(Source: Sports Illustrated) – Could Mike Richards be on the verge of a return to the NHL? The free-agent center has been skating with his former junior team, the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, presumably to work himself into shape for a comeback. Although his production and overall play have been in sharp decline in recent years—he scored just five goals and 16 points in 53 games last season for the Kings—his leadership and grit might encourage a few teams to kick his tires with a low-dough, two-way deal. Among those who might be interested: the Predators, Maple Leafs and Bruins, who may be looking for a depth center after losing Chris Kelly for the season.
Mike Richards has won everything. And that’s not an overstatement; he’s literally won every championship at every level he’s played at. He has two Stanley Cups rings with the Los Angeles Kings, Olympic and World Junior Championship gold medals with Canada, an AHL Calder Cup championship with the Philadelphia Phantoms, and a Memorial Cup championship with the Kitchener Rangers. Every single elite level of hockey he’s played at his team has won the championship.
Fast forward to 2015 and a lot has changed. This past summer his contract with the Kings was voided after he was stopped at the Canadian border in possession of a “controlled substance”. How his game had diminished quite a bit may have been directly tied to substance abuse. Regardless of the cause of his decline there was a time very recently when Mike Richards was a tremendous leader and championship caliber player.
So as he rehabs his game and personal life back into shape it has to make you wonder, would the Bruins bring him in? There are still legal issues that Richards faces that will have to be sorted out before a team would sign him but it’s an interesting question nonetheless that Sports Illustrated brought up.
Chris Kelly is that veteran leader that is now lost for the season with a broken leg. That is a role both in the locker room and on the ice that fits (the old) Mike Richards game. The way the Bruins have lost games this year, quite a few after building 2-goal leads, tends to show the need for closers, veteran battle tested guys who can finish off teams. Mike Richards was that guy. Generally teams like the Bruins who are “tweeners”, meaning they can still get in the post season but they’re in between a true rebuild and contending, often lean toward younger players to see what they have and don’t offer up those spots to veteran comeback attempts. A scenario where Richards would mostly likely end up would be a team like Florida a few years ago. Before the Barkov’s, Bjugstad’s, Kulikov’s, and Gudbranson’s of their system were ready they were throwing bad money at Tim Thomas, Scott Gomez, Brad Boyes, Scotty Upshall, and a host of others that were simply there to collect a check for showing up. The team had no real shot of doing anything but they had to spend to the league minimum salary cap floor and field a squad while their core prospects developed.
I just don’t think the Bruins take a chance on Mike Richards seeing how much they’re working towards getting their younger guys NHL ready. Frank Vatrano is now up with the big club and looks like he belongs. David Pastrnak will be back from injury at some point. Tyler Randell’s role is becoming increasingly more valuable. There just isn’t a lot of room physically to squeeze him in the lineup. But man, if Richards can recover from this and find his game he would be a great addition to the Bruins. Either way I really hope he gets a shot to get back in the league. The guy is a bona fide winner who deserves a second chance.