As it turned out, there was a center named Richards bought out in the NHL on Friday — only it was Brad Richards of the New York Rangers.
Not Mike Richards of the Kings.
The Kings decided against buying out the contract of Richards, according to General Manager Dean Lombardi. A compliance buyout would have aided the Kings in terms of salary-cap relief.
Richards is in the middle of a 12-year contract worth $69 million, an agreement reached when he was with the Philadelphia Flyers. He has been a key factor — a heart-and-soul element of the leadership group — in the Kings’ two Stanley Cup championships in the last three seasons.
Lombardi is loyal to his players and said Richards was open in their meetings about his shortcomings this past season, in which he had 11 goals and 41 points in 82 regular-season games. He was dropped to the fourth line, but his play was appreciably better in the postseason and he is adept at guiding the mood of the dressing room.
Richards, who turned 29 in February, told Lombardi that he realized he would have to make some adjustments in his off-season training, the general manager said.
“He was very candid,” Lombardi said Friday during an interview in his office. “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 off-season.… Essentially, I have to trust him. Once that deadline goes, we’re locked in.”
The final day for compliance buyouts is June 30. Teams had two available, dating to last summer, and the Kings did not use either of them.
For the Kings, the next order of business concerns unrestricted free-agent winger Marian Gaborik and defensemen Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell. They have had a couple of meetings with Gaborik’s representative. Gaborik, acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline, just finished a five-year contract worth $37.5 million, and the Blue Jackets had picked up part of his remaining salary this season.
In the meantime, Kings captain Dustin Brown received a phone call Friday afternoon at the team’s offices from President Obama, who congratulated the team on the Stanley Cup victory.
The Kings visited the White House — along with the MLS champion Galaxy — after winning the title in 2012, and another trip will be on the schedule at some point next season. Lombardi said he also would like to bring the team and the Stanley Cup to Ottawa for a visit with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, noting the sizable number of Canadian-born players on the Kings roster.
Lombardi said the organization learned a lot from the 2012 experience, from winning the Stanley Cup and abruptly making the transition into off-season business.
“We were much better prepared,” he said. “I think it showed. We’ve still got too much to do, but we’re not in scramble mode. We learned through it the first time.”