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Unburdened Richards enjoying fresh start with Kings

Thursday, 10.13.2011 / 10:08 AM / Player Profiles

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Unburdened Richards enjoying fresh start with Kings
No longer burdened by wearing the "C" on his jersey and the pressures that came with it in Philadelphia, the veteran center is enjoying the fresh start he's received as a member of the Kings.
Mike Richards is still smiling and laughing.

It's toward the end of his third round of interviews with reporters in the Kings' dressing room at Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, and there is the ex-Flyers captain -- the exact same guy who could, at times, be indignant and condescending with the media in Philadelphia -- still standing in his equipment, sweat dripping after a long practice, just giddy talking hockey and the start of a new chapter in his life and career.

Richards, who talked to NHL.com after a smattering of Swedish reporters walked away, can honestly assess his frame of mind now that he feels fully adjusted to life in L.A.

In his mind, the burden he bore in Philadelphia didn't make the cross-country trip.

In his mind, hockey is just a game again.

"Yes," he says with exaggeration when asked if he's more relaxed now, because it certainly looks like he is. "It could be the lifestyle, but with Kopi, Doughty, JJ, Brown -- it's more spread out. In Philadelphia, there was always that spotlight."

Mike Richards
Center - LAK
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 2
SOG: 7 | +/-: -2
Richards is talking about star center Anze Kopitar, franchise defenseman Drew Doughty, fifth-year blueliner Jack Johnson, who has one of the most vibrant personalities on the team, and captain Dustin Brown.

He is essentially talking about the protection he has in Los Angeles, protection he lost in Philadelphia the moment the "C" went on his sweater.

"That's another thing, too, you can come in and just play hockey instead of worrying about everything else," said Richards, who returns to Philadelphia on Saturday for the first time as a visiting player. "It's nice to come in here and just focus on the games, rather than all the other stuff going on."

But make no mistake about this: Richards was devastated when he got traded from Philadelphia on June 23.

He had nine seasons left on a 12-year, $69 million contract extension he signed on Dec. 13, 2007. Richards understandably thought he would be a Flyer for life. He signed to be a Flyer for life.

"I think everybody in the hockey business was surprised," Kings coach Terry Murray told Sports Illustrated.

Hindsight, as they say, may be 20-20, but looking back on it, the Kings were the perfect destination for Richards.

The moment he arrived he had several former members of the Flyers family in his corner, most notably assistant coach John Stevens, who was the head coach of the Flyers from early in the 2006-07 season, when he took over for Ken Hitchcock, to a third of the way through the 2009-10 season, when he was fired and replaced by Peter Laviolette.

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Murray, Kings GM Dean Lombardi and assistant GM Ron Hextall all have deep Philadelphia ties as well. But it is Stevens with whom Richards has the greatest bond.

They go back to their time together with the Philadelphia Phantoms in 2005, when Stevens was the coach and Richards one of the star players who helped the Flyers' American Hockey League affiliate win the Calder Cup.

"We've gone through a lot of the same things together, but he has always been there to talk," Richards said of Stevens. "We won a championship together, and you have that bond with anybody you win a championship with."

Stevens was there to lend an ear shortly after Richards was traded to the Kings.

He was the ideal listener because it wasn't long ago that he was feeling the same emotions of leaving Philadelphia, a place that grew to be home.

"When I got a hold of him I think he was still digesting the fact that he got traded," Stevens told NHL.com. "As a kid that was drafted and grew up in Philadelphia, it was a tough time for him to go through that, as it would be for any player that gets traded for the first time, especially a guy that was a captain of the hockey team. I tried to relay to him that he was going to love it in L.A, but he was going through a gamut of emotions that day.

"Words are empty until you go through the process. That had to happen for Mike."

The process for Richards will not be complete until he returns to Philadelphia on Saturday to play his old team.

The simple task of walking past the Flyers' dressing room at Wells Fargo Arena and turning left to enter the visiting dressing room is an obstacle still standing in Richards' way.

It'll be made easier with guys like Stevens, Murray and ex-Flyer Simon Gagne walking with him.

"I went through the same process, leaving a place I was very fond of," Stevens said. "It's not easy. That's what makes Philadelphia a great place -- when players leave, it's not a happy day. But you need to remove yourself from the situation for a while, and then you look forward to the next challenge.

"In Mike's case, he's excited about being with a good team and he looks like a really good fit."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Quote of the Day

[He's] real confident with the puck now, getting it off his stick quick and no second-guessing. We need that. He's such a good guy in the room. He works so hard. That's the big thing. For not a big man, he just fights for every puck and when he scores, the guys appreciate that even more.

— Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice on Mathieu Perreault, who scored two goals in win against Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday