With nine years left on a 12-year deal he signed with Philadelphia in 2007, Mike Richards figured a trade was the last thing he'd have to worry about. He was wrong.
The Flyers sent their captain, one of the NHL's best two-way centers, to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday for highly regarded prospect Brayden Schenn, young forward Wayne Simmonds and a second-round pick in the 2012 Entry Draft. For Richards, who reiterated several times during a Thursday conference call with the media how much he loved playing in Philadelphia and being a Flyer, being dealt was stunning.
"I was very shocked when I got a call this afternoon from my agent, just kind of giving me the rundown on what he knew," he said. "I actually found out about it on the Internet a few minutes before I was able to get the confirmation from my agent about it. At first I was shocked, then I was excited.
"I'm excited to go out to L.A. and be part of a team that that has a ton of great players, and I'm looking forward to helping them out."
Richards, who had 23 goals and 66 points for the Flyers this season, may not have had an inkling that he could be traded, but Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi said he'd had the 26-year old in his sights for a while.
"It's been a pretty hectic four weeks," said Lombardi, who knew Richards from his own days in the Flyers' front office before coming to the Kings. "The issue of possibly acquiring him was broached about four weeks ago. I wasn't sure how sincere (the Flyers) were, or what it was going to cost.
"There has to be two things: The timing has to be right, and it has to be the right player. I think it's fair to say that when I found out this player was available, there was no doubt in my mind, given what I know about his character and competitiveness. Having him and (Anze) Kopitar down the middle allows us to match up with any team in the Western Conference."
The price wasn't cheap. Schenn, the Kings' first-round pick two years ago, is regarded as one of the top prospects in hockey, and Simmonds is a 22-year-old grinder who has 30 goals and 70 points in the past two seasons despite seeing little time on L.A.'s top two lines.
Lombardi had been reluctant to deal Schenn, but said he changed his mind because of "the player that was available. At the trade deadline, there was nobody comparable to Mike Richards."
Richards' long-term contract was actually a plus, Lombardi said.
"Brayden Schenn is a very good player and a very good prospect. But as I said (at the deadline), why would I give this guy up for a guy with one year on his contract, or someone who could become a free agent. It made no sense," he said. "We're talking about a player here who's arguably not even in his prime yet -- and the fact he's signed to a very favorable (average annual value) at $5.7 (million), in today's day and age … this deal made a lot of sense for us.
"Everywhere this guy has gone, he's won," Lombardi added. "He's not one of those guys you have to caucus and think whether you want this player. It was just a matter of trying to make it happen."
Richards said he had envisioned being a Flyer for life when he signed the long-term deal, and, despite the trade coming as a complete surprise, he was happy to be going to an organization on the upswing.
"I probably wouldn’t have signed the deal, actually, if I knew I was going to be traded," he said. "But I was fortunate enough to go to L.A., where I’ve heard nothing but tremendous things, not only about the organization but about the city and how nice it is out there and how great the organization treats you. Obviously when I signed that extension I wanted to stay in Philadelphia for the rest of my career. That’s what I envisioned, probably up until 2 o’clock or 3 o’clock this afternoon, when I got the call. it’s unfortunate.
"Nobody likes to be traded, but I feel like I’m going to a team where there’s a good chance that we’re going to have success there, and we have good players in position and a good organization. Hopefully we can take that next step together, and I just want to be there and help out any way possible.”
Richards said his final conversation with Flyers GM Paul Holmgren was short but emotional.
"Paul and I have got along extremely well during my six years there," he said. "It wasn’t a long conversation, but I just thanked him for giving me the opportunity to play with them and to be a Flyer and live in Philadelphia for six years. I think we were both a little emotional, so it wasn’t a long conversation. It was one I didn’t think I was ever going to have to do.”
That kind of emotion is one reason he wanted Richards, Lombardi said.
"I think (Richards) was emotional about being traded," he said. "If you've got a guy who's excited about being traded, generally that's not the guy you want. You want the guy who wears the jersey on his sleeve, who wears his heart on his sleeve. I know this had to be hard on him -- very few players ever commit to a contract like he did for that term, showing his loyalty. If we can get that here in L.A., that's exactly what we need."
The Kings have made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, but were bounced in the first round each time. Along with Kopitar, one of the best young centers in the NHL, the Kings now have an enviable one-two punch down the middle -- something they'll need in coping with Western Conference rivals such as Vancouver and San Jose, the teams that eliminated them in the past two springs.
“I’m not sure how I’m going to fit in, but I like the makeup of the team," Richards said. "They’ve got an extremely gritty team with a lot of skill. They have two great goaltenders, up to a defense that is skilled and play the game hard, and then you’ve got a lot of depth at the forward position too. I’m not sure how I’m going to get placed into it at the moment, but I’m just looking forward to getting there and really just playing the game that has kind of got me to this point.”