Mike Richards now appears to be in the same situation. Placed on waivers by the Kings on Monday, he could have been claimed by any other team in the league.
All 29 passed.
The fact that Richards went unclaimed by the noon deadline on Tuesday wasn’t surprising. While there may have been some interest in Richards as a player—there are a few teams that would benefit from adding the 29-year-old in a depth role—there was none in absorbing a contract that carries a cap hit of $5.75 million for each of the next five seasons.
He’s now expected to be assigned to AHL Manchester, where he’ll see the first regular-season minor-league action of his career.
That’ll certainly be a shock to the veteran’s system. But Los Angeles management hopes the bigger shock will be felt by the players who are left in the room.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Kings are floundering, with just two wins in their last 11 games. The slump has them in fifth place in the Pacific Division, and in ninth in the Western Conference, out of a playoff spot.
General manager Dean Lombardi recognized his team needed a wake-up call. This was his best option, and the message appears—at least so far—to have gotten through.
“It reminds you that we’re in the business of professional sports and that business is winning,” defenseman Robyn Regehr told LAKingsInsider.com. “When a team isn’t winning consistently enough, there are changes that are usually made. I think really that’s what sometimes it comes down to. There are other decisions with economics and things like that now with the salary cap era. Those kinds of things happen and I don’t want to say, ‘It’s a good reminder,’ but those things happen sometimes. Whether it’s getting traded or waived or anything like that. It’s part of a very big business that we’re involved with.”
“In here we’re family, so it’s really hard to see [Richards] go,” added captain Dustin Brown. “I think we all understand it, but it’s not something that you take lightly as a group of guys, especially as a group of guys that have won together. It’s a harder thing to deal with, but it’s also what management feels is best for the team. As players, we deal with a lot of things and it’s just not very often that you see a player of Rick’s stature go on waivers. But it is what it is. It’s up to us in this room to kind of forget about it and play.”
The path ahead doesn't get any easier for Los Angeles. After hosting the rival Blackhawks on Wednesday, the Kings head to Boston where they’ll kick off a crucial five-game road swing. Their season may depend on how they respond.
As for Richards, he’ll collect his full salary and wait for a chance to prove that he still has something left to give at the NHL level.