This morning, the Kings finally recalled Mike Richards, thus ending Jeff Carter's brief crisis.
When Mike Richards was waived on January 26th, he was mired in an extended scoring slump. The veteran center had picked up just 3 points in a 17-game stretch extending back to the middle of December. At the time, Dean Lombardi said that Richards was waived because he was batting .200. This obviously troubled the Kings, as they play hockey and not baseball.
Richards took the demotion as well as possible, I suppose. He went down to the AHL and picked up 14 points (3 goals, 11 assists) for Manchester in just 16 games. That is the most prolific rate that Richards has scored at, at any level, since joining the Kings.
Those 16 games are the first regular season games that Richards has ever played in the AHL. His only previous stint in the minors was a 14-game playoff run with the Philadelphia Phantoms before he ever stepped foot on NHL ice. During that playoff run, Richards notched 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists). Though I'm seriously grasping at straws here, those decent runs of play in the AHL are not far off of each other production-wise, which - who knows - could be a sign of good things to come.
Of course, we can't measure his possession numbers in the AHL. That has always been Mike's biggest problem with the Kings, even when his production was still acceptable. Richards hasn't been a positive possession player relative to the rest of the Kings since joining the team. Despite the fact that his raw Corsi numbers are better with the Kings than they were with the Flyers, Richards was always able to be a boost to the Flyers as opposed to the drag he's been on the Kings.
Some of this is misfortune, sure. The Kings teams Richards has played for are considerably better than his Flyers teams were. However, that doesn't change the fact that every single player Richards has played significant minutes with since joining the Kings fares better without him than they do with him. In most cases, Mike's teammates perform considerably better without him than they do with him.
Still, though, he will help the Kings! Really, I mean it. I don't think he found some lost magic down in Manchester and I don't think he's in The Best Shape Of His Career or anything (or, if he is, I don't think it matters much), but he was always a better option at center in the bottom six than several of the players that have played in his stead.
In fact, there's a pretty strong case to be made that Mike Richards should have been getting all of the minutes that Jarret Stoll has been getting since the playoffs started last season. I'm not entirely sure why Richards leapfrogged backwards over Stoll. In every year that the two veteran centers have played on the same team, Richards has been better offensively and - except their very first season together - roughly equal at driving possession.
Arguing that Mike Richards is better than Jarret Stoll (or vice versa) is a pretty fruitless endeavor, though. A lot of times, that argument feels like the "would you rather be burned to death or frozen to death" debate. It's a personal preference that will, eventually, lead you to the same basic outcome.
Mike Richards will help the Kings, not because he is a great player that's gotten a raw deal, but because the players he is potentially replacing have not been playing very well.
Andy Andreoff and Jordan Nolan are not good hockey players. Nick Shore has been marginally better than both of them but still pretty ineffective. Jarret Stoll has been just a hair more acceptable than Shore this year possession-wise, while also putting his team on the penalty kill more often than most other forwards in the NHL. Richards has had a better season than all of those players at basically any category you want to throw out there. He probably has a higher ceiling than those players as well, even if I don't think he's even sorta likely to actually hit that ceiling.
Though he's probably not about to set the league ablaze with some recently-found skill, he will help the Kings' bottom six. Isn't being moderately more useful than your team's worst players pretty much what the salary cap era of the NHL is all about anyway?