Mike Richards is an unrestricted free agent for the second consecutive off-season, though this time he’s hoping to get a full campaign in and know where he’ll be playing before the season even begins.
Richards, 31, didn’t sign a contract this past season until early January. Dealing with off-ice issues, Richards signed a one-year, $1-million contract with the Washington Capitals and appeared in 39 games, scoring two goals and five points with an average ice time of 12:10. In the post-season, Richards logged more than 11 minutes of ice time per contest but failed to find the score sheet.
“Obviously, a disappointing end to the season, but that happens, only one team can win,” Richards told KenoraOnline's Ryan Young of his experience with the Capitals. “It was a little bit of an up-and-down season. I probably expected it to go a little more offensively, but it's not easy to just jump in mid-season. Live and learn and hopefully I can get a full season under my belt this year.”
Richards had a rocky off-season ahead of the 2015-16 campaign that prevented him from hitting the ice earlier than he did. In June 2015, only months after the season ended, Richards was arrested at the Canadian-American border for possession of a controlled substance, which led to his contract being terminated by the Los Angeles Kings and a battle between Richards, the NHLPA and the Kings over whether the termination was legal.
Eventually, the sides would come to an agreement, one which has Richards counting against the Kings’ cap for $1.57 million in each of the next four season and will see him paid by Los Angeles until the end of the 2031-32 season. The drug charge was ultimately stayed by a judge in Manitoba.
Richards hasn’t been the same player over the past few seasons as he was in his early career. During his third, fourth and fifth years in the league, all spent with the Philadelphia Flyers, Richards was a consistent 30-goal, 60-plus point threat. However, after being dealt to the Los Angeles Kings in a blockbuster trade, Richards failed to crack the 20-goal plateau and struggled unbelievably in the 2014-15 season, managing five goals and 16 points in 53 games and seeing a demotion to the AHL.
Richards’ usefulness now comes on the defensive side of the puck. He was trusted by Capitals coach Barry Trotz to take defensive-zone starts, and he’s become more of a specialist late in his career. He's still got some offensive acumen, too, but nowhere near what he once had.
There may not be many years left in the NHL for Richards, but he’s certainly planning on taking another crack at the big league next season. He may have to go the non-traditional route that some veteran players took during the 2015-16 off-season — signing a pro-tryout and latching on in training camp — but Richards seems certain that he’ll be suiting up somewhere in 2016-17.
“Not sure where it's going to be yet, but hopefully get some traction in the next couple of weeks,” Richards told Young. “I plan to play hockey next year. So, it will just be what is the best fit for me.”
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