Midway through the Chicago series, L.A. center Mike Richards found himself in the middle of contract buyout talk.
On Friday, his teammates set about defending his value.
“I think it’s fair to say everyone in here understands what [Richards] does for us,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said. “Everyone has a different view. I don’t know how many questions I’ve had to answer about my and Rick’s regular seasons, and our numbers, and my answer has been: we’re both disappointed in our seasons, but I think we’ve both been trending in the right direction starting after the Olympics.
“I think he’s been vital in our playoff success this year regardless of his point total. There’s more to it than just points.”
Richards, 29, is in the sixth of a 12-year $69 million deal and had a disappointing regular season with just 11 goals and 41 points in 81 games. He’s seen his role diminish this postseason, averaging less than 16 minutes a night while scoring just two goals in 22 games, mostly in a fourth-line center role.
In Game 1 against the Rangers, Richards played 14:09 in an OT win — the only forwards to play less were Kyle Clifford, Tanner Pearson Dwight King and Trevor Lewis.
The Kings have yet to use either of their two compliance buyouts, and their last chance to do so will come in June. In Richards’ case, it would cost the club $19.3 million over 12 years (per CapGeek), but his cap hit — $5.75 million through 2019-20 — would be gone forever, which is the key.
Hence the buyout talk.
But to hear the Kings say it, No. 10 is a key component for their recent success, which includes the ’12 Stanley Cup and three consecutive playoff runs that went to at least the Western Conference Final. And it isn’t just Richards’ teammates that are jumping to his defense — prior to the start of the series, Kings head coach Darryl Sutter spoke glowingly about him.
“[Richards] has a track record of winning and for sure understanding what his role is. Basically he just wins,” Sutter explained. “He’s had to accept roles. Doesn’t matter if you think he’s a first line centerman or second line centerman. The only reward for somebody like Mike Richards in all this is just winning.
“He’s all set. He’s won everything. It’s just winning again, that’s all.”