June 28, 2011 :: 9:10pm ET Out of the Flyers pan, into the Pacific
The newest member of the Los Angeles Kings, former Philadelphia Flyer
Mike Richards, finally gets to exhale.
LOS ANGELES, CA -- Approximately 100 hours
after his world was rocked, Mike Richards dialed me up to talk about
the next stage of his NHL career. He was apologetic while leaving word
about the late afternoon call and welcomed me to ring him up whenever
I had the time to yak.
So far, so good, eh? Where's the bad guy giving all those nice media
folks in Philly a rough time?
While the character assassinations rose to a crescendo with the
Flyers' failure in this year's playoffs, we went to better sources
before our chat, guys who shared the room with him.
To a man, we were told that Richards was a great teammate and would
fit well in the new room he'll stride into in September. As long as
you respected the guy, he'd stay around and chat with you in the
post-game locker room.
Hitting him up for words this deep into
the swap aftermath and months away from training camp, we spared him
the 20th consecutive round of questions about the shock attached to
being dealt for the first time, the parting with Jeff Carter and those
final days in Philadelphia. To be honest, I wasn't going to cover any
new round with that line of questioning and the repetition wouldn't
the best way to commence a relationship with a player we're likely to
cover for the better part of the next decade.
"So Mike, you own a pet?"
Richards is a dog owner; a black Labrador Retriever named Arnold. If
you own four legged canine friends like we do, I could conclude the
story now and you'd get it as only a certain type of individual
understands what puppies do, they make a house into a home.
But that would make this piece better suited for Dog Illustrated than
The Fourth Period, so I chose to continue the discussion. Brilliant.
Expectations are abnormally high in Philadelphia; there's a legacy of
winning by virtue of the two Stanley Cup banners from the mid 70s that
were shipped across from the dearly departed Spectrum and hang from
the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center.
The organization is not unlike the Mafia, once a Flyer always a Flyer.
Many former players are still attached to the team, whether it is in
the executive suite, broadcast team or ancillary businesses. The
loyalty and ferocity of the fans is well documented as to a person,
nothing less than a Stanley Cup will ever do. They really do bleed
Orange and Black hard by the Ben Franklin Bridge with every loss.
As our discussion progressed and we veered away from queries about who
he felt would be his line mates or if he might give Jack Johnson and
Drew Doughty a personal seminar on how to hit the net from the point
on the powerplay, it's apparent that he won't miss the responsibility
he shouldered by virtue of the letter C he deservedly wore with pride
for the Flying P.
With Dustin Brown well established as captain, and core players Anze
Kopitar and Matt Greene wearing the "A", you shouldn't expect Richards
and his new number 10 to have any kind of additional lettering come
"Coming into a new team, it will be good
not to have that pressure," Richards said. "Philadelphia is a tough
city and when things go wrong they look at the captain, which is fine
because I don't like losing. If there's blame to hand out, it might as
well be me.
"I think coming to the Kings and not having people look at me first
for leadership is going to make it an easier transition. It will be
good to just concern myself with on ice things and not what's going on
the dressing room and outside of hockey."
Playing in the Atlantic Division, the proximity of the opposition
found him sleeping in his own bed most nights (that bed was in a
rented condo, Richards never bought a home in his six years in
Many players voice concerns about heavy travel while playing n the
Western Conference, but Mike minimized the issue as he pointed out Los
Angeles' biggest road trip will be its first.
"It's going to be an adjustment, but the good thing is we'll spend
more time on the road and I'll get to know my teammates better
quickly," he said. "I think the Europe trip is a perfect fit for us,
and half to travel to the East is in our initial trip."
The Kings open the season playing in the Premiere Series in Berlin and
Stockholm, then hit the East Coast for matches against New Jersey and
what stands to be a very emotional return to the City of Brotherly
Love on Oct.15.
So while the road will be a friend to Richards and his new pals early
on, the transition stands to be seamless by virtue of the fact that
he's toiled for the current Kings bench boss and assistant coaches
during his time in Philadelphia. Terry Murray and John Stevens both
tapped on his shoulder from behind the bench in South Philly, they
welcome the opportunity to do so again and for his part Mike concurs.
"It makes it much easier with Terry and
John here," Richards explained. "I know the system they play,
five-on-five, powerplay, penalty kill and the whole nine yards.
Knowing the head coach as I do and knowing what he expects, there's no
Once the Flyers were bounced from the post-season, Mike needed to
decompress from the cauldron watching only a couple of games in the
"I like to travel right after we're done, go to places I've never been
to," he shared.
