Richards, who has been a key factor in the Kings' two Stanley Cup wins in the last three seasons, is in the middle of a 12-year contract worth $69 million. The agreement was signed when Richards was with the Philadelphia Flyers. A compliance buyout would have helped the Kings in terms of salary-cap relief.
But Lombardi's loyalty to his players runs deep and he heard what he needed to hear from Richards in meetings this week. Richards greatly underperformed in the second half of the regular season and was dropped to the fourth line.
"The biggest thing in the meeting with Michael - the important thing - is that he realized he’s going to have to make some adjustments in his offseason training," Lombardi said on Friday in an interview with The Times.
"He’s 29. In his prime. So it’s not as though the dropoff should be related to age. But players need to realize when you start getting 27, 28 -- you can’t train, can’t prepare like you use to when you were 22 or 23."
Richards, Lombardi said, was candid about his shortcomings. Richards had 11 goals and 41 points in 82 games in the regular season and was a far better player in the postseason run.
Lombardi's loyalty and the candor of Richards were parts of the equation. And Richards has that intangible factor, a heart-and-soul player who has won at every level, and is adept at guiding the mood of the dressing room.
"He was very candid," Lombardi said. "The most important thing is he realized he wasn’t anywhere near where he is capable of being. If he’s telling you, ‘Well, I was good.’ Then you’ve got a big problem. If he’s not able to critique himself, then we’re wasting our time.
"But he freely admitted that it was nowhere near where he was capable, and the root is not age or injury. It starts with the understanding that I’ve got to prepare like a 28- or 29-year-old, not a 22-year-old.
"As long as he looked me in the eye and made that promise that he would make the commitment in the offseason …Essentially, I have to trust him. Once that deadline goes, we’re locked in."