One of the questions facing the Kings this offseason is the production of Mike Richards.
NHL.com ‘s 30 in 30 named Richards as one of the Kings players that needs to rebound, citing inconsistencies during the 2013-2014 season. During a stretch of 36 games Richards scored one goal and as a result was consigned to the fourth line.
In the 2014-2015 season the Kings will be needing more out of Richards, but will it be more in terms of production, or more of the same?
In the 2011 offseason Richards was part of a blockbuster trade that brought him to the Kings from Philadelphia in exchange for Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmons, and a second round pick in 2012 (this pick eventually ended up going to the Dallas Stars; they drafted Devin Shore). His first season with L.A. he had 44 points. In his second year Richards put up 32 points, tied for his worst point total in a regular season with his second year in the league. This past year, 2013-2014, Richard scored 41 points.
Richards 41 points were good enough to rank him 4th on the Kings.
As a Flyer Richards was known for generating points. During his six seasons Richards averaged 58.17 points. His most productive season was 2008-2009 when he put up 80 points, that included his first 30 goal season (he scored 30 goals exactly).
The Flyers have long been known for their run-and-gun style of play. They look to generate offensive opportunities aggressively, and as a result they give up a lot of good scoring chances. The last time they made it past the Conference Semi-Finals was 2010, when Richards was their captain.
So are Richards numbers down because he’s not playing as well, or has he found a new role in a different system?
Richards ranked 4th on the Kings in terms of point production in 2013-2014; two of the three players above him are centers: Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar. A main component of L.A.’s powerhouse system is strength down the center of the ice and two-way play. Centermen are expected to make plays at both ends of the ice. It’s a different role for Richards because the Kings expect more out of him in the defensive zone, which affects point production.
People point to the fact that Richards is on the fourth line, like it’s a demotion. Any other team in the NHL would kill to have a player like Mike Richards on their fourth line. The Blackhawks have tried to emulate this same strategy by bringing in Brad Richards, a veteran ex-all-star, who will most likely play on the third or fourth line.
Dropping a talented player like Richards to the forth line balances out the Kings strengths. It allows them to roll all four lines equally without having to worry about matchups or a drop-off in talent. In this way they conserve energy for their players.
The NHL and proponents of fantasy-hockey want to see higher scoring, more production and bigger stats from players. The coaches, players and teams are about winning. In the three years Richards has been with the Kings he’s put up some of the lowest numbers in his career. In two of those years he’s received Stanley Cup rings. If the Kings thought Richards production dropped to a point where he was unproductive and over-valued they would have bought him out. The know he’s still an asset and can help the team in a different role: he’s more responsible defensively and still scores a clutch goal every now and again. And with the Kings recent managerial success it’s safe to say, they know what they are doing. Especially concerning Mike Richards.