Mike Richards

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After half-season stint with Caps, Richards hoping to ‘get some traction’ in free agency

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Mike Richards knows his numbers with the Washington Capitals weren’t great.

In 39 regular-season games, he had just two goals and three assists. In 12 playoff games, he had no points at all.

But the 31-year-old center still thinks he can play. He isn’t done with hockey yet.

“Obviously, a disappointing end to the season, but that happens, only one team can win,” Richards told KenoraOnline recently, recalling his mid-season move to Washington in the wake of a messy breakup with the Kings.

“It was a little bit of an up-and-down season. I probably expected it to go a little more offensively, but it’s not easy to just jump in mid-season. Live and learn and hopefully I can get a full season under my belt this year.”

An unrestricted free agent, Richards said he’s hoping to “get some traction in the next couple of weeks.” For now, he’s just training and waiting.

It may be that he has to accept a training camp tryout, with a team that prefers to take a preseason test drive before it commits to anything.

At the very least, he should get that.

After all, it was only two years ago that Richards hoisted the Stanley Cup for the second time in his career, even if that seems like a long time ago now.

The Caps’ window has one more year, then all bets are off

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What should the Washington Capitals do now?

It’s a popular question today, for obvious reasons. Last night, the Caps fell painfully short of their postseason expectations, falling in the second round to Pittsburgh.

But if what Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said in February is to be believed, don’t expect massive changes to the roster.

“I view it as a two-year window,” MacLellan said. “We’re going for it this year, we’re going for it next year and then after that we’re evaluating where we’re at.”

Looking at their payroll, the Caps don’t have many expiring contracts. Marcus Johansson, Tom Wilson, and Dmitry Orlov are pending restricted free agents, while Jason Chimera, Mike Richards, and Mike Weber are unrestricted.

So there’s a bit of work for MacLellan to do this offseason, but nothing too drastic.

It’s the following summer that the tough decisions will need to be made. That’s when Evgeny Kuznetsov will need a big, new deal, and also when T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, and Karl Alzner can become UFAs.

Now, this is not to say that MacLellan won’t try to tinker this summer. There are some who feel he should try and upgrade the blue line, that the Penguins exposed it with their speed. But then, even if the defense could stand to be improved, that’s no easy task, as it’s probably easier to list the teams that won’t be trying to upgrade their blue line this summer.

The real improvement may have to come from within. Kuznetsov, for instance, had a great regular season, but just two points in 12 playoff games. Andre Burakovsky is still only 21; he has room to grow. Wilson, 22, wasn’t drafted in the first round to be a career fourth-liner; do the Caps still expect more from him? On the back end, Orlov, 24, probably has the most upside.

So, the Caps window hasn’t closed yet. If they can get past this latest disappointment, they should be back for another legitimate shot next year.

After that, though, all bets are off.

Will Sutter take ‘punches in the gut’ and return to coach Kings?

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Darryl Sutter has an offer on the table to return as the Kings’ head coach, and GM Dean Lombardi isn’t concerned about him walking away.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing in Los Angeles.

In Friday’s conference call, Lombardi acknowledged the Kings are in a bit of a tough spot, and need to reevaluate things after missing the playoffs two years ago and getting bounced in five games this season.

“I think there’s an offer that’s certainly respectable, but I don’t think this is about money,” Lombardi said, per Yahoo. “I think it’s ‘are we ready to do this’ because it’s going to be a lot of work. And just like building it in the past, you stick with some tough times.

“We’re not going back to there, but to get this back on track there’s going to be some minor punches in the gut as we fight our way through.”

Sutter, 57, has been with L.A. for the last five seasons and enjoyed a tremendous amount of success, winning two Stanley Cups. His direct, no-nonsense approach is admired (even if his players locked him out of the dressing room once) and he’s incredibly tight with Lombardi, dating back from their time together in San Jose.

Sutter — from Viking, Alberta, population 1,041 — also enjoys life in L.A. He says living in Manhattan Beach is “awesome” and “basically a small town.”

But for all the good stuff, the last two years have been tumultuous off the ice — Slava Voynov’s domestic violence charge, Jarret Stoll‘s drug arrest, Mike Richards‘ contract termination — and underwhelming on it.

The Kings’ defensive depth has been whittled away, and was exposed in this year’s postseason loss to the Sharks. Veterans Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik — who combine for nearly $11 million in cap space — have struggled, and both are on the wrong side of 30.

The club wants to retain power forward Milan Lucic, and are working towards a contract extension. But with a tight cap situation, it wasn’t surprising to hear Lombardi explain he doesn’t see a deal getting done anytime soon.

Lombardi later admitted the Kings are in “uncharted waters,” and “not where we want to be.”

As for Sutter, he’s yet to speak publicly to reporters about his plans for next year.

