Soon after the lockout ended this past January, fans of the Los Angeles Kings were more excited than they’d been since witnessing their team win the Stanley Cup seven months earlier. Unfortunately, Los Angeles’s defense of the Cup didn’t get off to a promising start as several Kings had difficulty finding a groove with one very reliable centerman included.
When he was traded from Philadelphia in June 2011, hopes were high for Mike Richards who was thought to complete a devastating one-two punch up the middle on the second line while Anze Kopitar centered the top line.
While he was able to rack up 18 goals and 26 assists in his maiden season on the west coast, Richards’ 44 points were 22 fewer than his previous season’s total with the Flyers. But the team overall struggled offensively as they finished 29th overall in offense.
Of course, anyone who knows the recent history of the Los Angeles Kings knows how little those stats mattered.
In 20 postseason games in the spring of 2012, the 28-year-old tallied 15 points in 20 games en route to helping guide the silver-and-black to their first-ever Stanley Cup crown.
Unfortunately, after a long layoff and no training camp due to the lockout’s longevity, Richards (like many players) were rusty and needed some time to get going.
Despite the slow start, Richards found his groove as he scored 12 goals and added 20 assists while being healthy enough to appear in all 48 of his team’s regular-season games. In addition, Richards registered another 12 points in 15 playoff games before suffering a concussion in the Western Final.
Towards the end of the 2011-12 campaign, the Los Angeles Kings traded Jack Johnson to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Richards’ old friend and linemate from Philadelphia, Jeff Carter.
Carter, who had been shipped away from Broad Street the same day as Mike Richards was sent to a struggling Columbus team looking to make a mark with another big-name to complement Rick Nash. The Carter experiment in the Ohio capital was a bust as the native of London, Ontario was unhappy and wanted out. Then the Kings came calling.
The 11th-overall pick in the 2005 Draft, Jeff Carter arrived in Los Angeles with a vengeance but it took time for him to reconnect with his former linemate – but the wait was worth as we saw last season.
The natural goal-scoring ability of Carter complemented Mike Richards’ two-way style to a T and everything else seemed to work itself out.
The majority of Richards’ 20 assists in 2013 found its way on the tape of Jeff Carter who turned many of those passes into goals.
Last season, both Richards and Carter played in all 48 games so health certainly wasn’t an issue. This season, however, it might be a little tougher to stay 100 per cent healthy given that the NHL is back to its regular 82-game schedule. On a positive note, 2013-14 will mark Carter and Richards’ first full season in Los Angeles – with a training camp and preseason for everyone to be ready to go when the puck drops to open the regular season.
As great as Mike Richards is with Jeff Carter, though, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how valuable Richards is as an individual.
Last season, Richards was the only King to have more takeaways (21) than giveaways (19). Also, while he wasn’t as effective as Jarret Stoll or the aforementioned Carter, Richards was fairly reliable in the faceoff dot with a decent 49 per cent rating.
Of his 32 points last season, it is notable to mention that 15 of Mike Richards’ points came on the power play. In fact, his six goals on the man-advantage ranked him third among Kings behind Carter and Dustin Brown who each tallied eight.
Richards was also tied for second on the team with three game-winning goals, trailing only, who else, Jeff Carter with eight.
The 28th-overall pick the same year his aforementioned linemate was drafted, Mike Richards has plenty to bring to the table including his two-way style of play in addition to his outstanding leadership – two qualities Kings fans have become very familiar during his short time in Los Angeles.
Like Drew Doughty, Mike Richards must be cognizant of his Olympic chances. Unlike Doughty, Richards isn’t quite the lock for Team Canada that he may have been four years earlier. But this isn’t a bad thing – far from it.
In 2009-10, Richards achieved a career-high in goals with 31 and may have more incentive to burn the candle at both ends this season as he has to work harder than he’s ever had should he hope to be donning the maple leaf in Sochi next February. Of course, giving up completely will result in Richards wearing another maple leaf but that’s a story for another day.
With talented centermen like Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, Mike Richards’ chances at making Team Canada may seem slim (according to TSN who, knowing them, likely picked the Kansas City Scouts and Seattle Metropolitans to meet in next spring’s Stanley Cup Final) but anything can happen in the first few months of the season and you can bet that Richards will not go down without a fight.