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Los Angeles Kings' Mike Richards finds success away from Philadelphia

Richards, devastated after being traded by the Flyers after last season, has helped the Kings reach the Western Conference finals. And his old team is done for the season.

May 11, 2012|By Lisa Dillman
  • Kings center Mike Richards challenges Blues defenseman Kris Russell for possession of the puck during a playoff game last month.
Kings center Mike Richards challenges Blues defenseman Kris Russell for… (Jeff Roberson / Associated…)

Upon further review, and the helpful distance of about three months, Kings center Mike Richards considered the wisdom of taking on someone about six inches taller and 35 pounds heavier.

That would be a certain Phoenix Coyotes forward named Martin Hanzal.

"I don't know what I was thinking," Richards said Thursday, chuckling about their scrap in a fight-filled game between the Kings and Coyotes at Staples Center in February. "Defense."

Survival, perhaps?

Anyhow, there will be a rematch … and no rematch.

The Kings open the Western Conference finals at Phoenix with Game 1 on Sunday at 5 p.m., and it is highly doubtful there will be Richards vs. Hanzal, Part II.

Then again, little has gone according to form or plan during this wildly unpredictable playoff spring. Not many would have predicted a few months ago that Richards and his linemate Jeff Carter would be the ones playing for a spot in the Stanley Cup finals, not the Philadelphia Flyers.

Exile in Los Angeles never looked quite so good.

On the same day Richards was chatting with several reporters after the Kings' practice, his former teammates in Philadelphia were busy having exit meetings, deconstructing their playoff loss to the New Jersey Devils and talking about the future.

Happily ever after in Philadelphia — post-Richards and post-Carter — was supposed to be a regime change resulting in an orange-colored run deep into the playoffs. The Flyers shipped Richards and Carter out of town in no uncertain terms, trading them on the same day in late June to the Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets, respectively.

Richards was sent to the Kings in exchange for forward Wayne Simmonds, highly touted prospect Brayden Schenn and a draft pick. Those moves paved the way for the Flyers' next big splash, signing Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year deal.

Carter was reunited with Richards eight months later, just before the trade deadline in the Jack Johnson deal.

With Richards and Carter, the Flyers lost in the second round to the Boston Bruins in 2011. Without Richards and Carter, they also exited in the second round, losing to New Jersey in five games.

Richards said he watched part of the third period of Game 5.

"I couldn't really stop thinking about how well Jersey was playing," Richards said. "I know [the Devils'] Pete DeBoer as a coach, I had him for four years in Kitchener [Canada] ... and how much he probably got the team ready for them and how demanding a coach he is and how smart he is.

"I was surprised by that and [they] executed their game plan to a T. Fun to watch how fast they were and whoever plays them in the next round is going to have their hands full."

Richards, who was the face of the Flyers and their team captain, was crushed by the trade. The pain of the separation gradually faded through the fall and winter.

"Generally when a guy is devastated like he was devastated, that's a good thing," Kings President and General Manager Dean Lombardi said. "It means he was wearing that team's jersey on his sleeve. If he's young enough, as he was, he's going to show the same passion for you.

"You've got guys like that and they have a presence. You really didn't start seeing that presence emerge until, certainly in the playoffs, and the last couple weeks of the season when the money was on the line."

Even the Associated Press story from Philadelphia, following up on the Flyers' loss in the playoffs, referred to Richards and Carter in the opening paragraph: "Somewhere, in Los Angeles, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter had to be sharing a chuckle."

Richards, at least, sounded relieved he wouldn't have to be playing and talking about his former team.

"I have a lot of friends there," he said. "You always wish your friends the best. You never want to go against a team, especially when you have a lot of friends on there and a city that's given me a lot. So you always hope the best for them.

"We still have a long ways before we can get there. But it would be a little bit awkward if we had to go back there and play the first year back. It would have been a little bit weird."

Not that he hasn't been down that road.

"There's so many under-17s, under-18s, All-Star games, Olympics," he said. "You usually have a friend or two on each team. As you get on the ice, it kind of eliminates that for 60 minutes."

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