Things are about to get interesting in Los Angeles.
The Kings were expected to announce on Monday that they were cutting ties with Mike Richards through a buyout. Instead, they caught the hockey world off guard by announcing that they were terminating the veteran center’s contract.
Here’s the official statement:
“The Los Angeles Kings today have exercised the team’s right to terminate the contract of Mike Richards for a material breach of the requirements of his Standard Player’s Contract. We are not prepared to provide any more detail or to discuss the underlying grounds for the contract termination at this time.”
There are always more layers to these stories than what seems obvious on the surface, but let’s just stick with that surface for a moment: It sure looks like the Kings are trying to dodge the bullet that is the massive payment/cap hit of a buyout, doesn’t it?
Granted, there may be a perfectly valid reason for termination. According The Fourth Period's David Pagnotta, the Kings used Section 18A-2 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which allows the commissioner authority to impose discipline for off-ice conduct.
"Whenever the Commissioner determines that a Player has violated a League Rule applicable to Players (other than Playing Rules subjecting the Player to potential Supplementary Discipline for On-Ice Conduct), or has been or is guilty of conduct (whether during or outside the playing season) that is detrimental to or against the welfare of the League or the game of hockey, he may discipline such Player in any or all of the following respects:
(b) by cancelling any SPC that such Player has with any Member Club
That makes the breach, whatever it might have been, sound fairly ominous. After all, the Kings didn’t choose to terminate Slava Voynov after the defenseman was charged with domestic abuse. They did, however, suspend him. Then again, there could be varying levels of “breach tolerance” that relate directly to the player’s value as an asset. Voynov has some. Richards does not.
Under the CBA, Richards has the right to file a grievance. Not surprisingly, that effort appears to be underway.
"We are in the process of reviewing the facts and circumstances of this matter, and will discuss the situation with the player in order to determine the appropriate course of action," NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said via a statement.
However it plays out, it looks like the end of the NHL line for Richards. Certainly not the last we’ll hear of this story, though.