While many team's media guides list personal information about
players' favorite things away from the rink, the Flyers book just
feeds you statistical information. So where did Mike Richards fly off
to this spring to forget about it all?
"I went to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and Paris," he said. "In Cabo, we
hung on the beach with a couple of buddies and then went with my older
brother to the French Open. We've gone to the U.S. Open five years
in-a-row, but since we went out earlier, we went to the French this
time and Wimbledon's next."
Before you start thinking that he lives the life of a rock star (okay,
he really does), most of the off-season is spent like a large majority
of Canadian NHLers. Richards retreats to the north.
"Once my vacation ends, I like to get back, go fishing, work out and
do all my things in one spot and get away from everything."
Most of the Kings' players reside in the upscale beach towns of
Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach, they're in proximity to the team's
training facility and the Pacific waves are far more friendly and
warmer than the banks of the Schuylkill River.
"I've looked a little on line at housing and it's very early in the
process, but I'm having fun," Richards admitted.
To expand on the fun part away from the ice, the cars he owns are
disparate yet appropriate for the places he resides.
Back home, he trucks it in a GMC Sierra
pickup, "it's out in the middle of nowhere" but when the city boy
comes out, he rolls to the arena in a BMW 750i (autograph seekers, you
know owe me for the tip.) The aforementioned Arnold the black Lab
never made it down to Philly, life in a condo near Broad Street pales
in comparison to the ability to run free in the open spaces of western
His musical tastes vary from Brad Paisley to Eminem to My Morning
Jacket but unlike many others in the big show he's devoid of
"I have a stretch routine before the game, but I don't believe that
anything I do before a game is going to hurt me or help me on the
ice," Richards said.
While he might be convinced to sample sushi and tofu while dining out
in L.A. in the fall, steak is his favorite food putting him directly
in line for a $70 Kobe (not Bryant) beef steak somewhere on La Cienga
Mike stirred the pot with Twitter comments over the past few months
and he's among the increasing numbers of NHLers using social networks,
but sees its primary value as a bonus to his fans.
"It's for the fan's sake," Richards said. "You do a lot of interviews
on TV, and to tell you the truth, it's just the most generic,
not-get-you-in-trouble answers you can give, especially in
Philadelphia. Everything is personal and you can't joke around with
them. (Twitter) gives me the opportunity to throw stuff out there and
give more of a glimpse to my life than what they see on TV. I don't do
it a lot, throw some tennis stuff out there, for fans that care about
He's not all in on social networks either, as you can search Facebook
but you won't find him there.
Richards' final words reflected that while the adjustment continues
throughout the summer months, he'll be raring to go come opening night
wearing a Crown.
"With the expectations we had last season, it was set up for failure
if we didn't win," Richards indicated. "When you have that much
pressure, I don't think any team has lived up to it. There's always
pressure going into a season, but when you say, 'you must win,
period', it made it tough. Besides, the moat pressure I feel is the
amount I put on myself, to do well and help your team. No one is more
disappointed than me that we didn't win this year."
While he deals with that recent disappointment, there was more than
one high-five exchanged around the Kings executive suite when the deal
was consummated. Coach Terry Murray can't wait for the former Flyers
family to grow by one in Los Angeles.
"Winning just follows him around," Murray said. "It's incredible he's
an L.A. King. You do what you have to do to acquire this player."
The final words, as they usually do, go to GM Dean Lombardi.
Criticized for the duration of his tenure as L.A.'s top hockey guy,
he's silenced virtually all the negative talk with this deal. While
it's indisputable that he's built an organization from the ground up
and instilled a culture to a franchise that never had one, the
naysayers said that his inability to lure big time free agents to L.A.
(OK, the guy isn't Pete Carroll when it comes to recruiting) or pull
the trigger on the big deal (he'll argue with you he's done so in San
Jose by acquiring Teemu Selanne and Vincent Damphousse), his patience
was finally rewarded by acquiring a two-time All Star center for a
solid third line right wing in Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, a
rookie with all of eight games of NHL experience, but big potential.
The day of acquiring potential is over. Two consecutive playoff berths
will lose its luster to the fan base and ownership if it evolves into
three consecutive first-round playoff eliminations. Progression must
be made and Lombardi went all in to acquire the guy who makes this
team a serious contender to emerge from the West.
"I've admired this player from his junior days up until the present.
He has the unique presence of taking over a room without trying to."
Lombardi stated. "He's got that 'it'; you can't define 'it' but you
know it when you see it.
"I've stayed away from a lot of players because part of building a
team was also about building a culture. Players like him are culture
For a fan base devoid of a Stanley Cup since its inception in 1967,
they're begging, hoping and pleading that Mike Richards turns it into
a championship culture.