By Jack Ryan
If you read what Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi wrote in a statement to the L. A. Times about former Flyers bad boy Mike Richards:
You might get the impression that Lombardi is the victim and Richards’ addictions are hard to deal with.
That’s right Dean, addiction is inexplicable and your statement — written no doubt by an intern in your office — is pitiful!
In an uncharacteristically open and emotional statement to the Los
Calling the situation involving Richards a “tragedy,” Lombardi detailed how the forward’s “destructive spiral” weighed heavily on him.
“Without a doubt, the realization of what happened to Mike Richards is the most traumatic episode of my career,” Lombardi said in a written summation provided to the Times.”
“At times, I think that I will never recover from it. It is difficult to trust anyone right now — and you begin to question whether you can trust your own judgment. The only thing I can think of that would be worse would be suspecting your wife of cheating on you for five years and then finding out in fact it was true.”
Lombardi acquired Richards in June 2011 from the Flyers in a trade that sent Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a second-round pick to Philly for a player Lombardi believed would be a game-changer for the Kings.
Richards had career years in 2008-09 and 2009-10, recording 30 and 31 goals in the respective seasons. Even then, character issues swirled, but Lombardi was undeterred.
“I heard the rumors that Mike might have some off-ice issues, but I refused to believe that they were true despite some obvious signs. Anyone close enough to me knows how much I loved Mike Richards,” he continued to the Times.
“I believed that when I had acquired him, I had found my own Derek Jeter. But the fact is that he was never close to the player that he was after his best seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10 in Philadelphia. His production dropped 50% and the certain ‘it’ factor he had was vaporizing in front of me daily. This is a player that in 2010 was instrumental in Canada’s gold medal run and by 2014, while still in his prime, was not even in the conversation for making the team.”
Since the 2011-12 season, when he recorded 18 goals for L.A., Richards’ numbers have steeply declined. Last year, he notched just five goals in 53 games. The Kings missed the postseason, failing to defend their Stanley Cup title from the previous year. Over the summer, Richards was arrested at the Canadian border and later charged with possession of a controlled substance, Oxycodone. The Kings terminated what was left of Richards’ deal in June, amounting to five years and $22 million, citing a “material breach” of his contract. After the NHLPA filed a grievance, the two sides settled on Friday to avoid arbitration. His salary cap charge will remain on the Kings’ books until 2031.
“I tried everything with Mike — meeting with him constantly, sending him to concussion specialists, traveling in the off-season to visit with him at his summer home — and everything failed,” Lombardi wrote. “The reality is that I was ‘played.’ My only regret, though, is that I wish Mike had been able to come to me with his problem â€” and that was the last message I left for him on his cellphone when I learned of the incident and all the history leading up to the incident.”
Given everything that’s happened, Lombardi says he wants to help others like Richards, those he perceives to have had their once-promising careers rapidly diminished.
“I believe that what happened to Mike Richards is a tragedy and I cannot let it go. My short-term goal is to win championships; my long-term goal is to eventually become more involved with groups studying the changing values that are becoming increasingly evident in sport and their root causes,” he wrote. “I certainly believe that Mike Richards must be held accountable for his actions â€” but when a player who at one time symbolized everything that was special about the sport can become caught in such a destructive spiral, then I believe the institution of sport must begin to examine its level of culpability.”