Mike Richards played his final NHL game with the Los Angeles Kings on April 9, 2015. He registered an assist, had one shot on goal and had 11 minutes of ice time. And that’s the last time he’s been involved with NHL calibre competition.
Richards was part of a contract termination saga with the Kings that dragged out through the entire summer. Los Angeles announced they were terminating Richards’ deal on June 29 for a “material breach,” the NHLPA filed a grievance on Richards’ behalf Aug. 10 and the former King was charged with possession of a controlled substance — the incident which led to his contract termination — by Manitoba RCMP Aug. 27. The entire ordeal didn’t have a conclusion until Oct. 9, when the Kings and Richards agreed to settle the grievance.
Now Richards is officially an unrestricted free agent and his agent, Pat Morris of Newport Sports Management, says the 30-year-old center is ready to get back to playing the kind of hockey that earned Richards his 12-year, $69-million contract in 2007.
“Mike has worked this summer towards getting back in the NHL and now he’s a free agent,” Morris told TSN’s Rick Westhead. “He wants to do his best to return to the Mike Richards hockey that allowed him to play on an Olympic team and allowed him to win two Stanley Cups, including one in 2014. He’s got desire and want and he’s had the longest period of time to train.”
This past season, Richards managed just five goals and 16 points in 53 games and was even demoted to the AHL in January. To return to that Olympic-level form, Richards would need to boost his scoring by about half a point per game and earn a top-six role somewhere in the NHL. Richards is unlikely to get that shot after back-to-back tough seasons with the Kings.
One obstacle for Richards will be dealing with his off-ice legal issues and getting the good faith of an NHL club. He’s due in court again on Dec. 8 and the hope has to be that he can put the possession charge behind him at that point, but until then Richards could have a tough time finding a contract. On NBCSN Wednesday night, TSN’s Bob McKenzie said this likely won’t be the end for Richards.
“There’s going to be interest in Mike Richards,” McKenzie said. “The short answer to the question is Mike Richards is going to get another job in the NHL. The longer answer is not right away. We don’t know when or where because there are still some outstanding things that need to be taken care of.”
McKenzie added that teams will be waiting to see what happens with Richards’ legal situation and what impact, if any, it will have on his immigration status. In addition, McKenzie reported Richards will be automatically put into the NHL/NHLPA substance abuse program and could face suspension from the league for the charge. Teams could wait until that matter is cleared up before inking him to a deal.
Whenever Richards is back in the NHL, he’ll likely have to accept a depth role, too. Though he started his career as a top-line center for the Philadelphia Flyers, where he was both captain and a two-time 30-goal scorer, he was demoted to a fourth-line role in Los Angeles and his ice time dipped to a career-low 13:21 per game in 2014-15. He’ll also have to take a significant pay cut from the $5.75-million annual salary he was earning on his 12-year deal. Teams will want proof that Richards is back to being the player he once was or that can he can still be a contributing member on a roster.