Any hope Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi had of a rival club plucking Mike Richards off waivers came to naught Tuesday. The 29-year-old veteran center cleared waivers and was demoted to the Kings' AHL affiliate in Manchester. It's the first time Richards has played in the minors since a brief stint with the Philadelphia Phantoms during the 2005 AHL playoffs.
It was a bold move by Lombardi, though one which shouldn't be surprising. While Richards helped the Kings win two Stanley Cups, his performance since 2011-12 has been in steady decline. His numbers prior to his demotion (15 points through 47 games) put the center on pace for a career-low 26 points. He was seeing reduced ice time centering the Kings' fourth line.
In recent weeks there was speculation Lombardi was trying to trade Richards, with most linking the center to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman believes a swap of Richards for Leafs' captain Dion Phaneuf was “seriously considered”, but fell through because the Kings refused to include either Tanner Pearson or Tyler Toffoli in the deal.
As with all the trade speculation dogging Richards, his contract proved the main stumbling block. With five years remaining on a deal worth an annual cap hit of $5.75-million per season, along with the risk of salary-cap recapture payments, no team wanted to take that contract off Lombardi's hands.
Richards' demotion means the Kings only get $925K in salary-cap relief. If Lombardi fails to find any takers for the veteran center via the trade market leading up to the March trade deadline, he could face buying out the remainder of Richards' contract in June.
Lombardi could have used a compliance buyout on Richards last summer, which wouldn't have counted against the Kings' salary cap. It was Lombardi's last chance to use the compliance option but he gambled instead on Richards regaining his form. A buyout this summer will count against their cap payroll. At two thirds the remaining value over twice the remaining tenure, ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun estimates it could cost the Kings an average of $1.467-million annually for ten years.
BETTER BRUINS QUIET TRADE TALK
The Boston Bruins are in better shape at the end of January 2015 than they were when the month began. On Jan.1, the Bruins had 42 points in 38 games, putting them ninth in the Eastern Conference. Their poor performance drew strong criticism from ownership. It also sparked trade chatter about several Bruins, including left wing Milan Lucic, right wing Loui Eriksson and center Carl Soderberg.
Over the following three weeks the Bruins won six of eight games before the All-Star break. The streak lifted them into the eighth and final playoff berth in the Conference, a full seven points ahead of the ninth-place Florida Panthers.
The Bruins recent improvement has also cooled much of the trade chatter. However, that doesn't mean GM Peter Chiarelli hasn't given up searching for affordable improvements to his roster.
In response to reader e-mail about possible Bruins moves, CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty thinks they still have interest in Buffalo Sabres' rugged right wing Chris Stewart, an opinion shared by The Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa. Haggerty also suggests Stewart's teammate Drew Stafford and New Jersey Devils wingers (and former Bruins) Michael Ryder and Jaromir Jagr as possible trade options.
Given the Bruins limited cap space, Chiarelli won't want to take back too much cap hit in return. He also doesn't have much roster depth to spare and could offer up a draft pick or a prospect.
DEVILS’ JAGR DRAWING INTEREST
The New Jersey Devils returned from the NHL All-Star break facing the daunting challenge of climbing back into playoff contention. With only 42 points in 47 games, the Devils began this week 15 points behind the Boston Bruins for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
Given their fading playoff hopes, it's expected GM Lou Lamoriello will be peddling several of his pending unrestricted free agents. Topping the list is Jagr, who recently battled mumps and the flu. Jagr, who turns 43 on Feb. 15, remains an effective winger and among the Devils' leading scorers.
Jagr admits to NorthJersey.com's Tom Gulitti he expects to be dealt before March 2. Though Jagr lacks a no-trade clause, Gulitti expects interested teams will first wish to speak with the future Hall-of-Famer before finalizing a trade. TSN's Darren Dreger includes Jagr on a lengthy list of potential trade deadline candidates.
Jagr could attract interest from contenders and playoff bubble teams. Tom Powers of The Pioneer Press believes the Minnesota Wild should pursue Jagr, believing he could be a “powerful, positive force” in providing the struggling Wild emotional stability. That could be expecting too much of the aging winger, who is now more of a complimentary player.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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