The Los Angeles Kings couldn’t afford to take the decision of whether or not to keep Mike Richards lightly. This summer represented their last chance to use a compliance buyout on him and entirely shed his $5.75 million annual cap hit through 2019-20.
Richards is coming off a rough season and spent some time on the fourth line during the playoffs, so if the status quo persists, then his contract will become an obstacle. All the same, Kings GM Dean Lombardi decided to keep Richards, in part because Richards’ self-analysis following the season was accurate, but also because it wasn’t that long ago Lombardi saw firsthand what Richards can bring to the table.
“We don’t win the first Cup without him,” Lombardi told ESPN.
When Richards joined them, the Kings hadn’t won a playoff series since 2001, but he played a pivotal role in the Kings beating the Presidents’ Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the 2011 postseason. As Lombardi put it, Richards taught the Kings how to win in the playoffs and since then, they have been one of the best postseason squads in the league.
“You’re loathe to ever give up on that kind of player, it’s very difficult to find that special ingredient,” Lombardi said. “Even through his negatives this year, who rises to the occasion in the end? Time and again he shows up at critical moments.”
The Kings would rather have a guy who steps up in the playoffs rather than a regular season star. That speaks to the way the team operates as they’ve won the Stanley Cup twice in three years without so much as earning a division title in the process.
Richards wasn’t particularly good in either situation in 2013-14 and now Lombardi has to hope his continued trust in him isn’t misplaced.