More than pretty much anything else since this story started to unfold, I wanted to know what the heck happened between Dean Lombardi and Mike Richards. I didn't really care if the Kings weaseled out of the contract or paid the whole dang thing to a player that won't be here. I just wanted to know what happened.
After all, the romance between Lombardi and Richards has always been apparent. When Lombardi acquired Richards, he famously walked Mike around the Kings' facilities and described how Mike would become a legend painted on the walls like the ones Richards grew accustomed to back in Philly. On multiple occasions, Lombardi's referred to Mike as "my Derek Jeter." Hell, even keeping him on after the second Stanley Cup win was a romantic gesture.
For months, no real light has been shed on the happenings between these two. Yes, there was the situation at the border, but this was still too abrupt of a turnaround for just that. No one talked about it. Lombardi didn't plead his case, Richards didn't defend himself, and even the NHLPA quietly stewed before finally filing a grievance.
As we covered yesterday, Richards and the Kings finally reached a settlement.
Late last night, as the Kings were again getting pasted on the ice, Lisa Dillman published an absolute firebomb for the LA Times. We didn't cover a lot of new ground in terms of what happened, but we sure did learn that Dean Lombardi has a lot of feelings.
"Without a doubt, the realization of what happened to Mike Richards is the most traumatic episode of my career"
What happened to Mike Richards is never directly pointed out, but we can do a bit of reading between the lines, which we'll get to shortly.
Let's remember this, though: what happened to Mike Richards affected Mike Richards. It happened directly under the nose of Dean Lombardi, and if he feels slighted by whatever Richards did, then it may very well be because of his own neglect.
It is not unfair to feel personally wronged when someone with an addiction lies to you or cheats you or uses you - those are normal feelings. I can say that I have experienced many of the same feelings in my life. I didn't, however, decide to get those feelings out in a widely read newspaper. Whenever you have feelings about what other people are doing, I think it's important to remember that those feelings are almost always incredibly selfish. It's alright to feel them, and to talk about them with people you trust. Those things are fine. When you're in a position of power and you use them to incinerate another human being in a public space, maybe chill? Just relax a little. Hold off with the flamethrower for like fifteen seconds, at least.
Addiction, particularly to painkillers, is a horrifying and destructive thing. There is one person in an abuser's life whose feelings need to be centered, and that person is most certainly not his boss.
This isn't very new ground for Dean Lombardi, though. He expressed similar histrionics over Jarret Stoll.
"It's safe to say, in all honesty, it was probably the most difficult meeting I've had in my career. It was probably one of the most gut-wrenching meetings I've ever had in my entire career - and I've had meetings with lots of players."
Increasingly, Dean Lombardi sounds like Peter from Office Space. Everyday is the worst day of his life right now. At some point, these abundant emotions appear to be put on for show. Why would meeting with Jarret Stoll - an impending free agent - about using drugs in the off-season be gut-wrenching? It is possible, of course, that there is some more to the story than we know, but it's just a bizarre thing to say or admit to.
As I mentioned earlier, Lombardi never directly says what happened. He does, however, metaphorically describe it.
"The only thing I can think of that would be worse would be suspecting your wife of cheating on you for five years and then finding out in fact it was true."
"I heard the rumors that Mike might have some off-ice issues, but I refused to believe that they were true despite some obvious signs.
"The reality is that I was 'played.' My only regret, though, is that I wish Mike had been able to come to me with his problem — and that was the last message I left for him on his cellphone when I learned of the incident and all the history leading up to the incident."
This is incredibly specific. Five years is a bizarre thing to add to this, because the general horror of distrusting someone you rely on is more than enough to be awful. Mike Richards was acquired in June of 2011 and had his contract terminated just about four years later. The implication, to me, is that Richards was doing, uh, something for that entire time.
Richards went to great lengths to avoid being caught in precarious positions in Los Angeles, as that ignited his exit from Philadelphia. He wasn't caught out with Jeff Carter at parties. In fact, the two were rarely photographed together at all. They went to some sporting events together, but didn't seem to actually hang out that much at all. In fact, Richards didn't seem to spend much time with any of his teammates.
This isn't very important, but in hindsight, there was abundant public evidence that something may have been very wrong. Yes, Richards was aging and had put together a very rough and tumble career, so some decline was to be expected. However, the particular way his decline manifested was troubling. He didn't just slow down or lose a little bit on the shot. He forgot how to skate. He forgot how to make passes. His shot disintegrated. These didn't appear to be related to injuries, his game was just gone.
It also happened incredibly fast.
Though slightly disappointing in his first season as a King, he was still useful. Two seasons later and we were counting down the days until the Kings would woefully pass on buying him out.
The troubling part is that this is only what we could see. There had to be more obvious signs behind closed doors. Lombardi probably spent plenty of time in the same room as Richards. An entire roster of players had to know that something was going on with the guy. Did no one come forward in all this time? How did the Kings just miss it, if Lombardi's implications are true? Who betrayed Dean Lombardi? Was it Mike Richards or Dean himself?
The only feelings Dean Lombardi should be making public are sincere wishes for Mike's recovery. Better yet, he could shut his mouth for once. Instead, he pushed Mike into a wood chipper.
Richards and his representatives will probably respond. They pretty much have to. Lombardi's feelings-vomit somehow managed to further damage Mike's already-ruptured reputation.
It still feels like there is so much more story here. Lombardi said an awful lot and still managed to say very little at all. Someday, I hope, we learn more. Mostly, I hope that Mike Richards is alright.