Mike Richards is expected to be in the Washington Capitals' lineup tonight as the Los Angeles Kings come to town. While the legend of teammate Justin Williams is pretty much set in stone thanks to a 2014 Conn Smythe showing and effectiveness until the end of his tenure in LA, Richards left behind a much more complicated legacy. As we wrote during the tumultuous summer of 2015, Richards entered a steep decline in the final year or two of his time in LA and eventually was let down by his own health, his own judgment, and perhaps by his own team.
Four months after the Kings and Richards settled on a deal that would keep him on the salary cap until 2031 but essentially give LA the termination they desired, though, neither Richards nor the Kings have a lot to say about the episode, and neither side wants to dredge up the negatives. So with Williams likely to soak up most of the adulation when Washington comes to Staples, let's focus on the high points today.
5. A Winnipeg...... Rocket.
4. Happy Returns
In his first game back in Philadelphia since being traded -- and in only his fourth game ever with the Kings -- Terry Murray gave Richards a chance to defeat his old team in overtime. Richards obliged with a shot-pass to Jack Johnson.
3. Blues Collared
As Jon Rosen noted this morning, Mike Richards was excellent in the first round against Vancouver in 2012, and he got a lot of credit for the current Kings' first taste of playoff success. Having said that, he may actually have been better in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Richards notched five points in each of the first two rounds before a Dave Bolland hit knocked him out. Richards would return for Game 5 and produce a bit of late magic, but he was never quite the same after that concussion. Nonetheless, Richards assisted on four of the Kings' six regulation goals in Games 4 and 5, with three of those assists being the primary assist. LA's recovery from 2-0 down was in large part due to Richards.
2. Freeway Faceoff Heroics
Richards was not the same player in 2013-14 as he had been in the two years before, but in the second round against the Anaheim Ducks, he put up four points, three of which were critical to LA's eventual triumph. In the waning seconds of Game 1, he fought for the puck along the boards and made the only play he really could, throwing the puck to the front. Marian Gaborik did the rest, but it was the brief moment of jump from Richards that made the play possible.
When the dust finally settled after a hard-fought series, Richards was at the center of a brutally effective Game 7 for the Kings. He earned the #1 star after winning 10 of 14 faceoffs, assisting on Justin Williams' early PPG, and scoring the back-breaker (and eventual game-winner) near the end of the first. To date, it's his last NHL multi-point game.
1. Keeping a Season Alive
Alec Martinez scored the two most important goals in Los Angeles Kings history, but if LA had come back to win the 2013 Western Conference Final, Mike Richards' goal with ten seconds left in Game 5 would have been on the same level. Maybe even higher. With a minute to go in Game 5, the chances of the Kings advancing to the Stanley Cup Final were 0.6%, according to Rink Stats. The last-gasp equalizer put the Kings back in the series in a big way, placing their odds of winning at a 10%. A game-winner in OT would have meant going back home for Game 6, and the result could have been a comeback that was statistically even more improbable than the one they'd pull off in Round 1 a year later.
Alas, it was a mere footnote, but at the end of a playoff run where Richards might have been the Kings' best player, it was appropriate that he kept the Kings' hopes of defending their title alive.
For better or for worse, this moment also encompasses Mike Richards' tenure in Los Angeles. Trust in pivotal late-game moments. Flashes of effectiveness in the midst of injury and invisibility. And a bittersweet ending, much heavier on the bitter than the sweet. If there's one play that sums up Richards' four years in Los Angeles, this is it.