards has sputtered to 15 points in 47 games, he's won fewer than half his faceoffs, and it's fair to wonder if Kings GM Dean Lombardi regrets not using a compliance buyout on Richards this past off-season. The euphoria of a second championship in three years understandably clouded his judgment.
As per the new(ish) collective bargaining agreement, the Kings can't fully "bury" Richards' contract for full relief from his cap hit. If he clears waivers, they will only save $925,000. They obviously hope some team claims Richards.
The question is – does any team have the stones to blow that much cap space on Richards? Re-entry waivers no longer exist, meaning the claiming team must take on his full cap hit and term. Richards still has some value to a contending team, as he's still a plus in the possession game and he's a winner who elevates his game in the post-season. But that may not matter at his price.
Richards has until noon Tuesday to clear waivers. After that, he could wind up an unofficial mascot with the AHL's Manchester Monarchs for a long time. The Kings likely won't find a trade partner unless they eat some of Richards' salary, and even that wouldn't be ideal. Not only do they need to squirrel away some cap space to re-sign restricted free agents Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson and perhaps unrestricted free agent Justin Williams, it remains to be seen if Lombardi acquires a big, expensive piece before the trade deadline.
As for Richards, best of luck to him. The CBA states that he can get permission from his existing team to contact other NHL teams and gauge their interest in claiming him for his services. And, theoretically, a team claiming him could actually buy him out later (unless he's not on their reserve list at the trade deadline, in which case they would not be able to buy him out for a year). Still, the deck is stacked against him. No one should hold their breath on a Richards waiver claim.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin