After season-low ice time, rumors swirl around Kings’ Richards

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Last night’s Stanley Cup Final rematch was a rough one for Mike Richards.

The veteran Kings center played a season-low 9:07 in the 4-3 loss, including just two shifts in the final frame for a grand total of 81 seconds.

The man in charge of ice time distribution, head coach Darryl Sutter, didn’t name names in his postgame presser, but did allude to issues his team had against the Rangers.

Per LA Kings Insider, they included:

“We had trouble keeping up with a fast team.”

“We had some top players tonight not in the checking mood.”

“We need to get some more out of good players, that’s for sure.”

“We’ve got to continue to be better checkers right through our lineup.”

In regards to which — or, how many — apply to Richards, well, that’s up for debate. Sutter also talked about taking bad penalties and the Rangers scored a PPG following Richards’ interference penalty in the first period, so there’s that to consider as well.

That Richards had this kind of performance in a Cup Final rematch is a tad ironic. He, along with his namesake — ex-Rangers center Brad Richards — were two of the most maligned individuals last spring, thanks in large part to their onerous contracts; while New York opted to use a compliance buyout on the remainder of Brad’s nine-year, $58.5M deal, Kings GM Dean Lombardi opted against doing the same to Mike’s 12-year, $69M pact.

More: Richards: I gave Lombardi ‘my word’ I’d work harder in the offseason

It hasn’t taken long for Richards’ name to surface in trade talks, however.

The first instances came in mid-November, when a pair of TSN reports suggested L.A. was inquiring about moving Richards out of town.

“I don’t think the notion they might be prepared to part with him is necessarily performance-related as much as it is reality-related,” McKenzie said on TSN 1050 radio. “And that is on a team that’s got Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Jarret Stoll as your top three centers.

“Do you have room for a guy making that kind of money as arguably a fourth-line center?”

Now, the smoke appear to be surfacing again. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman was on Fan 590 Radio Friday morning, and said the following (per Nicholson Hockey):

“Justin Williams scored another couple of goals last night. He had a really strong game. He was one of the best L.A. players in the loss. They are trying to sign him to an extension. He’s a free agent at the end of this year.

“They’re a year and a half from having to deal with Kopitar, who, by every stretch of the imagination, deserves the same contract that Toews and Kane got, and who knows what he actually wants. But they know it’s going to be a big number. So they are trying to do some things to kind of clear the decks a bit.

“I’m sure they’re calling and asking teams like Toronto and Winnipeg, where they think that maybe Richards would be willing to go, to test it.”

The trade deadline is on March 2. Stay tuned.

Related: Sutter calls out Mike Richards on game-losing goal

Carter, Gaborik (illness) could be in Kings lineup against Oilers

The L.A. Kings, losers against the Calgary Flames on Monday, should have Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik in their lineup when they play the struggling Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday.

That’s according to LA Kings Insider. Both players have been dealing with illness, although Carter did play against the Flames, with more than 17 minutes of ice time.

“Jeff played with balls and gutted it out…he was sick all night, gave us what he got,” Kings’ head coach Darryl Sutter told LA Kings Insider.

The coach added: “Well, obviously Gaborik couldn’t play yesterday. That was his decision, so I’ll make the decision today.”

The Kings have won three of their last five games, however those two losses in that span have come against the Flames, which continue to surprise and hang around in the Pacific Division playoff hunt despite sitting 29th amongst NHL teams in Corsi For percentage at five-on-five.

NHL on NBCSN: Sharks, Kings renew hostilities

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NBCSN will kick off its post-holiday schedule with back-to-back rivalry games tonight. The second will feature the Kings and Sharks in Los Angeles and start at 10:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

When the Sharks faced the Kings in their season opener, they had something to prove after San Jose was embarrassed by Los Angeles in the first round “reverse sweep.”. The fact that the Sharks went on to earn a 4-0 victory in that contest was a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t make up for the playoff collapse. Nothing they do in the regular season can.

Even still, the situation is far different for Game 2 of the season series between San Jose and Los Angeles. The Sharks entered the holiday break on a 9-1-1 run to improve to 19-11-5 this season. Even their 3-2 overtime loss against Anaheim to close their pre-Christmas schedule seemed to do little to dampen their enthusiasm.

“If we play that way, we’ll win more than we lose,” said Joe Pavelski, per CSN Bay Area.

