In an emotional, poignant reaction on the day of the resolution of the Mike Richards contract saga,
"Without a doubt, the realization of what happened to Mike Richards is the most traumatic episode of my career," Lombardi said in a written summation he provided to The Times on Friday. "At times, I think that I will never recover from it. It is difficult to trust anyone right now-and you begin to question whether you can trust your own judgment. The only thing I can think of that would be worse would be suspecting your wife of cheating on you for five years and then finding out in fact it was true.
"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. His production dropped 50% and the certain 'it' factor he had was vaporizing in front of me daily. This is a player that in 2010 was instrumental in Canada's gold medal run and by 2014, while still in his prime, was not even in the conversation for making the team."
The Kings and the NHL Players Assn. avoided going to arbitration in the Richards matter, reaching an agreement Friday.
His salary cap charge will stay on the Kings' books until 2031. There were five years and $22 million left on his contract, but the Kings have not disclosed the dollar figure on the final settlement.
On June 29, the Kings terminated the contract of Richards for a "material breach." Richards was arrested at a Canadian border entry stop on June 17 and later charged with possession of the controlled substance, Oxycodone, after a two-month investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Lombardi revealed the steps he and the Kings organization took as their concerns about Richards intensified. Richards was part of the Kings' two Stanley Cup champion teams, in 2012 and 2014, and by last season, the Kings sent him to their minor-league affiliate after the All-Star break because of how badly his play had faltered.
"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 wrote. "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.
"The reality is that I was 'played.' My only regret, though, is that I wish Mike had been able to come to me with his problem — and that was the last message I left for him on his cellphone when I learned of the incident and all the history leading up to the incident."
After the domestic violence case involving former Kings defenseman Slava Voynov and the two drug-related arrests of Richards and former Kings center Jarret Stoll, Lombardi has initiated educational programs for his players. The team also hired former player Brantt Myhres, who was once banned by the NHL for drugs, to help assist players and coaches throughout the season.
Lombardi indicated those steps were only the beginning
"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," he 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."