The Los Angeles Kings have acquired center Mike Richards from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for forwards Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a second round draft selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Richards, who served as the Flyers’ captain for the past three years, is 26 years old. He is signed through the 2019-20 NHL season after inking a 12-year contract with Philadelphia in December of 2007. Richards is a two-time 30-goal scorer who has averaged 28 goals, 42 assists and 70 points over the last four seasons while playing in an average of 78 regular season games per year. He has also during that time played in 57 total playoff games while helping lead Philadelphia to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010. During that playoff run he recorded 23 points in 23 playoff games.
Life comes at you fast. The above notification waiting in my E-mail inbox when I returned home on June 23rd, after a 2 day stay in Las Vegas, which had been, ostensibly, a trip to cover the 2011 NHL Awards Show, and in particular, to profile Dustin Brown.
For the second year in a row, Brownie was one of the three finalists for the NHL Foundation Award. Since 1998, the Award has been annually presented to the player who best “applies the core values of hockey – commitment, perseverance, and teamwork, to enrich the lives of people in his community.” Before getting to the late-breaking trade news, I must first give proper recognition to Mr. Brown.
Dustin did take home the Award this year. When I interviewed him, he was adamant that he was not at all goal-oriented about winning this award. The award is secondary to him doing something he is honored to do; he is very thankful to be in the position to help others.
The award itself is great recognition, as it is really more about Dustin Brown the man, as opposed to Dustin Brown the hockey player. He also gave props to his wife Nicole, who he says contributes as much or more, than does he. Midway thru the interview, I did begin referring to he and Nicole as “Team Dustin Brown”. For those of you whom may not know, Nicole is also quite an accomplished hockey player in her own right. After home games, she is more than willing to “discuss” with the Kings’ Captain, certain aspects of the game in which her hubby may, or may not, have been impressive. Nicole may very well be a driving force behind Brownie’s inspired play night in and night out. There are rules. His play on any given night, can be discussed on the drive home, but not within the friendly confines of the Team Brown household. He admits the drive home is sometimes tough, but did not hint at moving to a residence closer to Staples Center. Overall, it seems Dustin enjoys having a spouse so knowledgeable about the game. They make a great couple. Congratulations to Team Dustin Brown.
The Big Trade:
I left Sin City just in time. While driving back to southern California, I began receiving numerous text messages from friends and colleagues about the transaction. I got home, unpacked, read the E-mail detailing the trade, and then, most importantly, participated in the National Conference call which first featured Mike Richards, and then Kings’ GM Dean Lombardi. Here’s how it went.
In speaking first with the former Flyers’ captain, he still seemed in a state of shock. He spoke of how much he loved being a Flyer, and that he loved the City of brotherly love. The trade apparently was a complete surprise. Richards spoke of how he thought he’d be a member of the Philly organization for life, and that had he known he might possibly be traded in the future, probably would not have agreed to the 12 year deal back in 2007. Emotions were still pretty raw, as the conference call took place only 4 or 5 hours after Mike was informed he’d been traded. He had not heard any rumors prior to the June 23rd bombshell.
When asked how he’d like to be remembered by all the Flyers’ faithful, he replied “As someone who left it all on the ice whenever I had the opportunity.” He also remarked that “You don’t realize it’s a business until you get traded”. His best friend, Jeff Carter was also dealt away (to Columbus) as well. Mike and Jeff had played together for 10 years, and Richards said he had envisioned them both spending their entire careers in Philly. There is some familiarity with the Kings’ coaches, as Richards had worked with both Kings’ head coach Terry Murray, and Asst coach John Stevens, when the two were part of the Philadelphia coaching staff. Richards does not have any real history with any of the Kings’ players, other than having played with Drew Doughty on the 2010 Canadian Olympic Team. Richards also played with Dustin Penner in the OHL some years back.
Richards’ outlook on becoming a member of the Los Angeles Kings:
Mike Richards says he “Likes the makeup, and skill level” of the team. He looks forward to fitting in. When presented with the question of being the guy to be matched against Ryan Kesler of Vancouver in order to get the team over the hump, the former Flyer said he hasn’t given it much thought, and reiterated that he will be focused on fitting in. Again, he was still emotional, and the reality of the trade was still sinking in. He was trying to be as professional as possible, and I believe he was genuine when speaking positively about coming to L.A. but it was obvious that Mr. Richards was crestfallen.
Dean Lombardi’s Take:
According to Dean, he had learned that Richards might be available, about a month ago. Not known for pulling the trigger on big trades, the Kings’ GM stated that “The timing has to be right, and it has to be the right player.” His apparent reluctance to include top prospect Brayden Schenn in any trade scenario had allegedly doomed several deals in the past. Dean also spoke of his belief that a team must be strong on the blueline, and strong up the middle, to compete at a high level. The Western Conference is solidly built upon those fundamentals. Lombardi used the examples of Pavel Datsyuk/Henrik Zetterberg in Detroit, Joe Thornton/ Joe Pavelski/Logan Couture in San Jose, and of course, Henrik Sedin/Ryan Kesler in Vancouver.
Deano was at the helm in San Jose when they increased in points in 6 straight seasons beginning with the 1996-97 through 2001-02. I mentioned this to him, coupled with his commitment to building through player development, as opposed to free agent signings/trades. I asked if the trade deadline signing of Dustin Penner, and this deal for Richards, could be viewed as his evolving as a GM. His response was that while he was committed to player development first and foremost, the Richards trade was really following the same template he had in San Jose. He spoke of first developing the talent within the organization, and then, much like he has done here, acquiring veterans to fill certain voids. He noted his 1999 acquisition of crafty center Vincent Damphousse, and the 2000 acquisition of Teemu Selanne. Damphousse, coupled with homegrown Patrick Marleau finally gave the Sharks stability at the center position. Selanne skated on the top line with Marleau and another Sharks’ product by the name of Marco Sturm. Selanne left for Colorado after the 2002-03 season, but the Marleau/Damphousse combo was in place when the Sharks made their first ever Conference final appearence in 2004.
Many Kings fans will be sad to see crowd favorite Wayne Simmonds headed out of town, and Brayden Schenn had been built up as the future of the franchise. When the smoke clears, the Kings got a proven commodity in Mike Richards. Richards is only 26. As Lombardi also pointed out, despite what the former Flyer has accomplished thus far in his career, he may not even have reached his prime.
For the record, one of the Conference call participants grilled Dean almost unmercifully about whether or not he was going to make any further deals this offseason. He politely declined comment (several times), and finished the interrogation by simply saying “For now, let’s just let the dust settle.”
For those Kings fans whom do not watch a lot of Eastern Conference hockey, you can all rest assured, this is a great move for your team. You will love the energy, grit, and determination Richards brings night in and night out. Once the chemistry develops, the team will be on another level. This will also free up Anze Kopitar to be more creative, and will put the Kings in position to compete with those teams which already have a great 1-2 punch at the center position.
Let the Mike Richards era begin.