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Dawn Of A New Day

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
By Doug Ward

Mike Richards saw the light at sunset.

It was late July, and Richards was walking along the sand of Manhattan Beach as another perfect summer day in the South Bay was waning. A month earlier, Richards was stunned to learn he had been traded from the Flyers to the Kings. But, as Richards watched the sun melt into the Pacific, it dawned on him that he was also trading Philadelphia for Los Angeles and that might not be such a bad deal.

“You start thinking, ‘This is not a bad place to be, and not a bad place to restart a career,’” Richards said over the summer, after the shock of being dealt from the only NHL city he had ever known wore off. “I always loved coming to L.A. to play. There’s just a buzz in the arena, almost like it is in New York. I can’t wait to feel it from the other side.”

Richards sees Los Angeles as the perfect place to reboot his career. Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi sees Richards as the perfect player to give his team a bit of a kick-start. Could there be a more perfect pairing?

Lombardi, who saw the effect Richards can have on a team up close and personal during his time as a Flyers scout doesn’t think so.

“Bobby Clarke West,” Lombardi said, invoking the name of a former Flyer, arguably hockey’s greatest leading man ever.

Clarke used to torment the Kings. He helped the Flyers to an unbeaten streak against Los Angeles in the’70s and’80s that spanned 32 games and nearly 10 years. The Kings finally ended a decade of misery vs. Philly with a 5-4 win in Philly on February 13, 1983.

The Kings, of course, weren’t the only ones tortured by Clarke: He led the Flyers to back-to-back Stanley Cups, carried Team Canada to a win over Russia in the historic Summit Series of 1972, and helped the Flyers go an NHL-record 35 consecutive games without a loss in 1979-80.

There might never be another Bobby Clarke. But Lombardi believes Richards possesses some of the same DNA.
Mike Richards has always been a winner,” Lombardi said. “A winner in junior hockey, a winner in World Junior tournaments, a winner in the minor leagues. He’s got that certain ‘it.’”

Now the Kings have “it” too.

Despite playing all of his NHL career in the East, Richards knows all about the Kings.  He joins a growing contingent of former Flyers in Southern California. Having established relationships with so many members of his new team figures to make for a smooth bridge.

“I think it’s going to be a lot easier because I know so many people here,” Richards said. “There is (assistant coach) John (Stevens), (head coach Terry Murray) Murph, Dean and (assistant general manager Ron Hextall) Hexy.”

Richards will also be reunited with Simon Gagne, a former linemate in Philadelphia. The Kings signed Gagne, who spent last season with Tampa Bay, as a free agent in July.

“It makes things easier when you have a guy you have had success with,” Richards said. “I played three or four years with Simon, so it’s going to be nice to have him on the left side. I know him so well and he knows me.”

As for the Kings Richards didn’t know personally at the time of the trade, well, he knows all about them.

“On paper, there are a lot of great, young players here,” Richards said. “It’s going to be exciting to be around them.”

Richards allows that there will be a period of adjustment, even for a 26-year-old veteran of six NHL seasons.

“I’m not going to come in here and try to be something that I’m not,” Richards said. “I’m not going to try to do things that I’m not used to doing. I’m going to come in here and play my game, and try to be another piece of the puzzle and try to move this team in the right direction.”

With a nucleus that includes Anze Kopitar, Jack Johnson, Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty, Richards is among the many who believes the Kings are poised to take the next step and become a bona fide Stanley Cup contender.

“I like the makeup of the team,” Richards said. “We have an extremely gritty team with a lot of skill. We have two great goaltenders, a defense that is skilled and plays the game hard. We have a lot of depth at the forward position, too. I’m not sure how I’m going to get placed into it, but I’m really looking forward to playing the game that has kind of got me to this point in my career.”

Playing his own intense brand of hockey made the Flyers his team. The Kings, on the other hand, do not belong to him.

Not yet.

Talk to Richards for any length of time and the subject almost invariably turns to hockey’s intangibles, what it takes to win, and the matter of leadership.

“Leadership is not just one person,” said Richards. “There’s a guy with a ‘C’ on his jersey and two guys with ‘A’s,’ but I have always thought it was a team effort. You can’t have enough experience in a dressing room, and everybody’s been in that position, at some point. You don’t make it to the NHL without being some sort of leader.”

Richards does not yet know exactly how he will be used, but his presence - along with Kopitar – gives the Kings two frontline centers.
“Having him and (Anze) Kopitar down the middle,” Lombardi said, “allows us, essentially, to match up with any team in the Western Conference.”

Lombardi does not make deals recklessly. He likes building a team from within, holding on to young talent and allowing a nucleus to gradually develop into a cohesive unit.  But Lombardi is so convinced that Richards can be “Bobby Clarke West” that he sent popular forward Wayne Simmonds and top prospect Brayden Schenn east.

“We felt, at this stage of the franchise, it was time to make a significant move for an impact player,” Lombardi said.

Richards brings 133 goals and 349 career points to the Kings. But it’s not Richards’ stats so much as his stature that prompted the deal.

Mike Richards is not only one of the top players in the league,” Lombardi said, “he's also universally recognized as one of the finer leaders in the game and one of its elite competitors.”

It’s been months since Richards watched the sun set into ocean along the South Bay. Long enough for a new day to break.

“I’m looking forward,” Richards said, “to starting a new chapter in my life in L.A.”
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