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Richards ready for fresh start in Los Angeles

by Curtis Zupke
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- A series of emotions rolled over Mike Richards when he was told he would be leaving the only NHL team he had known.

There was confusion over why he was traded from Philadelphia to Los Angeles on June 23. There was shock that the circle of coaches and friends he had grown with would be gone. But three days later Richards found himself in Southern California, killing time with a walk on the sands of Manhattan Beach. It was good to be a King.

"I started walking on the beach and I was kind of thinking, 'It's not a bad place to be and not a bad place to start a new career,'" Richards said.

Richards' ties to Philadelphia will always be strong, but he is ready to turn the page after his exit from the Flyers, who traded Richards to the Los Angeles Kings for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a second-round draft pick.

Richards, 26, came up in the Flyers organization and understandably was disconcerted about leaving. But he has some familiar faces in L.A., including former Philadelphia coaches Terry Murray and John Stevens and one-time linemate Simon Gagne, who signed with the Kings not long after the Richards deal.

Richards expect them to ease his transition.

"It's always easier coming in when you know the system and not to have to learn the Xs and Os and there's more focus on learning who you're playing with," Richards said Wednesday in his first formal meeting with the local media.

"When you don't have to learn the system, it makes things a lot easier going through training camp. You're not thinking too much as you normally would .. I think that's going to be the biggest thing that's going to help me get adjusted to L.A."

Kings general manager Dean Lombardi paid a significant price for Richards -- including Schenn, a prized prospect -- but the two-way grit and veteran leadership of Richards is expected to go a long way on a new-look L.A. team that Gagne dubbed "Philadelphia West."

Los Angeles can boast a top-six forward unit of Richards, Gagne, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams and Dustin Penner. Lombardi feels the 1-2 punch of Kopitar and Richards at center allows the Kings to match up with any team in the Western Conference.

Richards and Kopitar finished eighth and ninth, respectively, in voting for the Selke Trophy and the addition of Richards should take defensive pressure of Kopitar and the other forwards.

"He can score 30 goals and put up 75 points. Defensively, he's good, too," Kings center Jarret Stoll said. "He's definitely going to help open up ice for everybody. He's got that grit that Brownie,, physically, has and that's going to help out, especially come playoff time."

L.A. is smarting from a first-round playoff loss to San Jose in which it lost three overtime games. A captain in Philadelphia and a member of Team Canada's 2010 Olympic team, Richards brings a great deal of leadership that will be needed in the postseason.

Richards said he's willing to do whatever is needed, but he'll also defer to captain Brown and others.

"I always felt that it was a team effort," he said. "You can't have enough experience in a dressing room. Everybody's been in that position at some point. You don't make it to the NHL without being some sort of leader. It might be somebody one night, Brownie the next night (or) Kopitar…It's not always the same person voicing their opinion. If something needs to be said, I'm sure they'll say it."

Richards' captaincy and legacy in Philadelphia was marred by a recent report that his alleged partying helped facilitate his trade. He downplayed the story Wednesday and reiterated he was upset about it.

"Philadelphia tends to blow things up a little bit more than they actually are," Richards said. "That just started out as a friendly fun thing that you can kind of joke about in the dressing room. I'm not sure how it got out. It was supposed to be just a team thing. It was just more or less to joke around with the guys and have some fun with it. But I think the media there got wind of it and kind of ran with it but I don't think it's a big deal … I was pretty mad it got out."
"I started walking on the beach and I was kind of thinking, 'it's not a bad place to be and not a bad place to start a new career." -- Mike Richards
Off-ice drama shouldn't be an issue with the Kings, who aren't under the microscope that surrounds some other teams. Being out of the media glare is OK with the former Flyer.

"It will allow me to come to the rink and focus on playing hockey and my game on the ice instead of a lot of things that happen off the ice," Richards said. "It's tough sometimes seeing these articles and hearing some things that are said when you know that they aren't true. It's almost mentally draining when you keep having to back your story up off the ice and keep defending yourself when people keep saying things that aren't correct. It's going to be nice to come to the rink and just focus on hockey."

Richards said he doesn't know why he was traded and didn't sound like he will try to figure it out.

It will take time for him to consider himself a King, but his smile was evident when he slipped on a No. 10 Kings jersey in the team's locker room.

"I've heard a lot about how good this group is and how close they are as a group and what the room's like," he said. "I'm looking forward to being a part of that. They seem like they have a lot of fun. They're a close-knit group. I think that's what you need to have success … I just want to be a part of that and hopefully just blend in."
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