Under Pressure: Mike Richards

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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Los Angeles Kings, we pick … center Mike Richards.

Sometimes a player is judged based on more than just the goals, assists and points he puts up. Even beyond the simplest numbers, there are facts and figures that matter more and more when it comes to forming opinions, and few things can drive feedback down quite like an athlete whose play doesn’t seem to match his pay. Much like Roberto Luongo (during his time with Vancouver in particular), Richards’ contract carries an expensive price tag ($5.75 million per season for a guy seemingly penciled-in for the third line?) and scary term (the deal expires after 2019-20), thus inspiring terms like “anchor” and “albatross.”

The defending champions are designed so near-immaculately that the 29-year-old’s deal sticks out like a sore thumb; add that to the a rejected opportunity to get out of it and every underwhelming Richards shift will only frustrate a subset of fans that much more.

With all apologies to Jonathan Quick (the other Kings player with a polarizing contract) and Justin Williams (a guy who might get squeezed out after this upcoming contract year), Richards is an easy choice for this feature.

The uncomfortable thing is that he’s highly unlikely to impress anyone expecting the 70+ point production of his peak years in 2007-08 (75 points) and 2008-09 (80). Really, his best chance of appeasing anyone is to appeal to hardcore fans and/or those who are more likely to empathize with his challenging situation.

Ideally, he can at least be more of an asset as a defensive forward with some upside. As this intensive study at Jewels from the Crown shows, his underlying numbers aren’t as bad as you might think when placed in the proper perspective, so maybe it’s a matter of adjusting expectations.

People forget that the Kings would have to pay Richards plus another player to take his place, so a buyout isn’t as cut-and-dried as it may seem. Still, it’s simply more fun to hammer on this situation in the simplest of terms.

As far as his team is concerned, Richards can be useful if he ups his offensive production a bit and continues to carry a heavy defensive workload for the Kings. Will he be valuable enough to justify that $5.75 million? It’s difficult to imagine such a scenario, which might miss the point.

That said, more than a few people will expect more than what Richards is probably capable of providing, so expect him to be in some high-pressure situations next season.