Seeing a once great player struggle to remain relevant is always difficult to watch. Rarely though do we see a player drop off in such spectacular fashion as Mike Richards has.
Twice a 30 goal scorer, and point per game producer, while playing for the Philadelphia Flyers, Richards was once considered one of the premier players in the league. Not only the face of the Flyers, but their heart and soul. Their captain, who in 2010 lead them to their first Stanley Cup Final in 13 years.
The Beginning of Richard’s Offensive Decline.
When Richards was traded to the Los Angeles Kings before the 2011-12 season it was expected that he would be the complement to Anze Kopitar that the Kings needed. A second line center that would allow the Kings to roll two solid lines each game. While Richards numbers dropped that season from his time in Philadelphia, it was easy to write off his lack of production as being a product of the defensive system the Kings play. Richards was still playing 200 feet a night and contributing on special teams, helping to lead the Kings to their first Stanley Cup win in franchise history.
In the shortened 2012-13 season, Richards had his best career shooting percentage (14.6%) and averaged more points per game (0.67) than his first season with the Kings, seemingly turning things around while playing a full season on a line with Jeff Carter.
Last season, however, Richards regressing mightily. Not only did his shooting percentage drop to 7%, but his points per game dipped to 0.5 and his +/- was negative for the second straight season. The first time in his career Richards had back-to-back negative seasons.
This season Richards is -9, which would be the second worst of his career and the third straight season he’s been a negative player. Richards’ points per game has dropped to a pedestrian 0.3 and his ice time is a career low 13:31. His five goals in 50 games is also the lowest of his career.
Due to his struggles this season, Richards was sent down to the Kings AHL affiliate Manchester Monarchs in January in the hopes that his game would turn around. During his stint with the Monarchs, Richards looked as though he had found his scoring touch again, racking up 14 points in 16 games. This was an encouraging sign for Kings fans.
The Second Coming of Richards.
Richards was called back up to the Kings on March 22nd and so far has played all three games during their current road trip. The team is 3-0 in those three games, but Richards once again is not performing for the Kings. Since his recall he’s had zero points and has one shot each game while having the second worst Corsi for of any Kings skater in those three games.
mike richards getting to relive the hype from coming to LA from the east coast with the weight of the franchise on him all over again
— LTIRRyanDunn (@NotDeadRyanDunn) March 23, 2015
Just got off phone w/Mike Richards. He got the call from Kings’ Rob Blake yesterday. MR : “It’s like being back with your family again,’
— lisa dillman (@reallisa) March 22, 2015
Stats can paint a picture on paper, but the real concern from most Kings fans is the apparent lack of effort from Richards when he’s on the ice. Every player could have a bad stretch of games, but it seems the only time fans have noticed Richards is when he’s making mistakes. Because of this, it’s easy to understand why his ice time has dropped each of his recent three games, to the point where he only had 10:00 TOI last game.
At this point in his career, Richards is not expected to be the top six forward he once was, and the Kings don’t need that. Between Kopitar’s line and That 70’s Line, centered by Jeff Carter, the Kings have two lines that are legitimate threats each time they’re on the ice. However, it’s not unrealistic to expect Richards to play a decent role on the third or fourth line. It’s not asking much.
It’s become painfully obvious that the Kings, and general manager Dean Lombardi aren’t going to be able to move Richards, whose contract is too large to do anything with. This means coach Darryl Sutter needs to find a way to motivate Richards, or find a new role for him. The fourth line is generally your “energy” line, but when your center doesn’t appear to have any energy, it’s hard to have much faith in their abilities.
So what is causing Richards to play so poorly? He just turned 30 last month, which is not old, even for hockey players. He recently got engaged, which would seem to indicate his personal life is going well. He’s on a team that’s not only the defending champions but also committed to him in the offseason when they could have bought him out. His best friend plays on the same team he does. He lives in one of the nicest beach communities in the country, along with the majority of the other Kings players. It seems like he has everything you could ask for right now, except the will to compete.
When Richards was recalled recently many Kings fans and media personnel felt that Richards looked thinner and healthier than when he went down to Manchester. A seemingly good indicator that he had been working hard to get in better shape. However, on the ice he still looks a step slower than everyone else. Perhaps that’s the biggest problem now. Hockey is a fast game and even if you can think fast enough to play you still need your body to move as quickly as your mind wants it to. When you can’t get to pucks as quickly as you could before you have to adapt your game to your physical abilities and Richards looks like he’s not been able to do that. Every player slows down over the course of their career, but if they don’t change their style of play they’re soon passed over by the younger and hungrier.
@TheFourthPeriod tough to read “Mike Richards” and “compete level” in same tweet.
— Dennis Bernstein (@DennisTFP) March 22, 2015
Yeah, but it’s more controlled I think than it is down there. It gets pretty hectic sometimes. It’s quicker, the players are quicker and things happen a little quicker, but it’s also more controlled up here, too. Like I said, as the game went on I started to feel more comfortable.
For now the Kings hope Richards can find a way to change his game to better suit his situation. In the AHL his lack of speed wasn’t as noticeable because he could think the game quicker than most of the kids there. He’s got to learn to think the NHL game differently than he is right now.