Kings’ Lombardi: What happened to Richards is a tragedy

The Los Angeles Kings have settled their contract dispute with Mike Richards, but other teams are upset that the Kings are getting salary cap relief. Elliotte Friedman and Damien Cox also touch on the rest of the news around the NHL.

The Los Angeles Kings and Mike Richards formally went their separate ways Friday following the announcement that the two sides reached an agreement on a settlement.

Financial terms were not released, but the Kings will pay Richards a portion of the $22 million he was owed on the final five years of his contract, and they will carry a $1.32-million cap hit (via through the 2030-31 season. Richards is now an unrestricted free agent.

Kings general manager Dean Lombardi addressed the situation Friday in a written statement to The Los Angeles Times.

“Without a doubt, the realization of what happened to Mike Richards is the most traumatic episode of my career,” Lombardi said in his letter to The Los Angeles Times. “At times, I think that I will never recover from it.

“Anyone close enough to me knows how much I loved Mike Richards. I believed that when I had acquired him, I had found my own Derek Jeter. But the fact is that he was never close to the player that he was after his best seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10 in Philadelphia.”

Lombardi acquired Richards from the Flyers in June of 2011, just three years into a massive 12-year, $69-million contract he inked with Philadelphia. Shortly after the trade, reports surfaced of Richards’ hard-partying ways leading to his exodus.

Although Richards was a member of the Kings’ Stanley Cup champion teams in 2012 and 2014, a steep decline in his ability was apparent.

“I tried everything with Mike — meeting with him constantly, sending him to concussion specialists, traveling in the off-season to visit with him at his summer home — and everything failed,” Lombardi said his statement. “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.”

Lombardi has drawn criticism for using Richards’ arrest and subsequent charges as an excuse to hit the eject button on his cumbersome contract.

The 30-year-old had his contract terminated by the Kings on June 29 for what the team referred to as a “material breach.” Richards was reportedly stopped while crossing the border into Canada on June 17 and was taken into custody in Emerson, Man., and questioned about Oxycodone, a prescription painkiller. Richards was subsequently charged with possession of a controlled substance by the RCMP.

“I believe that what happened to Mike Richards is a tragedy and I cannot let it go. My short-term goal is to win championships; my long-term goal is to eventually become more involved with groups studying the changing values that are becoming increasingly evident in sport and their root causes,” Lombardi wrote.

“I certainly believe that Mike Richards must be held accountable for his actions — but when a player who at one time symbolized everything that was special about the sport can become caught in such a destructive spiral, then I believe the institution of sport must begin to examine its level of culpability.”

While Lombardi’s statement certainly reads honest, if not scathing of Richards, it’s not going to do much for those who believe he places a greater emphasis on his own team’s financial well-being under the NHL’s salary cap rather than the health of the player.

Richards’ case was adjourned until Dec. 8, 2015 in September.

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