Kings center Mike Richards says he's gotten over his surprise offseason… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )
Mike Richards needed time to digest the trade that sent him from the Philadelphia Flyers to the Kings in June. He had grown up a Flyer, was their captain, enjoyed the life of a rich, single athlete in a passionate city that reveres or reviles those who wear its name on their uniforms.
"The first day I talked to him after the deal was done he was in a little bit of shock still. So I left it for probably a month and a half," said Kings Coach Terry Murray, a former Flyers assistant.
"The next conversation by phone was a complete different tone in his voice. He was really jacked up and ready to get going."
For the Kings, who open their season Friday at Stockholm against the New York Rangers, the 26-year-old could be one of the final pieces to a puzzle that is four decades in the finishing. They can send him onto the ice after Anze Kopitar, one of the NHL's top two-way centers, and they will match up well against anyone.
"You look at all the really good teams in the league, they always have that 1-2 center and a solid third," said Kings captain Dustin Brown, who has played against Richards for a decade. "Everything goes through the centermen. When you have two, three solid centermen, your team automatically improves.
"It's just a whole other dimension to our team in regards to how other teams play us now."
Richards, twice a 30-goal scorer and strong enough on defense to be a prime penalty killer, will start centering for Brown and former Flyers teammate Simon Gagne. Richards knows much will be asked of him. He feels prepared to deliver.
"There will be expectations, but no more, I think, than what I've had before," he said. "I don't think there's any more pressure than what I put on myself.
"There are expectations for every season, but this year I think I'm more excited to get started and get on the ice and focus on playing hockey. I'm more excited to start the season than I have been in past years."
Richards had signed a 12-year contract extension with the Flyers and expected to finish his career in orange and black. After being traded for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a draft pick, he said he wouldn't have signed that extension if he knew he might be dealt. He was also stung by rumors of discord in the Flyers' locker room and questions about his leadership.
His bitterness has been replaced by anticipation of what the Kings could accomplish this season.
"I've moved on. I'm excited to get started here in L.A.," he said. "I don't think much of it anymore."
Brown said Richards hasn't tried to take over and instead let matters mesh naturally.
"He fits in with the team perfectly. His personality works and that's kind of what we have here in L.A., a good group of personalities," Brown said. "Then it makes it fun to come to the rink.
"I tend to think he's a little more like me with his leadership and doesn't say a whole lot but goes out and plays — and you should see the way he plays. That's a big plus for us."