“It answered some questions that I had going in,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of the loss. “Are we going to be prepared and focused and could we compete in this type of game right before Christmas? We did that. We had some good leadership in the locker room and everybody found a way to scramble to get a point on the road.”

Los Angeles hasn’t been nearly as effective lately, winning just three of its last nine games. That 70s line of Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, and Tanner Pearson, which dazzled audiences earlier this season, has fizzled out and been broken up. Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik are finally clicking, but lately it often hasn’t been enough.

These last few years Los Angeles has been a team that’s at its best during the playoffs, but the Kings need to make it to the postseason for that to matter. Coming out of the holiday break last season, the Kings had a nine-point cushion in the battle for a playoffs spot, but going into this game, Los Angeles only has a two-point edge in the Wild Card race.

With that in mind this isn’t just a rivalry game for the Kings. It’s also a key opportunity to put some distance on their pre-holiday slump and start providing themselves with some breathing room.

PHT’s top 14 of ’14: Kings stage historic comeback vs. San Jose

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It’s likely that a good chunk of the teams who have been down 0-3 in playoff series have put on brave faces.

Still, hindsight has a way of making seemingly throwaway comments seem like much more. At the time, many probably rolled their eyes when Los Angeles Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said his team would not “go away quietly” against the San Jose Sharks after falling behind 0-3. With the Kings’ stunning “reverse sweep” and subsequent championship run in mind, Sutter looks more like a soothsayer.

That’s not to say that the Kings were going into Game 4 with a ton of swagger.

Captain Dustin Brown described that hole as “the most dire situation” the Kings had been in.

Let’s look back at the four games the Kings ended up winning and some of the fallout:

Game 4

Tyler Toffoli, Marian Gaborik and Justin Williams helped Los Angeles win 6-3.

Even early on, it seemed like the Kings were planting seeds that they might be able to overcome the deficit, as 3-0 leads were deemed a little less foreboding than they once were.

Game 5

The Kings “went into the cage” and forced Antti Niemi out of the Sharks’ net for a second consecutive game. Bitter San Jose fans will note that this was the game in which key defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic was injured. Los Angeles ended up winning 3-0.

Dan Boyle wondered if the Sharks were taking their series lead for granted.

Game 6

Los Angeles became the ninth team to force a Game 7 after being down 3-0, an accomplishment in its own right. The Kings once again won decisively, taking this one 4-1. There was some nastiness in this one:

There were plenty of negative reactions to the Sharks’ sudden slump.

Game 7

Once again, the Kings survived. Once again, the final score wasn’t particularly close, as Los Angeles beat San Jose 5-1 to become the fourth team in NHL history to erase a 3-0 deficit and win a playoff series. Incredibly, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards were on the Philadelphia Flyers team that accomplished such a feat against the Boston Bruins during the 2010 playoffs.

Fallout

Williams remarked that the Kings should not “do that again,” yet it seemed like they used that big-game experience to become serious survivors in elimination situations.

Los Angeles ended up moving on and winning their second Stanley Cup, although not without remarking that they saw fear in the Sharks’ eyes during their comeback. To some extent, the Sharks are still dealing with the reverberations of that loss as the organization waffled on the subject of rebuilding, awkwardly stripped Joe Thornton of the captaincy and generally seemed to send mixed messages about how it would deal with that crushing defeat.

While the Kings’ 0-3 story ended with the Stanley Cup hoisted in the air, it appears that there are still a few chapters remaining in San Jose’s version of the story.

Report: Contract talks underway between Kings, Williams

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From ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun:

Williams, 33, is in the last of a four-year, $14.6 million deal that carries a $3.65M annual cap hit. For that money, Williams has been a very productive player for the Kings — two 20-goal seasons, one Conn Smythe and the “Mr. Game 7” moniker — but he’s not getting any younger, and the Kings don’t have a ton of cap space moving forward.

The team’s financial issues this season have been well-documented, especially after playing shorthanded on a couple of occasions following the Slava Voynov suspension. What’s more, GM Dean Lombardi has gone heavy on the lengthy, big-money contracts — Voynov, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, Marian Gaborik, Jeff Carter and Jonathan Quick are all signed through 2019 — and still has some key RFA negotiations on the horizon this summer in Kyle Clifford, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli.

Per CapGeek, the Kings have only 14 players under contract at approximately $60 million for next season. If the ceiling is to rise to the projected $73M, that’d give L.A. around $13 million to fill out its active roster.

What that means for Williams remains to be seen.