Calling anything about the season Mike Richards had "positive" might require a little re-calibration of expectations.
Mike Richards ranked tenth on the Los Angeles Kings in point production at even strength this year (1.26 points per 60 minutes). That's behind eight other forwards (as well as 26-game crazy-productive Jamie McBain) and just a hair ahead of Dustin Brown. From there, it's your rotation of fourth liners, rounded out by Jarret Stoll. Out of 382 NHL forwards who played at least half a season, Richards was 275th. Is that good? By the standards of a fourth liner, yeah, pretty good. A more positive way to look at it is that he was in the top half of the league in generating assists; given that his most common linemates were Dwight King and Kyle Clifford, that actually isn't so bad.
Richards built a reputation for being a constant shorthanded threat earlier in his career, a reputation which was dramatically hijacked by Tyler Toffoli this season. How did he fare this year? In limited time (more on that later), he acquitted himself well.
2014-15 Shorthanded (4v5) Statistics
|Player||TOI||SA/60||SF%||GA/60||GF%||On Ice Sv%||OZFO%||DZFO%||NZFO%|
(minimum: 30 minutes of 4-on-5 play)
Richards measures out quite well in terms of shots allowed on the PK, essentially averaging one shot allowed for every two minutes of PK time, and goals against, with only two in 38 minutes of work. He did this with marginally easier assignments than most of his teammates, but it offers a reasonable hope that Richards can return to a larger role on the penalty kill if Stoll's 100 minutes are up for grabs next year.
footnote: Toffoli being on ice for six shorthanded goals for and only two power play goals against is absurd.
Lastly, Richards played reasonably well in 16 games with the Manchester Monarchs, accumulating 14 points. The fact that I even mention this leads us to the...
So he was OK in the assists department this season. Not to rub in the lack of scoring, but I looked up all five of Richards' goals this season. Two of them were deflections he barely touched and one was a pass which banked in off a defender. Richards simply wasn't a threat with the puck on his stick this season, and even with the above goals, he's in the bottom 50 in the league in goals/60, two spots behind Nicolas Deslauriers. That's rough no matter what expectations were. And if the expectations were that Richards could potentially be a top-6-quality forward at any point this season, he never got close. In his slight defense, Richards did have some unfortunate luck (a 978 PDO, with only Brown and Jake Muzzin below him) contributing to low point totals.
Possession numbers do not help his cause either, though. His Corsi For was 51.6%, fourth-worst among LA forwards and behind rookie Nick shore. If you decide to evaluate using Fenwick instead of Corsi (AKA removing blocked shots from consideration), Richards was actually worse than even, with a 49.2% Fenwick For at even strength. Just him, Andreoff, and Nolan in that particular club. In terms of shots allowed while he was on the ice, only Tanner Pearson was worse, and Pearson more than made up for it by generating tons of shots the other way.
The defense of AND the problem with Richards is that he was still being tasked with a fair number of defensive zone faceoffs. It makes it tougher to drive possession, sure, but LA prides themselves on being able to throw their offensive threats on in any situation. And at this point, the one-time Selke runner-up simply isn't cutting it in his own end anymore. Of course, last year's Selke runner-up was Anze Kopitar, and I just terrified myself with that thought, so I'm gonna keep going as if I hadn't brought that up.
Suggest your theories for issues and symptoms which aren't on the stat sheet, but the end result was not only a lack of production, but a lack of trust from the coaching staff. Exhibit A: his ice time.
All this, of course, led to the lowest point of Mike Richards' career; on the Monday after the All-Star Game, Richards was placed on waivers. Upon clearing waivers, he spent two months in Manchester attempting to rediscover his form. It kind of worked (see above) and he came back in time for the Kings' sweep of the NY/NJ Metro Area in late March, but after duds against Minnesota and Chicago, he became a healthy scratch for the first time in his career. He would only play one of the Kings' six April games, the 3-1 loss to Calgary which eliminated the team from playoff contention.
His most crucial point of the season, an assist in the penultimate game of the year against Calgary, was essentially the result of Alec Martinez literally bouncing the puck off of him. So instead, it's gotta be the game-tying goal against his former team.
It's anyone's guess, but it doesn't look like anyone is coming in to save the Kings from this contract. After all, Richards was available for any team that wanted to take on his contract when he hit waivers in January, and not one team took the bait. So I wouldn't bet on any team making a trade for him unless it's a Clarkson-for-Horton type deal, which was probably once in a lifetime anyway.
So that leaves us at (a) Richards plays out his contract OR (b) the team buys him out. As a reminder, Richards has a cap hit of $5.75 million per season through 2019-20. If the Kings do in fact buy out his contract, they get this instead:
Mike Richards: Cap Hit, Post-Buyout
|2015-16: $1.217 million||2020-21: $1.467 million|
|2016-17: $1.717 million||2021-22: $1.467 million|
|2017-18: $2.717 million||2022-23: $1.467 million|
|2018-19: $4.217 million||2023-24: $1.467 million|
|2019-20: $4.217 million||2024-25: $1.467 million|
It's an unenviable decision for Dean Lombardi and the Kings' front office, magnified by the fact that Lombardi could have used a compliance buyout on Richards in the 2013-14 offseason. If he'd done so, all the dollar signs above would have zeroes after.
At any rate, neither of those two options are particularly thrilling. The best-case scenario is that Richards recaptures some semblance of the form he flashed as recently as the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The worst-case scenario is that he doesn't, and LA loses a valuable piece with that money they're spending.
F. On the other hand, we could have a hell of a redemption narrative going into 2015-16.