Less than five years ago, Richards was orchestrating "The Shift" and leading the Flyers to a surprise Stanley Cup Finals berth. Considering his status as captain, franchise cornerstone, and holder of a lucrative long-term contract, it seemed likely he would spend his entire career with the Flyers.
Obviously, that proved not to be the case. And now, it is that very same contract that has resulted in Richards being placed on waivers by his current team, the Los Angeles Kings.
Hearing Mike Richards of LA is on waivers today. Wow.— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) January 26, 2015
The Kings chose not to use a compliance buyout on Richards last season, despite declining production. GM Dean Lombardi stated the following to justify the decision, according to the LA Times.
"As long as [Richards] 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."
But with no apparent statistical improvements, Richards has been a constant source of trade rumors this year, as the Kings have tried to find a way out from under the remainder of his 12-year, $69 million contract. Those talks have yet to bear fruit, so the Kings have chosen to place Richards on waivers.
So what comes next? If a team places a claim for Richards, they would take on the entirety of his contract, and would not need to provide any additional compensation to the Kings. At this point, it's likely Los Angeles would be perfectly fine with that, considering their cap issues.
The more likely scenario is that no team places a claim for the former Flyer, and then Los Angeles has the option of keeping him or sending him down to their AHL affiliate in Manchester. Sending him down would give the Kings an additional $925,000 of cap relief, and knowing their cap-strapped situation, the AHL option could actually happen.
TSN's Bob McKenzie seems to think so, unless a team is willing to trade for him.
If Richards clears, expectation is he'll be assigned to Manchester (AHL). LA obviously hopes waivers may flush out more trade options.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) January 26, 2015
If so, it would be pretty painful to watch. A borderline Flyers legend, stuck playing for an AHL squad, hoping that his team can either find a willing trade partner or takes pity on him and returns him to the show. You'd imagine that Richards wouldn't agree to unconditional waivers, which would essentially cancel the rest of his contract, as he still has between $22 million and $29 million dollars coming to him on his deal.
One of the only things less likely than Richards voluntarily agreeing to give up over $20 million would be a return to the Flyers. Setting aside the fact that the team chose to move on from Richards for a reason and the possibility of lingering bad blood on both sides, it's just tough to see where he fits.
He's not good enough anymore to be a first- or second-line center. Sean Couturier is locked in as the Flyers' tough minutes center, and he's cheaper, younger and (quite frankly) better than Richards is at this point. So that leaves the fourth line center role, which is reserved for another overpriced declining player in Vincent Lecavalier.
And that's not even accounting for the necessary cap space (or lack thereof). Even if the Flyers wanted Richards (and there's no guarantee they would), it would be impossible to fit Richards on the roster without sending players to the minors or making corresponding trades.
Obviously, it would be pretty cool to see Richards close out his career in the orange and black, especially when remembering the great moments that he provided for fans. But considering his declining skillset, the Flyers' roster logjam, the ever-present cap issues, and uncertainty as to whether the Flyers would even want him back, it seems like a total pipe dream.
In the end, it's just sad to see a great player fall this far.