In late January, the Los Angeles Kings shocked everybody when they demoted 30-year-old Mike Richards to the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs. A leader and a winner his whole career, it showed how much the centre had declined that not only couldn’t the Kings find a trading partner to send him to, but he cleared waivers as well.
In the AHL, Richards has three goals and 14 points in 16 games. Making the whole situation even messier is that Richards carries a $5.75 million cap hit in the NHL and will do so for another five seasons. But he may not be stuck on the farm for the rest of the season.
Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi spoke with Sportnet’s Dan Murphy Thursday night and said Richards could return to the NHL this season, as the Kings once again are making a push for one of the final playoff spots in the West.
“We’re running him through some tests right now,” Lombardi said. “I mean, the one thing about Michael everybody knows, when there’s big games or critical moments, he’s always there. And we just gotta get him up to that capacity to be able to do that…
“But there’s very much a possibility he’ll be back.”
Before being demoted, Richards was having by far the worst season of his NHL career. He had managed just five goals and 15 points in 47 games as his skating and conditioning were called into question. But with the Kings currently sitting in the final wild card position one point ahead of Winnipeg, it seems the team is considering bringing him back up and reuniting him with a group of players that has gelled so well and become one of the strongest forces in the NHL.
“The only thing I can say about this group, it's been a group that's essentially been together now for five years and they never let themselves down, they never quit," Lombardi said. "They almost like having their backs against the wall. The one way you’re able to sleep at night is you know they’re a group that cares. That's our strongest asset in terms of this team is 20 guys who care about each other and either way you know they’re going to be out there fighting."
And Mike Richards is certainly part of that tightly knit group.