Orpik returns to practice, but status for Penguins series remains unclear

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Jay Beagle‘s sharpest memory of the Washington Capitals’ 2009 playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins was when he tried to run over Brooks Orpik and instead got flattened at center ice.

Orpik is still capable of making that kind of mark seven years later, if he’s able to play. Now with the Capitals, the veteran defenseman missed the final three games of the first round with a suspected concussion, and his status for the start of the second-round series against the Penguins is up in the air.

Feeling “rusty” in his first time on the ice with teammates since a big hit from Philadelphia’s Ryan White on April 18, Orpik said on Tuesday he still has to “do some stuff with the doctors to make sure everything is going right” before getting cleared to play.

It’s difficult to overstate Orpik’s impact on the highly anticipated series between Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, and his old teammates, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“I think he’s our best D, obviously,” Ovechkin said. “It’s a huge key for us, especially against those guys like Sid and Geno. We have to make it tough on them. We have to play physical. We just have to dictate our game on them.”

At 6-foot-2 and 221 pounds, Orpik brings a physical element that’s hard to replace. He was a big piece of the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run in 2009 and along with former Pittsburgh teammate Matt Niskanen has been instrumental in making the Capitals’ defense championship-caliber.

“He brings a lot of good experience of knowing what it takes, being professional, his approach and on the ice – a battle-tested guy,” Niskanen said. “I come to do my thing: Defend well, positioning, stick positioning, skating, moving the puck efficiently and contributing in some different areas.”

The Capitals need strong play from their top four defensemen – Niksanen, Orpik, John Carlson and Karl Alzner – against the Penguins, who not only have Crosby and Malkin but offensively potent players like Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist and Carl Hagelin.

Alzner had a “maintenance day” Tuesday, coach Barry Trotz said, after a rough-and-tumble series against the Flyers.

Orpik’s presence was a positive sign eight days after he was leveled by White and appeared dazed as he was helped off the ice.

“It was just one of those ones I didn’t see it coming,” Orpik said. “If I saw it coming, nothing comes of it. I’ve been hit a lot harder than that and been fine.”

Trotz, who would obviously like to have Orpik in the lineup, said the 35-year-old is fine but also said he is day-to-day.

“He’s a big part of what we do,” Trotz said. “Primarily he’s a good defender and a warrior and a good penalty killer. There’s no question he can help us.”

Orpik is one of just three Capitals players with a Stanley Cup ring, along with forwards Justin Williams (three) and Mike Richards (two). By contrast, Pittsburgh still has five players left from its 2009 Cup team: Crosby, Malkin, forward Chris Kunitz, defenseman Kris Letang and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s still working to return from his concussion.

There’s significantly more gray hair in Orpik’s still-burgeoning playoff beard than seven years ago, and his standing in the Capitals’ locker room is bigger than it was for the Penguins. Trotz said Orpik is the “father figure” to younger players, and the alternate captain has immense respect from his teammates.

“Brooks is a team-leader guy and he’s got lots of experience in the playoffs and he knows the people around the league,” said center Evgeny Kuznetsov, whose stall is next to Orpik’s. “It’s always nice to have him in the locker room and on ice, too.”

The Capitals can survive without Orpik but face a tougher challenge if he’s not in the lineup.

“He’s an important player for us,” Niskanen said. “Brooks is a good player. It’s not a secret what his attributes are, and he brings a lot to the team.”

Will Richards, Williams’ past success guide the Capitals?

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The Washington Capitals have a reputation for coming up short in the playoffs, but enough has changed in recent years to make it unfair to judge the franchise based on its past.

There are a lot of different and major examples of that transformation, but among the more interesting is the addition of Justin Williams and Mike Richards. Williams was a solid contributor this season while Richards played more of a depth role, but both of them have enjoyed a lot of success in past postseasons and, among other things, are 7-0 in Game 7s.

So while they aren’t the key reasons why Washington won the Presidents’ Trophy, they might prove to be valuable assets in the weeks and, if the Capitals are successful, months to come.

To be sure, the question of “will he step up” is bigger with Richards, who had a much smaller role in 2015-16 than Williams in the first place. That said, Richards will at the very least get the opportunity to do more as he’s been moved from the fourth to third line, based on Tuesday’s practice.

“It gives us some flexibility, especially when we go into Philadelphia, to get away from some matchups, maybe,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz told CSN Mid-Atlnatic. “Maybe the top lines nullify each other and you’re depth has to get it done for you. If we’re going to be successful in any series you’re going to need production from all four of your lines.”

Certainly if Richards can step up in the playoffs, then Philadelphia will have a hard time containing the type of balanced attack that the Capitals will be capable of rolling out. That being said, while Richards is only 31-years-old, his decline has been well documented. So while he has traditionally done better in the playoffs than regular season, maybe that won’t be enough this time around.